Chef Amy Ferguson ★★★★★ When Only The Best Will Do.
What is Hawaii Regional Cuisine?
Modern Hawaiian cuisine is a fusion of many cuisines brought by multiethnic immigrants to the Hawaiian Islands, particularly of American, Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Korean, Polynesian and Portuguese origins, including plant and animal food sources imported from around the world for agricultural use in Hawaii. Many local restaurants serve the ubiquitous plate lunch featuring the Asian staple, two scoops of rice, BD a simplified version of American macaroni salad (consisting of macaroni noodles and mayonnaise), and a variety of different toppings ranging from the hamburger patty, a fried egg, and gravy of a Loco Moco, Japanese style tonkatsu or the traditional lu'au favorite, kalua pig.
The roots of Hawaii regional cuisine (as well as local food) can be traced to the arrival of the first Polynesians who brought food plants for sustenance in the new land - many are still used by fine chefs today. Among them, breadfruit (a large, green pulpy fruit) was a staple, along with taro (from which poi is made), coconuts, bananas, sweet potatoes, yams, sugar cane, kukui nut (ground roasted to make a flavoring called inamona), and mountain apples. Combined with Island fish such as mullet and mahimahi, and other seafood, like seaweed and the mussel called opihi (which continues to be a delicacy), the early Hawaiian diet was nutritious and low in fat, but possibly lacked the excitement of variety.
From the mid-1800's, as each wave of new immigrants came to work in the sugar cane fields, they introduced flavors and ingredients from their homelands - Chinese five-spice, char siu, tofu, soybeans and rice; Japanese sashimi, wasabi, soy and ginger; Portuguese sausage, bean soup, sweet breads, and malassadas; and Filipino patis (a thin fish sauce), bagoong (a thicker fish sauce) and the leaves of bitter melon, jicama, and marungay that are used in stews and soups.
After World War II, as tourism began to replace farming as Hawaii's main economic engine, and as high end resort hotels came into their heyday, both local and imported chefs began to elevate island cooking to a new level.
In August 1991, a group of chefs in Hawaii came together to form an organization to create a new American regional cuisine, highlighting Hawaii's locally grown ingredients and diverse ethnic styles. In 1992, these twelve chefs came together to sponsor a cookbook to be sold for charity. The goal of this new group of chefs was to link local agriculture with the restaurant industry, making Hawaii Regional Cuisine a reflection of the community. For this, they transformed uninspired international hotel cuisine based on imported products and replaced it with a cuisine based on locally grown foods.
Those Chefs were:
Sam Choy chef-owner, Sam Choy's restaurants, Hawaii
Roger Dikon executive chef, Maui Prince Hotel, Maui
Amy Ferguson Ota executive chef, Ritz-Carlton, Mauna Lani, Hawaii
Mark Ellman chef-owner, Avalon restaurant, Lahaina, Maui
Beverly Gannon executive chef/co-owner, Haliimaile General Store, Maui
Jean-Marie Josselin chef-owner, A Pacific Cafe, Kauai
George Mavrothalassitis executive chef, Halekulani Hotel, Oahu
Peter Merriman chef-owner, Merriman's restaurant, Hawaii
Philippe Padovani executive chef, The Manele Bay Hotel, Lanai
Gary Strehl executive chef, Hawaii Prince Hotel, Oahu
Roy Yamaguchi chef-owner, Roy's Restaurant, Oahu
Alan Wong chef de cuisine, Le Soleil and CanoeHouse restaurants, Mauna Lani Bay Hotel
Today, Hawaii Regional Cuisine continues to be refined and developed, as a new generation of Island chefs build upon the foundation laid by the above mentioned pioneers, deepening the relationship between the land and the food, the farmer and the diner, exploring new practices of sustainability and the development of new gourmet level products produced here in Hawaii.
Hawaiian Food Today is a deep reflection of the multicultural population of the islands infused with the financial incentives of Five Star Resorts and powered by the bounty of clean water, fertile lands and abundant ocean resources. Hawaiian Regional Cuisine is truly a new American Cuisine, with a unique history, specialized flavors, and an incredible fusion of East meets West in one of the most beautiful settings on the planet Earth.