Tuesday, October 5, 1999

By George F. Lee, Star-Bulletin
Gregg Kodama, left, of the Sansei Sushi Bar cooks with a
blow torch as the rest of his family, left to right, Diane Kodama,
Terri Kodama, Helen Wu and Dennis Kodama prepare their
dish called "Blow Torch Tenderloin."

Future chefs learn about
the value of isle farmers

Hundreds at a benefit dinner hear
the word to 'buy local' and keep
produce dollars in Hawaii

See also: Island Images

By Betty Shimabukuro


The shape of the night was the circle -- the circle of farm and fine dining that connects Hawaii's growers to its chefs, and both of those with a new generation that must learn to respect the link.

"The most important part to our cooking is not the cooking itself, but the source it comes from," chef Roy Yamaguchi said last night at a Hawaii Farm Bureau Federation benefit held at his restaurant in Hawaii Kai.

About 300 diners paid $75 each, money that will fund scholarships for the next generation of chefs and farmers. Their return was an evening of fine dining and wine, courtesy of a lineup of chefs headed by Yamaguchi and Alan Wong. Everyone left a bit rounder than when they arrived, which goes back to that circular theme again.

In attendance were farmers who grow tomatoes in Hauula, asparagus in Waialua, coffee in Kona, and fruits and vegetables in Waimanalo.

Also in attendance: a dozen culinary students from Kapiolani Community College, who worked side by side with the chefs and also, over the weekend, toured several Oahu farms.

"They have to learn that the land provides for us," Yamaguchi said.

Farm Bureau President Douglas Duarte said the bonds forged by Yamaguchi, Wong and the Hawaii Regional Cuisine movement over the last decade have done a great deal to strengthen local farming.

"Now we're turning to the future chefs. They'll learn about Hawaii products a lot sooner," he said.

The only disappointment of the night, Duarte said, was that few state lawmakers attended.

"This is their time to get to meet a lot of people in the ag industry," he said.

Still, it was a wall-to-wall crowd that heard the message to "buy local" and keep produce dollars in the hands of local farmers.

Wayne Hirabayashi, executive chef at the Kahala Mandarin Oriental, remarked on how this philosophy reaches far beyond restaurants.

"It's a circle. If we help the farmer, they help us, and in return we help young chefs to keep Hawaii on the culinary map; that helps keep the tourists coming."

And that keeps businesses strong, and that trickles back to the farms, he said.

It was a point taken by culinary students Patty Trudeau and Nani Ashley, who worked with Hirabayashi serving up bowls of Chinese Winter Melon Soup. The farm visits "expanded my awareness," Ashley said.

When they leave school for Hawaii's restaurant kitchens, will they buy local?

"To the max," Trudeau said.

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