Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Sam Choy’s Koloko
wins Beard award

Sam Choy's Kaloko, the first restaurant opened by Hawaii's charismatic celebrity chef, won a James Beard Foundation Award yesterday.

A tuxedo-clad Choy was on hand in New York City to accept the America's Classic award, one of four given to locally owned neighborhood eateries that best reflect the character of their communities. The only other Hawaii restaurant ever given the award was Helena's Hawaiian Foods, in 2000.

"Our culture is so rich -- our love of food," Choy said. "I'm just following the dream of serving good food and having fun with it."

He said the recognition is valuable as an example to Hawaii's young chefs and restaurateurs. "It's good for the next generation. That's what I really think about in accepting this award."

Sam Choy's Kaloko is a modest, casual restaurant in an industrial park in Kailua-Kona, known for local classics such as loco moco and fried poke. It was from this launching point that Choy built his restaurant chain and national recognition for his brand of Hawaii Regional Cuisine.

Also in New York for the awards were Hawaii chefs Beverly Gannon, of Haliimaile General Store on Maui, and Peter Merriman, of Merriman's in Waimea on the Big Island. Both were nominated in the category of Best Chef of the Pacific Northwest/Hawaii. The award went to Eric Tanaka, of Dahlia Lounge in Seattle.

Gannon said it was "fabulous" to see Choy recognized. "That little place in Kona is one of my all-time favorite places," she said. "The food's great, the portions are great and it's where fried poke began."

More than 60 awards were presented last night during a black-tie affair considered the most prestigious of culinary events.

New York City's Chanterelle was named Outstanding Restaurant of the Year, while Judy Rodgers, chef and co-owner of San Francisco's Zuni Café, was named Outstanding Chef.

The other America's Classics this year were Ben's Chili Bowl in Washington, D.C.; Prime Burger, a coffee shop in New York City; and Al's Breakfast in Minneapolis, Minn.

Freelance writer Joan Namkoong contributed to this report from New York.

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