What the Heck?
JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
Chef Aya Yamamoto, from Benihana's in Nagoya, Japan, cooked for patrons at the Benihana's of Tokyo in Waikiki on Jan. 18. Yamamoto is the chain's first female teppan chef. She follows in the footsteps of her father, Jiro Yamamoto, a teppan chef and former executive chef for Benihana.
Young chef slices through gender barrier
How do you know you are the only woman teppan chef in the world, I asked Aya Yamamoto, through an interpreter.
"In Japan, maybe America," she said. "I don't know the rest of the world."
Last weekend, Yamamoto did demonstration dinners at the Waikiki outpost of Benihana, the chain that transformed Japanese teppan cooking into an American steak, seafood and showmanship schtick.
At 26, Yamamoto is diminutive and, as the Japanese put it, kawai. She could butterfly a shrimp with one stroke and twirl an oversize pepper mill like she was the majorette in a Southern marching band.
Her best trick was to prop a whole egg on the grill, surround it with flaming brandy and crack it with a barehanded karate chop. How long did it take her to learn that? "Practice one year," she said.
Her father, Jiro Yamamoto, stood in the background. He'd been the Benihana executive chef for 32 years before reimporting the notion to Japan, where he'd become something of a celebrity. He has three daughters, Aya is his youngest.
How did he feel about her following in his footsteps? He didn't reply in English. He tapped his heart, flashed me the OK sign and then ran his fingers down his cheeks as if tracing tears of joy.
Galuteria Does Bumatai
Look for Brickwood Galuteria to announce he's running for state senate on Andy Bumatai's "Night Time," already taped, when it airs Thursday .
"I know you leaked the news in your column last fall," said Galuteria. "But this is the way it's done now, candidates announce on talk shows. Andy's my man, so maybe it will help both of us."
Gidget Goes Hawaiian
One night last week, I had drinks on Waikiki Beach with Gidget.
Not the iconic movie Gidget, Sandra Dee, nor the most memorable TV Gidget, Sally Field -- no, the real Gidget.
Before "Gidget" was three movies, two TV series and even an animated feature, it was a novel. Written in 1957 by a Malibu screenwriter named Frederick Kohner, "Gidget" was based on the surfing experiences of his then 15-year-old daughter Kathy.
Kathy Kohner-Zuckerman -- in Hawaii to celebrate her 66th birthday and her 43rd anniversary with professor Marvin Zuckerman -- joined me for a drink at House Without a Key.
"Gidget was my Malibu surfing nickname," she said. "It stood for girl midget. That's my photo on the cover of the book."
The original Gidget was part of surfing subculture before there was much of a surf subculture. Her story helped launch a thousand surfboards, not to mention the Beach Boys, half a dozen bad Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon movies and the multibillion-dollar worldwide surf industry.
Kohner-Zuckerman has mixed feelings about becoming a surf icon. She wrote in her diary that the first "Gidget" movie, which came out when she was only 18, was stupid.
She developed a love for Hawaii -- hence, the follow-up "Gidget Goes Hawaiian." But, frankly, she outgrew surfing. She didn't take it up again until the '90s when Surfer Magazine placed her No. 7 on its list of the 25 Most Influential People in Surfing.
"I had other things to do," she said.
The Big Easy The Hard Way
Some 10,000 Hawaii fans flew to New Orleans to attend the Sugar Bowl. Edmund Agpaoa didn't. "I'm a die-hard UH fan," he said, "but I didn't have that kind of bucks."
Instead, Agpaoa, a medical assistant at Kaiser's Kapolei Clinic, showed up in New Orleans just last week, to help rebuild schools in New Orleans' still devastated Ninth Ward.
He's one of 30 volunteers selected by Kaiser out of 700 nationwide. Kaiser flew them, they live in dorms, eat donated food and burn up their own vacation time.
"I like to be that guy who comes take care of things," Agpaoa said. "I wanted to come to New Orleans this year, because next year I couldn't. My Reserve unit is going back to Kuwait."
Taking a Sleeping Bag to Our Office
It's multicultural party marathon downtown, starting next Friday. That evening's both First Friday and Chinese New Year's, complete with firecrackers and lion dances.
Not enough? The Follies will put 60 showgirls on stage at Hawaii Theatre, and there will be free bands at Smith-Beretania Park.
"I'm a little worried," said Ed Korybski, executive director of the Honolulu Culture & Arts District. "This will be the biggest event Chinatown's seen in a long time, a huge party."
Not the last party, though. There's more Chinese New Year's Saturday, and then on Tuesday, the good times roll. Mardi Gras shuts down Nuuanu Avenue with beads, bands and food, plus Brazilian carnival, a Caribbean style costume and float contest.
It doesn't end there. Friday, Feb. 8, is Double 8 on the Chinese calendar. "It's an auspicious day, all 24 hours, for weddings, businesses," says Sandy Pohl of Pohl Galleries. That evening, 26 merchants, restaurants and galleries will give patrons li-see -- all of which will contain a surprise, some of which will contain money.
Expect Don Murphy of Murphy's to be extra slammed. Next Sunday is also the Super Bowl, and the Sunday after, the Pro Bowl. "After all that," says Murphy, "we'll take a deep breath and start getting ready for St. Patrick's Day."
My favorite California chef is coming to town. The Hale 'Aina Foundation is bringing Nancy Oakes of San Francisco's Boulevard to guest lecture at Kapiolani Community College. Her one public appearance: Sunday, Feb. 10, when she gives a presentation and hosts a "California Cuisine" brunch at the Halekulani.
"Looking forward to coming," she said over the phone. "You've got great local food there, every kind of food in the world. I never liked fusion food here, but there, that's where you all are."