Chef pushes students to tie attitude with skills


POSTED: Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Mom was right, again. No matter what you do, it's all about attitude. Whether you're a tomato picker or a top chef turning that fruit into something magical, it all comes back to the attitude.

But if her word isn't enough (heaven forbid), listen to chef Alan Wong, who's hosting another of his Farmer's Series dinners.

The dinner will feature dishes created by three student chefs from Team Hawaii, the Kapiolani Community College culinary team that recently won the American Culinary Federation's prestigious national title. They'll be preparing dishes using produce from Ho, Kahuku and Nozawa farms.

“;It's like children with good manners. You can tell they've been well taught by their parents,”; Wong says. “;These students are very professional: They're on time, well dressed, and because of their journey to the nationals, they're organized and efficient.

“;They're also receptive to criticism and direction. All this helped them win the championship. But it translates to every day. They're open and have wonderful attitudes.”;

Instructor Alan Tsuchiyama says the community colleges try to teach students fundamentals “;so they can go to any restaurant and do well.”;

Working with Wong provides a tremendous opportunity, says Tsuchiyama, because the chef is committed to nurturing the local culinary scene.

“;Chef Alan is taking them to a whole new level. He pushes the students to do more than what they think they can actually do.”;

Wong's kitchen has been bustling for two weeks with mentoring, tastings and critiques.

Keaka Lee is responsible for the dessert portion of the dinner. He and Wong's pastry chef, Michelle Karr, have created a trio of desserts using the apple bananas and vanilla from Kahuku Farms: Apple Banana Chocolate Mousse, Banana Cardamom Ice Cream and “;Dunking Doughnuts”; with Banana Pudding and Jam.

“;We threw ideas back and forth, and at the first menu-tasting, chef Wong told me I kinda know what I want to do, so go ahead,”; says Lee.

At weekly menu development meetings, the staff discussed what was working and what was not. From there, Lee and Karr adjusted the dishes. After the second meeting, they tweaked again.

“;Taking the dessert from beginning to end, I've learned from chef Wong that if you list an item on the menu, you should feature the product. My recipes changed a lot. We enhanced the banana and vanilla flavors,”; Lee says. “;Now we have the final recipe, but we're still not done.”;

WONG'S Farmers Series dinners showcase not just island produce, but also specific farms and farmers, who sometimes walk the room during dinner to talk to guests.

“;What chef Alan is doing is putting a name to the product; it provides a direct link for the customer,”; Kylie Matsuda of Kahuku Farms says. “;It gives them an opportunity to think about what they're eating and where it comes from. It reminds them that someone grew this. So the next time they're in the store and see Kahuku eggplant, for example, they will remember. And they may even buy it and try cooking it.”;

Wong says that kind of connection is important for everyone involved with a product.

“;I started forming relationships with farmers in 1989 when I was at the Canoe House at the Mauna Lani Bay on the Big Island,”; he says. “;That grew, and it took on a life of its own. When farmers are asking what they can grow for me, or I ask a farmer to leave the tomatoes on the vine for two more days — that's the kind of relationship I'm looking for.

“;It works both ways. I brought my team to Hamakua Farm, and we fed them lunch. We made tomato dishes in a packing shed, and all the workers got to eat. (Tomato farmer) Richard (Ha) said that was the moment his workers realized they weren't just packing tomatoes, they were packing Alan's tomatoes. They were able to put a name and a face to what they were doing.

“;Likewise, my crew realized they were receiving Richard's tomatoes. And when they cooked, they treated the tomatoes nicely because they could see how hard everyone worked on the farm.

“;It's mutually beneficial.”;

Tsuchiyama sees much value in Wong sharing and promoting these perspectives. “;He's been practicing sustainability for many years, and he's showing his staff and our students that that's what should be happening. We should be supporting each other.”;




'The Future of Hawaii Regional Cuisine'

        ”;The Next Generation Culinarians Meet the Next Generation Farmers,”; featuring Shin Ho of Ho Farms, Kylie Matsuda of Kahuku Farms and Stephanie Nozawa of Nozawa Farms:

» Place: Alan Wong's, 1857 S. King St.
        » Date: 5 to 10 p.m. next Wednesday
        » Cost: Prix fixe $75, $105 with wine pairing
        » Call: 949-2526





        By “;Team Hawaii,”; Kapiolani Community College's ACF National Champions

» Starters: Big Island goat cheese samosa with Kahuku Farms eggplant and Ho Farms Japanese cucumber raita; Kona Kampachi crudo, negi oil and tapenade; smoked miso-cured Kona butterfish, shiso rice and Hilo heart of palm; Kona baby abalone with sherry sauce; and cold-smoked Hamakua Springs tomato and Japanese cucumber filled with poppin' ahi poke and Nozawa Farm corn chutney


» Butter-poached Kona lobster, with Ho Farm's long squash and uni sauce, by Rena Suzuki


» Pan-seared onaga with Nozawa Farms corn and Kahuku Farms eggplant succotash, with yuzu sauce and lomi tomato salad, by Ken Yi


» Maui Cattle Co. beef tenderloin served on three preparations: Taro luau croquette, hearts of palm salad and celery root, by Tate Nakano-Edwards


» Kahuku Farms apple banana and vanilla trio: Apple banana chocolate mousse, banana cardamom ice cream and “;Dunking Doughnuts”; with banana pudding and jam, by Keaka Lee