Chef's soul fuels lunch wagon


POSTED: Wednesday, October 14, 2009

“;It's a sassy black-eyed pea chili, and that's all I can tell you,”; says chef Sean Priester as he begins discussion of his new project. “;Well, it is vegetarian, and you know it has to be good if it's vegetarian because of my pork passion. ... It's packed with carrots, celery, black-eyed peas from Chinatown and sassy spices and all that goodness. I made it with love.”;

Priester, executive chef of Top of Waikiki, has been selling his Sassy Chili and Southern Cornbread at the Blaisdell Farmer's Market every Wednesday. Now, Priester is making plans to take his Southern dishes to Waianae weekly to feed the homeless.

This chili story started on a particularly slow day down at the market.

“;I looked around me — it just wasn't happening, and we had all this food left.”;

So he and his staff had a powwow of sorts, and Priester suggested feeding the homeless. One of his colleagues from Waianae wanted to give back to his community. So the group headed out.

“;We must have rice,”; yelled one of Priester's colleagues, who hurried home to cook up enough to accompany the chili.

“;The day was a transformative experience for me,”; recalls Priester, “;even though I wish I would have had more time to trade stories — but I was in work mode. But I learned a lot that day. ... I got wise about suspending my own judgment. I had a preconceived idea that people would want more. Perhaps because I still want more.

“;But when the people living on the beach had their fill, they asked if they could go up the street and feed the auntie who was watching the kids. They definitely looked out for each other. I had an experience of serendipity and synergy in Waianae on Wednesday. And I want to continue that experience.”;

In fact, that Wednesday in Waianae has blossomed into a mission for Priester, who has worked before with the disenfranchised. The chef once spearheaded food programs with the mentally challenged at the state hospital in Kaneohe. “;The best job I ever had,”; he reminisces.

Enter Soul Patrol and Tonga-born Utu Langi, executive director of H-5, or Hawaii Helping the Hungry Have Hope. The two men met through a local food celebrity, and within hours of talking story, a partnership was formed. It's a marriage made in heaven — inspired chef meets spiritual guru.

Langi, a carpenter, first began feeding and providing shelter to the homeless as a member of the First United Methodist Church of Honolulu. He now runs the Next Step Shelter in Kakaako and is almost a mythic hero in the world of the homeless.

“;Food is a great medium to making friends. It is about communion. Just think about Jesus and the Last Supper,”; he says.

Langi and Priester combined their collective skills to actualize the chef's mission. Langi brought to the table his experience with the homeless community, plus a sizable grant from the American Civil Liberties Union to develop a mobile kitchen that provides nutritious meals for homeless kids. Priester added to that his culinary skills.

After a bit of sleuthing, the pair uncovered their lunch wagon, which after much debate was baptized Soul Patrol. “;I envision fat '70s letters — the 'soul' speaks to my affinity for soul food and, of course, those great American Idols like Taylor Hicks — and for Utu it's about his spiritual passion,”; Priester says.

Integral to the duo's mission will be the involvement of kids from the homeless community.

“;The kids are our future,”; says Langi. “;If we feed them, we are feeding their families. If we share positive values about food and health, we are modeling a self-sustained future.”;

Soul Patrol will be decorated by local artists, with a section reserved for the artistic contributions of homeless youth. Priester and Langi plan to visit Waianae with Soul Patrol every weekend.

“;The wagon will reflect the integrity I have about food. So you know if it's a burger it's going to be the juiciest burger on the island with the best gravy. If it means a sprig of basil or a touch of spinach on a sandwich that comes directly from a local farm — perhaps even our own farm in Waianae — that will cement our vision (of) transporting local nutrition from the farm to the plate. We will focus first on fresh fruits and vegetables, let the kids know that veggies can taste good,”; says Priester.

“;We are partnering with Hawaii Meals on Wheels and are in conversation with Mao Farms about the logistics and politics of sustainable farming. Utu has a 5-acre farm in Waianae that he plans to cultivate.”;

The men hope their vision might inspire others in the community to join in.

“;This is a shout out to other businesses and individuals who want to join us on our venture,”; says Priester.


If you're interested in helping — with donations, goods, financing or inventive planning — contact Sean Priester at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).



Courtesy Sean Priester

3/4 cup cornmeal
1-1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons baking powder
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 cup fresh Kahuku corn kernels or frozen sweet corn
2 pints cream
3/4 cup salted butter, melted
3 large eggs

Preheat oven to 275 degrees. Mix all dry ingredients with corn.

Add cream and eggs; mix well. Add butter and mix to combine. Pour into prepared half-sheet (13-by-18 inch) pan.

Bake for 30 minutes. Change levels and rotate pan. Cook another 10 minutes.

Change levels and rotate again. Cook another 10 minutes if needed.

Remove from oven. Cool, then cut and refrigerate. Serves 15.

Approximate nutritional analysis, per serving (not including salt to taste): 420 calories, 35 g total fat, 21 g saturated fat, 150 mg cholesterol, 600 mg sodium, 24 g carbohydrate, 1 g fiber, 7 g sugar, 5 g protein.