Charley Ice drizzles a papaya and ginger dressing over salads on judges' plates, using a squeeze bottle, just like the pros.

A little friendly

A showoff cook instigates a culinary duel
that turns out gourmet creations

By Nadine Kam

Randy Havre started it. He invited himself to dinner at the Fujita household and proceeded to cook -- not the easy stuff like grilled steak, or barbecued, broiled, teriyaki or beer-can chicken, but gourmet grinds -- nine courses total.

The showoff.

As far as Ruth Fujita was concerned, the gauntlet had been thrown and it was up to her -- as homeowner, queen of the realm -- to restore honor to the Fujita clan.

It was time for a cooking duel, one now known among this group of friends as OGC -- the Orgasmic Gastronomic Competition.

The OGC may inspire a new way to build holiday buffets that are not all about takeout chow mein and KFC. Hosts tomorrow or at Christmas dinner could offer prizes for most novel or creative fare -- excluding the centerpiece turkey, goose or ham -- in supporting categories of appetizers, salads or desserts.

If you're in need of last-minute ideas, OGC competitor Karen Miyano suggests adding a touch of fresh ginger, orange zest and orange juice to mashed sweet potatoes to add excitement to the traditional dish, or combining cooked apples with dried cherries, which works well with turkey or roast pork.

A little friendly competition doesn't have to be as labor-intensive as the OGC ritual, in which teams are given three to four months to plan their menus.

"We love food, we love to cook, we love to party. Even when we go camping, the stuff we come up with in our backpacks is really creative," Fujita said. "We've made roast leg of lamb at Kokee and used the leftovers to make a barley and lamb soup. We've taken seafood gumbo up to Haleakala. We're definitely not the trail mix types.

"Even though we're all friends, we're competitive."

The OGC started last year with three teams vying for top honors. Although Fujita's team came up with a beautiful black-bean soup and cast-iron skillet grilled salmon, it was Leland and Karen Miyano's "Moon Over Manoa" that won. A scallop starred as the full moon in their salmon laulau.

This year, the competition held last month expanded to five teams, each allowed unlimited prep time at home. "Everyone in the crowd's a pretty good cook so the competition is not about technique. It's about imagination and creativity," Fujita said. Once at the competition site, each team was given 30 minutes to put the dish together.

"That's not a lot of time," Fujita said. "It basically means they can throw it together, plate it, present it to judges and clean up for the next team."

The result was an intimate seafood-themed dinner party that would be the envy of any restaurateur.

"Da Boyz" Dudley Kubo and Charley Ice began the meal at a Manoa home with an exhibition kitchen that opens to a view of Manoa Valley.

Crabs and lobsters stamped out of carrots, bell peppers and daikon cover a fish net woven out of green onion strands. The net encases the main attraction, lamb-filled squid. The elaborate dish was Karen and Leland Miyano's contribution to the Orgasmic Gastronomic Competition held last month.

Four impartial judges -- moi included -- took ringside seats, grilling Da Boyz about their techniques and food philosophy, which Kubo, who honed his skills cooking in a firehouse, described as "good foods simple."

The duo created a wonderful scallop ceviche, green papaya salad, plus a seafood and arugula salad.

Randy and Priscilla Havre were up next, with clams prepared in a stovetop smoker before being stuffed with a Parmesan and panko mixture and left to crisp, stuffing side down in the skillet.

The couple made the ultimate sacrifice in creating their dish. "We had to eat bacon," said Randy. He and Priscilla are avid marathoners who try to maintain healthy eating habits.

The remaining fat was right there in the skillet and the smell of bacon grease lured most of the audience to the kitchen island to observe the placement of the clams in the sizzling oil. Leland Miyano peeked in on the competition but said he wasn't worried. "We're just going to do what we do," he said.

Once cooked, the Havres' clams were arranged on a fern-covered grid and served with a centerpiece of dragonfruit.

With presentation part of the judging criterion, Cheryl To, Jeremy Spear and Michael Constantinides entered the kitchen arena next with a dramatic performance. To, Fujita's sister, might be considered the ringer of the group, having worked in the restaurant biz in New York for 30 years. She had come home to celebrate a friend's birthday, but wanted to take part in the competition.

To set the scene by greeting Spear, who strolled into the kitchen in board shorts and snorkeling gear, fishing spear in one hand along with a bucketful of Big Island opae and "River Water," also reported to be from the Big Isle.

The sweet prawns had been stuffed in advance with lemon grass, palm sugar, tamarind paste, fish sauce, ginger, chiles and garlic, then sautéed on the spot. They were plated in a shallow dish of blue glass layered with river rocks and a ladleful of "River Water," with stalks of lemon grass representing riverbank vegetation.

As it turns out, Spear wasn't kidding around. He caught the opae just for the event, while nightfishing at Honomu on the Hamakua Coast, saying it was spooky due to heavy rain and the possibility of flash flooding. "I kept listening for that rush of water."

MORE UNDERSEA life inspired last year's winners, Karen and Leland Miyano, returning with assistants Heidi Bornhorst and Clark Leavitt. Karen quickly stuffed calamari with a mixture of ground lamb, shrimp, water chestnuts, Thai basil and garlic, sealed them up with wooden skewers and laid them on the stovetop grill.

Meanwhile, Leland blanched green onions and went to work weaving the softened material into fishing nets. The calamari were slipped into the nets and served with yellow bell pepper, carrots and daikon that had been sliced thin and stamped with mini cookie cutters into the shapes of crabs, shrimp and lobsters. All this was placed in a lettuce leaf that could be folded and dipped in sauce, to be eaten with one's hands.

As if this weren't enough, Karen proceeded to mix a refreshing drink of homemade ginger ale.

Everyone was filling up by the time "Da Goils" Ann Moriyasu, Kathy Farley, Doris Taitano and Judith Park took the stage, with a recipe for penne and shrimp straight from San Marco, Venezia. Guests were treated to a refreshing finishing touch of limoncello, an icy lemon liqueur.

When it was over the Havres had won for taste, and the Miyanos won the beverage-pairing portion of the contest, tying with To's team for creativity. To's team also won the presentation, performance and overall prizes.

Already, Karen Miyano is looking forward to a rematch. "Next year, I'm ready," she said. "I'm already thinking about it."

Here are some of the recipes for re-creating the experience at home:

Firecracker Prawns and River Water

Cheryl To

1 pound medium-sized "head-on" shrimp
Peanut oil to sauté
Chopped cilantro
"River Water"
(recipe follows)
>> Marinade:
1/8 cup soy sauce
1 teaspoon palm sugar
1/3 stalk of lemon grass, chopped fine
1 tablespoon fish sauce
3 cloves of garlic, chopped fine
1-inch piece of ginger, grated or chopped fine
Juice of 1/2 lime
3 to 4 bird's-eye chiles, chopped fine
(depends how much heat you want; remember this is Firecracker Prawns!)
1 whole shallot, chopped fine
1 tablespoon tamarind paste

Mix marinade ingredients together; set aside.

Clean shrimp. Cut through the back shell and just enough into the meat to remove poop line.

Combine the marinade ingredients to form a paste. Place under the shell of each prawn. Let sit 1 to 2 hours.

Sauté shrimp in hot peanut oil. The shrimp will cook very quickly. Do not make the oil too hot, as it will burn the marinade. Stir in cilantro at the last second. Serve with River Water.

River Water

(Note from Cheryl To: "This recipe is not exact. I like to eyeball it ... know what I mean?)

1 pound inexpensive "head-on" shrimp
Peanut oil
2 chopped shallots
3 to 5 pieces lemon grass, pounded to release the flavor
3 cilantro roots, cleaned and smashed
2 garlic cloves, smashed
1/2 teaspoon Hawaiian salt
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
5 or more pieces kaffir lime leaves
2 2-inch long, 1/4-inch thick pieces of ginger, smashed
Fresh lime juice

Clean shrimp. Sauté in a little peanut oil with shallots, lemon grass, cilantro and garlic. Add salt and toss. Cook shrimp until well-browned. You want to get a toasty shrimp flavor.

Cover with water (about 1 inch over the shrimp). Simmer 20 to 30 minutes over low heat.

Add peppercorns, lime leaves and ginger. Add salt to taste. Remove and strain liquid. Just before serving, squeeze a bit of fresh lime juice into the water.

Voila! River Water and cooked shrimp for the cat. Everybody's happy.

Note: You can always add more water to the shrimp and simmer again for a second pot of river water. It won't be as potent, but you can add it to the first batch to extend it.

Stuffed Squid in Lettuce Wrap

Leland and Karen Miyano

1 box squid (each 3 to 5 inches long, available pre-cleaned from Da Seafood Store at 925B Maunakea St.)
Lettuce leaves
>> Filling:
1 cup ground lamb, cooked
1 cup chopped shrimp, cooked
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, grated
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1/2 cup dried wood-ear mushrooms, reconstituted and chopped
1/2 cup water chestnuts, chopped
1/4 cup green onion, chopped
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
1/4 cup fresh mint, chopped
1/4 cup fresh Thai basil, chopped
>> Dipping sauce:
2 Thai chile peppers, seeded and minced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon peanut oil
>> Garnish:
Shaved carrot
Sliced cucumber
Rice stick noodles, cooked and cooled
Mint leaves
Thai basil leaves

Mix dipping sauce ingredients; set aside. Mix filling ingredients and set aside; keep warm.

Stuff cleaned squid bodies with filling. Thread wooden skewers through the open end of each squid to close. Grill 2 minutes on each side.

Serve in lettuce topped with carrots, cucumbers, rice noodles, mint and basil to taste. Drizzle with dipping sauce; fold and eat. Serves 6.

Homemade Ginger Ale

Leland and Karen Miyano

2 cups ginger, peeled and sliced
2 cups water
2 cups sugar
Sparkling water
Lemon, cut into wedges

Boil the ingredients together until mixture is reduced by one-third. Add 2 tablespoons (or to taste) to a tall glass of ice and sparkling water. Finish with a wedge of lemon.

If not using immediately, refrigerate in an airtight container. The ginger syrup will keep for about 2 weeks.

Nutritional information unavailable.

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