Chefs Göran Streng of the Hawaii Prince Hotel, left, Don Maruyama of the Waikiki Parc Hotel and Colin Nishida of Side Street Inn gather in the taro patch at the Center for Hawaiian Studies at the University of Hawaii-Manoa to take a close look at the ingredient they'll be using at next week's fund-raising dinner for the Native Hawaiian Legal Corp.

Taro tradition

Farmers find spirit;
chefs find inspiration
in the humble root

Ed Wendt has a goat to eat his weeds, ducks to eat his snails and the moon to bless his taro.

"Taro will come big if you take care," Wendt says. "Round, like the moon."

A Gathering of Stars

A benefit dining event for the Native Hawaiian Legal Corp.

When: 5 to 9 p.m. Nov. 22

Place: Bishop Museum Great Lawn

Participating chefs: Chai Chaowasaree, Fred DeAngelo, Hiroshi Fukui, Mariano Lalica, Eric Leterc, Don Maruyama, Ronnie Nasuti, Colin Nishida, James Sadiarin, Russell Siu, Goran Streng, Alan Wong, Rodney Uyehara

Entertainment: Includes Genoa Keawe, Raiatea Helm, Martin Pahinui, George Ku'o, Aaron Mahi

Tickets: $150; corporate tables $2,500, $5,000 and $7,500

Call: 521-2302

Wendt's loi, or taro farm, is in Wailua Nui in East Maui, an ahupuaa, or ancient land division, that makes up the island's largest taro acreage, about 300 acres.

For Wendt, taro growing has never been strictly about farming. It has deep spiritual meaning and is his family's legacy.

"This is my dream, my church, my culture, my traditional rights," he says.

"All of us who live out here know we have to do it."

Next week, Wendt will send 200 pounds of freshly picked taro to Honolulu for a fine-dining event called "A Gathering of Stars" at the Bishop Museum. Here, his taro will be given the white-tablecloth treatment by 13 chefs who'll prove that poi is only the beginning of taro's possibilities. The humble root will be finely shredded and deep-fried into baskets, made into crepes, stirred into creamy buerre blanc sauces, steamed, roasted and sautéed.

And so farm and finery will merge at the event, which will showcase the fruits of Maui's loi and fishponds. The occasion is a fund-raiser for the Native Hawaiian Legal Corp., which has been fighting a court battle on behalf of Wendt and other taro farmers for water rights in East Maui.

Wendt has planted taro since childhood, learning from his grandparents. Things haven't changed much, he says. He still plants and harvests year-round, according to the phases of the moon, but he has incorporated some modern techniques in the way of soil sampling, water science and fertilization.

Taro farmer Ed Wendt tends his family farm in East Maui.

As with all types of farming, the challenges are many. Water rights are one. Pocket rot is another. An infestation of apple snails about five years ago wiped out all his seedlings, but he's since learned to control the problem with snail-eating ducks. Coupled with the goats he uses to do the weeding, "we got one big family out here," Wendt says.

It's a lifestyle he would never consider giving up. "Some people like hanging around orchids or anthuriums. I like to putter around the loi."

This reverence for taro seems common among those who grow it.

Pomaikai Kaniaupio-Crozier is loi coordinator for the taro garden at the Center for Hawaiian Studies at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Here, several tightly planted taro patches are fed by water from Manoa stream.

Kaniaupio-Crozier says 60 types of taro are planted in the loi, probably the largest collection of varieties in the state. He knows them all, by the color of their stems and the shadings and shapes of their leaves.

The UH garden drew 15,000 visitors last year, an average of 600 a week, Kaniaupio-Crozier said. They include students of Hawaiian language and culture, but also soil scientists, interested in how things grow, and political scientists, interested in water issues. Chefs visit "to stomp around and see what quality taro looks like."

As on Maui, this loi is planted by the phases of the moon. One patch is harvested each month. Poi is pounded and taro cooked in an imu, "the old way."

Chef Göran Streng's Kauai shrimp poke will be served in a basket made of shredded, fried taro.

The chefs at the Nov. 22 event, on the other hand, will be preparing taro in new ways. Most will be sophisticated, multi-step creations, but their basic techniques with taro do offer some contemporary approaches for the home cook.

Göran Streng, executive chef with the Hawaii Prince Hotel Waikiki, will serve a poke made with Kauai shrimp in a taro basket. Follow his instructions for making the basket and fill it with your favorite poke, or Streng says it also makes a nice presentation for a salad.

Don Maruyama, executive chef at the Waikiki Parc Hotel, will serve kalua pig wrapped in poi crepes, topped with a lomi salmon buerre blanc sauce. His crepe recipe follows, which would be easy to wrap around some commercially prepared kalua pig. Or, cut back on the milk in the recipe and make poi pancakes.

Colin Nishida, proprietor of the Side Street Inn -- motto: "Everything's better with a pound of butter" -- offers a rich sauce made with the leaves of the taro plant. He'll serve it with seared scallops, but says it can be used to pump up any grilled or seared fish.

Taro Basket

1 taro root, about 1 pound, peeled
1/4 cup cornstarch
2 egg whites
1 quart vegetable oil, for deep-frying

Shred taro into thin strips using a mandolin or grater. Combine cornstarch and egg whites. Heat oil to 350 degrees.

Take a pinch of taro (about 2 tablespoons) and dredge in cornstarch mixture. Drop into hot oil. The taro will spread out; push the pieces together to form a layer, using a tongs. Use a ladle to press down the center of the taro to form a bowl. Fry until golden brown. Remove and drain on paper towels.

Nutritional information unavailable.

Poi Crepes

2 cups milk
1 cup poi
1 cup flour
3 large eggs
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoons cornstarch
Salt to taste
4 tablespoons clarified butter

Combine all ingredients except butter and mix until smooth. Add butter. If batter is too thick, add a small amount of water.

Heat a nonstick sauté pan over medium heat. Pour in just enough batter to coat the pan. Cook 30 seconds, then turn crepe. Cook another 30 seconds. Reserve on warm plate as you cook the rest of the crepes. Makes about 15 crepes.

Approximate nutritional analysis, per crepe: 120 calories, 6 g total fat, 3 g saturated fat, 60 mg cholesterol, 30 mg sodium, 15 g. carbohydrate, 3.5 g protein.

Luau Butter Sauce

1 cup white wine vinegar
1 shallot, diced
3 tablespoons honey, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon chile-garlic paste
2 tablespoons minced ginger
3 cups cream
1/2 pound butter
2 egg yolks, beaten
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup chopped, strained frozen luau leaves (see note)
1 tablespoon dry tarragon

Combine vinegar, shallot, honey, chile-garlic paste and ginger in a saucepan. Simmer over medium heat until reduced to 1/4 cup, about 15 minutes. Should be syrupy.

Heat cream over medium heat and reduce to 1 cup. Add butter and reduced vinegar mixture. Whisk to incorporate butter. Remove from heat.

Whisk 1/2 cup of cream mixture into beaten egg yolks. Add egg mixture to remaining cream. Add salt and pepper to taste. Strain.

Stir in luau leaves and tarragon. Serves 4.

Note: If using fresh luau leaves, start with 2 cups packed leaves; boil 1/2 hour, then drain and squeeze out liquid.

Approximate nutritional analysis, per serving (not including salt to taste): 1,020 calories, 105 g total fat, 64 g saturated fat, 430 mg cholesterol, 560 mg sodium, 21 g carbohydrate, 6 g protein.

Do It Electric
Click for online
calendars and events.


E-mail to Features Editor


Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Calendars]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]
© 2003 Honolulu Star-Bulletin --