Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Guest 'chefs' take over The MODERN

Nadine Kam photos
Fresh Box’s Will Chen was the guest chef during The MODERN Honolulu’s inaugural Chef Takeover event. He presented an ahi-cutting and cooking demo leading up to guests’ takeover of the kitchen.

I headed to The MODERN Honolulu’s inaugural “Chef Takeover” culinary experience under the impression Chef William Chen, of Fresh Box, was taking over the kitchen.

Yes, he was there for an ahi-cutting and cooking demonstration of ahi tostadas, but, surprise!, it was actually the guests who were invited to take over the kitchen via a build-your-own poke bar and grill stations that allowed us to cook our own fish.

Fire and alcohol—that is, signature cocktails made with Ocean Organic Vodka and Deep Island Hawaiian Rum—can be a dangerous combination, but it was a fun evening, and I ended up making two batches of poke because I missed the sesame oil and wasabi on the first go-round.

The event took place Nov. 8, and may be the hotel's first in a series of annual events celebrating local sustainability and agriculture.

Another special guest of the MODERN’s executive chef Keith Pajinag was Brooks Takenaka of the United Fishing Agency, who spoke about the local fishing industry and it’s place in a global marketplace in which we find ourselves competing with others unwilling to abide by American laws regarding sustainable practices. And, in a state in which availability of fish is assumed, he said, 93 percent of our fish is imported.

That is why I never take enjoying fish for granted.

 The poke bar had everything we needed to make up batches of traditional and contemporary poke. There was much more ingredients than shown here.

Aya Nishihara started her poke sauce first with a litle mayo and Sriracha.

Brooks Takenaka’s wife Cynthia made up this more traditional-style batch of poke using ogo, green onion, inamona, rock salt and a touch of wasabi tobiko.

California-style poke with avocado and mayo.

Chef Chen’s seared ahi tostada with pomegranate seeds.

Also on the menu, roasted ahi collars.

Kristy and Matt Chun show their seared ahi dishes to chef Pajinag.

Matt had to deal with others’ mess, to arrive at the resulting relish, below.

Pam Davis sears her fish.

Sesame-crusted fish awaiting its turn on the griddle.
Nadine Kam is Style Editor and staff restaurant critic at the Honolulu Star-Advertiser; her coverage is in print on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Contact her via email at nkam@staradvertiser.com and follow her on Twitter, Instagram and Rebel Mouse.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Restaurant Week Hawaii 2015

Nadine Kam photos
A beautiful antipasto misto platter of nine assorted bites is the start of Arancino Beachwalk’s Restaurant Week 2015 menu. Pictured from front are caprese salad, salmon, bagna cauda and vegetable sticks, duck, frittata, marinated octopus, grilled zucchini and roasted bell peppers, and prosciutto.


Billed as the “most delicious week of the year,” Restaurant Week Hawaii is back, a weeklong celebration of the cuisine scene in Hawaii, from fine dining to fast-food,

Participating restaurants are featuring special menu items and promotions through Sunday, often offering the opportunity for diners to revisit familiar haunts at a discount and try some of the newbies in search of new favorites.

A portion of the proceeds from Restaurant Week Hawaii will support the Culinary Institute of the Pacific at Diamond Head. When completed, Hawaii’s first four-year culinary program will serve students working toward careers in Hawaii’s restaurant and hospitality industry.

Visit www.restaurantweekhawaii.com to see what’s on the menu of your favorite eateries.

Here’s is a look at what’s on the menu at Arancino Beachwalk for $40 per person, with a two-person minimum; and below, at Bread + Butter Honolulu, where chef Masa Gushiken’s tasting menu is $45, with optional $25 wine pairings.

At 255 Beach Walk Ave. Call (808) 923-5557.

Diners have a choice of two dishes for the primi course, spaghetti with about two dozen clams, tomato concasse, garlic olive oil and white wine, or below, deconstructed creamy spaghetti alla carbonara, with egg on top stirred in at the table with Parmesan and pancetta in the dish.

Housemade tiramisu for dessert.

Arancino’s sister restaurants are also offering special menus as follows:

Arancino di Mare: Start with a salad of scallop carpaccio with sea asparagus, tobiko, onion and champagne vinaigrette; followed by antipasto of Sicilian arancini. The primi course offers diners a choice of deconstructed spaghetti alla carbonara or spaghetti vongole, followed by dessert of a light chocolate mousse with lilikoi sauce and fig. Costs $42 per person. The restaurant is on the ground level of the Waikiki Beach Marriott, 2552 Kalakaua Ave. Call (808) 931-6273.

Arancino at The Kahala: The menu starts with carpaccio di capesante, featurig Hokkaido scallops, cucumber, local Ululoa Farm micro greens and a housemade yuzu vinaigrette; followed by antipasto of three-mushroom and Parmigiano Reggiano arancini ai funghi with petite shortrib squares. The primi course is a choice of kabocha gnocci or braised oxtail with housemade maltagliati pasta with daikon, carrots and Okinawan sweet potato. Dessert is a roasted almond panna cotta with coconut gelato and coconut granita. The cost is $57 per person, with optional $18 per person wine pairings. At the Kahala Hotel. Call (808) 380-4400.


At 1585 Kapiolani Boulevard, next door to sister restaurant Shokudo. Call (808) 949-3430.

 Bread + Butter's Restaurant Week 2015 menu starts with a black truffle egg custard with dashi. This is paired with Scharfenburger Brut for those who choose the pairing option.

Next up is a Tapas Trio of a beet, peach and blue cheese salad; delicious blue crab and mango tartare; and Kobe beef empanada. Pairing: 2012 Schlumburger Pinot Blanc.

Poached blue prawn on a honey risotto with saffron aioli. Pairing: 2013 Jermann Pinot Grigio.

Diners have a choice of two entrĂ©es, uni pasta incorporating Santa Barbara uni in a cream sauce, or below, a double duck combo of seared duck breast and foie gras with dark coffee reduction and charred Kahuku corn with a dash of truffle oil. Pairing: 2013 Domaine Dupeuble Beaujolais and 2013 Maison L’envoye Two Messengers Pinot Noir, respectively.

Dessert of chocolate molten lava cake with chocolate and caramel center, vanilla ice cream and berries.

Nadine Kam is Style Editor and staff restaurant critic at the Honolulu Star-Advertiser; her coverage is in print on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Contact her via email at nkam@staradvertiser.com and follow her on Twitter, Instagram and Rebel Mouse.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Magnolia Bakery set to open first U.S. cafe in Honolulu

Nadine Kam photos
Magnolia Bakery will bring its renowned cakes, pastries and pies to its Honolulu bakery and cafe operation, set to open Nov. 12 at Ala Moana Center.


Magnolia Bakery's Chief Baking Officer Bobbie Lloyd was in town a few weeks ago, in the test kitchen at Y. Hata, to make sure recipes she created in New York, would work with Hawaii’s weather and humidity when the renowned bakery opens its first United States bakery and cafe operation at Ala Moana Center Nov. 12.

It’ll be a twofer as there will also be a standalone bakery operation as well, serving to-go clientele so that sit-down customers will be insulated from the crush of patrons lining up for cupcakes, pies and other confections.

“Everything’s turning out perfect,” Lloyd said, as she pulled out pies, brownies and cupcakes from the ovens.

A fan of vintage desserts, Lloyd inherited the baking gene from her mom. “I’m from the midwest suburbs of Chicago. My mom was a baker, and back in the 1950s and ’60s, you wouldn’t dream of showing up at someone’s home without a cake. My mom always had a cake, or cookies, or pie, ready to go.”

Magnolia Bakery's chief baking officer Bobbie Lloyd was in town a few weeks ago testing recipes to make sure they work in Hawaii's climate. She'll be back for the grand opening.

Non-flash video

Lloyd received formal chef’s training at Boston’s Modern Gourmet Cooking School, and her passion for the kitchen arts led her to open her own restaurant, American Accent, in 1980s Boston.

“The concept was, if you saw it on the table, we made it. We made our own ketchup, pastas, breads, spice blends, jams and jellies. It was difficult to make money that way but it was such good idea that I had to do it.”

She went on to work as a private chef for Calvin Klein, then service manager at Union Square Cafe before joining Magnolia Bakery in 2007. It was a good fit. Magnolia Bakery had been founded in 1996 with the idea of serving classic American baked goods, opening in New York’s West Village. The little bakery grew a local following, but won international attention from appearances on “Sex and the City” and other New York-based TV programs and films. Magnolia has since expanded its business worldwide.

Locally, patrons will be able to choose from a variety of cafe menu items, including egg skillets, red velvet pancakes, pulled pork biscuit sandwiches and seasonal salads, as well as Magnolia’s renowned handmade desserts.

'Nolia pies will make their debut in Honolulu. Featured here are pear and vegetarian options.

The cafe brings Lloyd full circle to her chef’s roots, as she insists, “I’m not a pastry chef and never call myself that. I’m more of a home-style baker, but I approach my work like a pastry chef.”

Her title of Chief Baking Officer came from an encounter at London’s Heathrow Airport, when an immigration official looking at her travel papers saw her title of President of Magnolia Bakery, and sniffed, “No one’s the president of a bakery.”

“And I thought, ‘She’s right!’ It’s way too serious, so I knew it was time to change that.”

In creating the menu, Lloyd transformed some of Magnolia’s most loved cakes and cupcakes into other forms. The Hummingbird, a Southern classic that seems to be made for Hawaii because of its combination of tropical pineapple and bananas, with pecans, will be available in pancake form. Its sweet cream cheese icing will become a thick syrup.

The company’s first United States bakery and cafe marks a homecoming for chef Jonas Low, who worked at Magnolia’s Lebanon location.

Lloyd had help getting to know the local palate from Magnolia Hawaii’s local born and raised executive chef Jonas Low, who’s returned home after working at Magnolia’s Lebanon location.

Low attended Leeward Community College before studying pastry at the Western Culinary Institute in Portland and going on to work at Gary Danko in San Francisco. Coming home “just worked out for me,” he said. “I’m like a lot of the generation of local chefs that have traveled out, seen what is out there, got the training, and are bringing it back home.

“My role is making sure that what goes out of our kitchen is consistent with the New York brand.”

Though with a few local twists. Lloyd said she was happy when she heard of Hawaii’s love of pork, which inspired two additions to the menu, a pulled pork skillet of creamy grits, jalapeno and cheddar with the pork on top, and a pulled pork biscuit sandwich.

She’s left wiggle room in the menu for Low to play with local and seasonally available ingredients to keep things interesting. A kale salad might incorporate asparagus and peaches in the summer, then switch to butternut squash in the fall.

She’d long desired to add breakfast and meal service at Magnolia, knowing that “People love breakfast and they like eggs all day.”

If they’re lucky, New York might follow in Honolulu’s footsteps next year.
Magnolia Bakery and Magnolia Bakery and Cafe will open Nov. 12 at Ala Moana Center. Hours will be 10 a.m. to 1o p.m. daily.

Nadine Kam is Style Editor and staff restaurant critic at the Honolulu Star-Advertiser; her coverage is in print on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Contact her via email at nkam@staradvertiser.com and follow her on Twitter, Instagram and Rebel Mouse.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Singapore Diary: Exploring Chinatown

Nadine Kam photos
When in doubt traveling in a foreign city, follow the locals. In Singapore’s Chinatown, a lot of parties were centered around this fish dish. Watch the video to see the fish cooking over fire.


Day 2 in Singapore saw us heading to Chinatown where we were hoping to find the nation’s famous chilli crab. Possibly because of demand, hawker stalls were out. But, in People’s Park food court, we saw a wondrous sight: people walking by with large pans carrying Chong Qing grilled fish.

It’s a variation of a hot pot dish that originated in Chong Qing, China, part of Sichuan province, which explains its spicy character and use of the tongue-numbing Sichuan peppercorn. Here though, the sauce was so balanced I didn’t mind the peppercorns at all.

The fish—in this case grouper—is not really grilled, but deep-fried; layered over bean sprouts, sliced onions and other veggies; doused with the soy-sesame-black bean-ginger-spice sauce; then topped with peanuts and cilantro. It is delicious!

It wasn’t hard to spot locals sitting down for a lunch of Chong Qing grilled fish, one of those dishes you see and know you must try.

The grouper doesn’t look much more attactive when it’s alive. I took this photo at my hotel, the Marina Bay Sands.

Non-flash video

Another Chinatown treasure is bak kwa, which translates as “fragrant jerky.” Singapore’s sweet, tender and juicy pork jerky sells for about SG$25 per pound, or about $18.50 in U.S. dollars, at outlets like Bee Cheng Hiang, where customers can sample different varieties.

Fresh fruit is also sliced, wrapped and sold in healthful single-serve to-go style. While there I also tried bingtanghulu, or candied Hawthorn berries, for the first time. The inch-and-a-half berries are stacked on skewers and not something I would try if I just saw it on the street because I’m more attracted to savory bites than sweets. But, I was with Sean Morris who recognized them and liked them. We certainly don’t have such a thing in Hawaii, so I tried it and liked the crunchy, crackly sweetness. If you happen to go and try them, watch out for the large seeds.

Singapore’s Chinatown is so clean compared to our own. In spite of the number of seafood dishes being offered, there were no fishy odors, no sight of fish guts lying around or puddles of fish water.

In fact, everywhere we went was clean, without a scrap of paper or cigarette butt on the ground. It just goes to show you what can be done if everyone takes pride in their city and makes the effort.

Singapore’s Chinatown is beautiful. The Majestic theater on Eu Tong Sen Street had a long history, initially built as a Cantonese opera house in 1928, converted into a theater by the Shaw Brothers in 1938, taken over by the Japanese during World War II for the screening of propaganda films, then converted back into a Chinese film theater until it closed in 1998. In 2003, it reopened as a three-story shopping complex. It is now closed.

I love the colonial architecture of the Chinatown and that they have the pride to keep the buildings beautifully painted.

An overpass allows you to avoid traffic below, although Singapore is one international destination where drivers tend to be cautious because laws there can be Draconian. That’s what makes it so safe for travelers, unless you bring in drugs. If caught, you will likely be executed.

Fresh fruit beautifully sliced and packaged in single-serve to-go portions.

Singapore’s Chinatown is also known for its bak kwa, or sweet grilled pork jerky, this batch from Bee Chang Hiang. Alas, I tried to bring $40 worth of jerky home and was honest and listed it on my Customs form. And they confiscated it! So mad! Now my friends and family won’t know how sweet and juicy and tender it is unless they travel to Singapore themselves. If I thought it would be taken away, I would have saved myself the trip of going back to Chinatown to pick it up fresh before my flight. Customs should at least reimburse us if they’re going to steal our food! It’s not like it’s poisonous. I already ate it on the street!
Nadine Kam is Style Editor and staff restaurant critic at the Honolulu Star-Advertiser; her coverage is in print on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Contact her via email at nkam@staradvertiser.com and follow her on Twitter, Instagram and Rebel Mouse.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Singapore Diary: A visit to Justin Quek's Sky on 57

Nadine Kam photos
Chef Justin Quek presides over Sky at 57 on the 57th floor of the luxurious Marina Bay Sands Resort, which covers 1.3 million acres.


Food festivals are a wonderful place for restaurant fanboys and fangirls to mix and mingle with their favorite culinary superstars, but they are no substitute for heading to their restaurants for a firsthand experience of what they can accomplish in their own kitchens with their own staff and arsenal of regional ingredients.

I’d sampled Singapore chef Justin Quek’s offerings at the Hawai’i Food & Wine Festival, but it did not leave me with a sense of his full capabilities.

An orange sunset from the 57th floor of the luxurious Marina Bay Sands Resort, which covers 1.3 million acres.

In Singapore, where he presides over Sky on 57, I got a taste of Singaporean cuisine, elevated to match its surroundings on the rooftop of the luxurious Marina Bay Sands. From the rooftop, Quek reminisced about starting his career in nearly the same spot, though 57 stories lower, in a Marina Bay riverboat galley.

He’s come a long way, and proves it via his Sky on 57 “Ultimate Dining Experience,” a degustation menu of “seasonal bespoke creations.” The cost of the meal was SG$250, but with the current exchange rate, it amounted to about $185 per person, which I felt was totally worth the price.

Here’s what Quek’s meal at Sky on 57 looked like:

The first course in his degustation menu was a parfait of Oscietra caviar over smoked mackerel. So delicious and extravagant, it set the pace for the meal to come.

Next up was an ocean salad of Hokkaido scallop, Kagoshima hamachi, French oyster and Norway langoustine with ginger flower dressing.

Foie gras xiao long bao with truffle consomme. Yup, the one in front is topped with gold leaf.

Tasmanian cod fillet with sweet sour sauce, is topped with its own crispy scales. For some reason, they don't mind scales in Singapore, so if you get the Chongqing fish in Chinatown, you'll be spitting out scales. This one is supposed to be so crispy you don't mind, but it's still much harder than the deep-fried shrimp shells we might eat at a typical Chinese restaurant.

Quek’s upscale version of Hokkien prawn mee featured lobster, and set us off to find the street version of this dish. Alas, we only found soup prawn me, which paled in comparison.

Wok-fried Kagoshima wagyu with black pepper sauce. By this time we were so full, and the richness of the wagyu made us feel we could only eat one cube, but we perservered. Could not let this go to waste.

Laksa was not part of the menu, but I had mentioned it in passing, so Quek offered up his version of the classic Peranakan (Chinese-Malay) spicy noodle soup.

"Crazy About Chocolate" finale with chocolate fondant, brownie, milk chocolate mousse crumble, chocolate tuille and Macallan 15-year-old Scotch ice cream.

How to afford such a meal on a restricted budget? Much of Singapore’s specialties are available at hawker stalls for cheap. About USD$3 will get you a huge bowl of laksa or prqwn mee, or lunch plate of fried chicken with rice, fried egg and sambal. About USD $4 will get you a plate of shrimp sauce fried chicken. Even with a splurge dinner, over six days, it’s easy to get buy on dining for $40 a day or less.
Nadine Kam is Style Editor and staff restaurant critic at the Honolulu Star-Advertiser; her coverage is in print on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Contact her via email at nkam@staradvertiser.com and follow her on Twitter, Instagram and Rebel Mouse.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Singapore culinary artist Janice Wong's sweet life

Nadine Kam photos
Acclaimed pastry artist Janice Wong in her Singapore studio.


SINGAPORE-Janice Wong grew up left brain with a mind for math and economics. Then, like a work of classic narrative fiction, 11 years ago, a bump on the head in a car accident awakened the right side of her brain, triggering a quest to find new outlets for her newfound visions and creativity.

Already a fan of sweets and pastries, her new direction entailed using sugar, candy, chocolate and food as media for art canvases, sculptures and installations that have brought her international renown.

The Singapore-based chef counts fashion brands such as Fendi, Tiffany and Kate Spade among her clients, and her art has won her invitations around the globe to set up exhbitions, more than 45 this year alone.

She’s won the World Gourmet Summit Awards title of Pastry Chef of the Year in 2011, 2013 and 2015, and the title of Asia’s Best Pastry Chef award from Restaurant magazine in 2013 and 2014. She’s also the author of “Perfection in Imperfection.”

Non-flash video

At home in Singapore, her truffles and edible paints can be found at The Shoppes in Marina Bay Sands to bring home as omiyage, while her dessert confections can be enjoyed at her 2am:dessertbar at 21a Lorong Liput in Holland Village. The dessert bar is open from 3 p.m. Tuesdays to Fridays, closing at 2 a.m., and 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Saturdays and Sundays.

At 2am:dessertbar, Janice Wong’s Cassis Plum, a cassis bombe with elderflower yogurt foam, Choya (ume plum wine) granite, yuzu pears and yuzu rubies.

Wong with a work of sugar flowers she created for Fendi. The peg board held lollipops for guests to enjoy.

A "living" chocolate table at 2am:dessertbar. The chocolate is under glass and the changing tremperature over the course of the day causes it to expand and contract, changing the pattern over time.
Inside 2am:dessertbar.

On the retail front, a few of Wong’s hand-painted bon bons in salt caramel (top) and whiskey and orange flavors.

At the Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands, you can mix and match those bon bons to bring home in her beautiful colored boxes.

You can also exercise your creativity by bringing home some of her chocolate paints.

Another of Wong’s works wrapped to travel for an exhibition in Dubai where she was heading the day after our interview.

Wong is the rare cerebral chef and I can't even begin to make sense of her notes in coming up with her dessert creations. Where others take a random, scattershot approach that shows in the nonsensical taste of a final product, her combinations manage to be both multi-dimensional and precise, without a note out of place, and a total joy on the palate. Produce enzymes are her latest passion, as a morning tonic and for the chemical reactions they bring about in the cooking process.

Andy Warhol in Wong’s studio.

Wong created her own stoneware and ceramic ware for presentation of desserts at 2am:dessertbar.

 I love green tea so loved her dessert of a Kyoto Tsujirihei matcha tart with jasmine rice sherbet and yuzu drops, $20 or about $15USD.

But my favorite of her desserts was Hoijicha Sesame, a tofu parfait with Hojicha green tea custard, pear vodka sorbet, sesame sauce and ginger.
Nadine Kam is Style Editor and staff restaurant critic at the Honolulu Star-Advertiser; her coverage is in print on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Contact her via email at nkam@staradvertiser.com and follow her on Twitter, Instagram and Rebel Mouse.