Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Organic oasis

Delicious, healthful fare is the reward for those who journey to Waianae's Kahumana Cafe

POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Sep 29, 2010

Chef Ranjith Ramanakumar plates Ginger Garlic Mahimahi at Kahumana Cafe. Behind him is café director and manager Robert Zuckerman.

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Last year, a ringed-neck parakeet flew into my life, and, long story short, I found him an excellent home in Waianae where he now lives with his new mate in a large outdoor flight aviary. On visiting with him, I asked his new family if they had heard of an organic restaurant nearby.

They looked at me as if I were crazy. I was going a little crazy trying to find it myself. "Organic, here?" was their response; the subtext being, "Good luck with that."
Waianae is not the first place people usually think of when it comes to progressive food movements, but that is what has been going on at Kahumana Farms for more than 30 years.

The farm is rooted in the philosophy of Waldorf Schools founder Rudolf Steiner. He grew up in the aftermath of the Industrial Revolution, when the rural lifestyle that had sustained people for generations lost ground to technology and urban centers, the result being the displacement of human beings and a feeling of disconnect from nature.

Steiner looked to the farm and agriculture as the route back to well-being, considering the farm not only as a place of physical sustenance but a place that encourages personal growth and community consciousness.

With Steiner's ideas in mind, Father Philip Harmon and the late Frances Sydow co-founded the Kahumana organization in 1974, providing outreach services for the needy in Waikiki and Makiki. Their aim was to establish a farm for biodynamic agriculture that would help feed people, provide economic activities and become a center for holistic healing.

Today, in addition to raising crops on 14 acres, the Kahumana organization also manages transitional housing at Ohana Ola O Kahumana and Ulu Ke Kukui.
The cafe is the newest development, having opened its doors late last fall with the aim of serving as a job training site, as well as a model for sustainability, healthy living and eating.

"We had no idea who would come," said cafe director and manager Robert Zuckerman. "We were hoping to reach the local community because there's so many in this area who don't eat well and have so many health issues."

Food served at the cafe offers an alternative to a high-cholesterol, refined-sugar diet, and Zuckerman said, "Some try it and come back; others are like, 'It's not my style.'"

Almost a year later, the cafe is also welcoming visitors from across the island and fielding many requests to open a second branch in Honolulu. That day may come, but for now, they're trying to remain true to the farm's initial vision, while striking a balance with the foodies showing up for what Zuckerman calls "whole-food cooking" and agricultural ambience. The big-picture vision is admirable, but townies faced with a 60-plus-mile two-way drive also want to know, is the food worthwhile?

Let's just say many a visitor has left Waianae wishing the restaurant could be transplanted to Honolulu due to dishes that are both healthful and delicious, from the humblest beet and pea soups, to plates accompanied by greens fresh from the farm.

The menu is small but well-balanced. Salads are to be expected, but you'll also find daily specials that might include burgundy beef, Hungarian goulash, teriyaki beef or chicken curry.

When I visited, there was a delicious meatloaf of grass-fed Maui beef, with a generous amount of chopped Swiss chard and herbs mixed in with the beef. As the daily special ($10 to $12), it came with a choice of soup or salad.

Start with homemade hummus and pita bread ($5) or a huge caprese ($10) with farm greens. Quesadillas ($8) comprise whole wheat tortillas topped with cheddar-jack cheese and avocado to which you could add grilled chicken for an extra $3.

Whole-wheat pasta stirred with macadamia nut pesto ($10) was another of my favorite dishes, served with stir-fried farm greens (on that day, chopped kale), and a choice of salad or soup. Add grilled ahi, chicken or garlic butter shrimp for $3.

Other light offerings are a Greek or Mexican veggie wrap ($8 each). Add grilled ahi or shrimp for $3. Both start with tomato, cucumber, olive tapenade and mixed greens. The difference is the cheese -- feta on the Greek, cheddar on the Mexican -- and avocado on the latter. The Greek tastes Greek; the Mexican could have used a salsa assist.

For dessert there is cheesecake ($3), often with seasonal fruit toppings, carrot cake, banana bread and dense chocolate brownie that's almost like fudge.

Tip well, as cafe proceeds and tips serve as donations supporting Kahumana Farms endeavors.

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