Thursday, March 8, 2012

Beef tasting just an intro to Wong's aims

Nadine Kam photos
In advance of his next Farmer Series Dinner March 14, Alan Wong hosted a preview of some of the dishes on the menu, and when I requested to go into the kitchen, he was in the process of preparing glazed carrots and turnips.

Alan Wong started a media preview of his next Farmer Series Dinner, taking place March 14, 2012, with the presentation of two equal size beef patties, posing the question, "Which do you like better?"

The beef had been cooked sans salt, pepper or other enhancements for the side-by-side tasting.

Taste comes down to personal preferences, physiology and often, familiarity, so there is no right or wrong answer, but he must have been glad that most of the room preferred the patty on the right, which turned out to be Maui Cattle Co. beef that will be the centerpiece of his Farmer Series dinner, which will also start with side-by-side tastings, followed by appetizers, sous chef Shaun Gaines' "Shrimp and Grits," opakapaka, a tasting of Maui Cattle Co. beef and Hanaoka Farms Lilikoi "Creameux" for dessert, the latter two dishes pictured below.

The other tasting option at the March 7 preview was generic supermarket beef that tasted like fast-food beef. The Maui beef was much sweeter, with better texture, and more interesting grassy, herbal character. The cattle is raised on a vegetarian diet of grasses, and according to Wong, pineapple and molasses, and no antibiotics, growth stimulants or other chemicals.

Wong's simple question of which beef patty one prefers raises all kinds of sustainable and economic issues.

Beyond raising awareness of the flavor profile of different beef, Wong talked about some of his pet projects, such as Aina in Schools, which addresses childhood health issues, nutrition education, agricultural literacy and garden-based learning.

"Things are disappearing in Hawaii," he said. Where once island farms satisfied 70 percent of our dairy needs, that number is down to 30 percent. Bees are disappearing as well.

Maui Cattle Co. beef will be presented four ways at the dinner. In front, braised shortribs with pomme purée of Twin Bridge Farms Patina Potatoes, with red wine glaze made from Wong's merlot. Moving clockwise, there will also be London broil with glazed Maui onions and port wine sauce, ribeye with roasted Ho Farms tomato cluster, and New York strip with glazed turnips from Otsuji Farms and arugula tapenade. The latter was my favorite.

Oceans are also being depleted and he's pushing to encourage people to do aquaponics "to supplement what get from the ocean."

"It's much more than 'which hamburger you like?' he said. "It's getting down to schools, helping kids learn to eat more healthy."

In turn, the children get to taste and appreciate differences between fresh and processed foods, learn to choose healthful foods over sugary snacks, and with the increased food literacy are helping to drive their parents' decisions in the supermarket.

Proceeds from the Farmers Series dinner will benefit Taste of the Nation, the fundraising arm of the national organization Share Our Strength, whose campaign, "No Kid Hungry" aims to end childhood hunger in America by 2015. To date, one out of every four children in the country does not know where his/her next meal will come from, and studies have shown that undernourished children are unable to focus in school and grow up to suffer emotional and health problems.

Among the local beneficiaries are 'Aina in the Schools, a program of the Kokua Foundation, and Hawaii Foodbank.

Polly Kauahi, director of Hawaii Foodbank, Inc., was there to talk about the Food 4 Keiki Backpack Program which launched in 2008 at Kaiulani Elementary School. The program aims to fight childhood hunger, starting by distributing bags packed with nutritious foods once a month to students from low-income families. Since then, the program is delivering the meals every Friday.

The cost of the Farmers Series dinner is $80 per person/$110 with wine. For reservations, call 949-2526.

Also coming up, Wong and 15 local chefs will partner with local farmers in Share Our Strength's Taste of the Nation Hawaii, taking place April 29, 2012, at Bishop Museum, from 6 to 9 p.m., with a VIP hour from 5 p.m. Visit for more details about these and other events.

Carrots need space in the pan to achieve an even, glossy sheen.

Chef de Partie Sonny Acosta Jr., will be the featured chef during Alan Wong's Next Generation Dinner taking place March 28, 2012. Among the highlights of this dinner will be his "Poulet au Vinaigre," which he prepared at the 2012 Bocuse d'Or USA Commis Competition at The Culinary Institute of America on Jan. 28. The chefs were invited to reinterpret Paul Bocuse's classic recipe in their style.

Drawing on his Filipino heritage, and growing up with the food of Thelma's in Waipahu, Acosta presented adobo style chicken three ways, including lumpia with ground chicken. It was delicious, could that be because I grew up in Waipahu, too?

After all the meat selections, pastry chef Michelle Karr-Ueoka's dessert was a light, refreshing delight. Her Hanaoka Farms Lilikoi "Creameux" comprised lilikoi curd, foam guava granite and foam coconut granite aerated in a canister to create a soft sponge effect, topped with white candied ginger meringue. That square toward far left comprises mango lassi, muddled mango, mango gelee and fresh mango. Amazing! The meal ended with amazake, a traditional unfiltered sake reinterpreted with Hanaoka Farms lilikoi juice, presented by wine director Mark Shishido.

Wong with new sous chef Shaun Gaines.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Celebrating 'Made in America' Hawaii-style

Nadine Kam photos
Among chefs participating in the "Made in America 2" chef's dinner March 3 were, from left, Nancy Silverton, Josiah Citrin, Ludo Lefebvre and The Four Seasons Resort chef de cuisine Nick Mastrascusa.

Some of Los Angeles' top chefs were in the house at the Four Seasons Resort Hualalai for "Made in America 2," five days of cooking classes, a farm tour, a fishing trip and sumptuous meals that took place March 1 through 5.

I was able to fly over to the Big Island for the chef's dinner March 3 at the Beach Tree restaurant, bringing together the talents of Nancy Silverton (Osteria Mozza, Pizzeria Mozza, La Brea Bakery), Matt Molina (executive chef of Osteria Mozza and Pizzeria Mozza), Ludo and Krissy Lefebvre (LudoBites) and Josiah Citrin (Mélisse, Lemon Moon Café).

Each of the chefs is featured in Lucy Lean's cookbook, "Made in America: Our Best Chefs Reinvent Comfort Food," published last fall, which showcases America's classic comfort food dishes as reinvented by 100 of today's top chefs from across the nation. Recipes by the Four Seasons Resort Hualalai executive chef James Babian and pastry chef Linda Rodriguez appeared in the cookbook, so the resort invited Lean back for "Made in America" celebration once the book was published. "MIA2" revisited the work, this time with more of Lean's chef friends to keep her company.

Considering the star power, I thought the various dinners were very reasonably priced at $69 to $99 per person with wine pairings by Master Sommelier Chuck Furuya.

Josiah Citrin had another reason to be in Hawaii, checking in on his new burger shack, Sure Thing Burger, in Lahaina. He's trying to get me to go over and try it, which is tempting, given that it's getting mostly 5-star ratings on Yelp, mostly from out-of-towners who have no clue as to the star power behind it.

He says he'll be on Oahu in September, for Roy Yamaguchi and Alan Wong's Hawaii Food and Wine Festival, an event that is more than doubling its size in its second year, to 50 chefs! Can't wait for that!

Lucy Lean's "Made in America: Our Best Chefs Reinvent Comfort Food" cookbook inspired the culinary gathering.

Lean's book, rendered in white chocolate.

As nice as it would be to have such a gathering on Oahu, the setting was fabulous and the intimacy allowed for great exchange between chefs and foodie fans.

The resort strives to be a culinary destination, and one fan, Greg Hartman of San Francisco, shared his love of the resort, saying that just a few years ago, it was "hollow."

Things changed, he said, with the opening of the Beach Tree on manager Chuck Wilson's birthday in August of 2009. "It transformed the whole resort," Hartman said.

Chef de cuisine Nick Mastrascusa describes the Beach Tree as the piko of the property, the gathering place where people congregate to relax and enjoy the beautiful sunsets.

Formerly with the Four Seasons New York, Mastrascusa arrived at the same time as Wilson, and when he left New York, his peers teased, "What are you going to be doing there? Opening coconuts and serving food in them? Serving them with pineapple?

Far from it. The food certainly gives area farmers and ranchers their due, utilizing 75 percent local ingredients, but without a ticky-tacky tourist dish in sight.

Nick Mastrascusa grates cheese over the Garganelli with Ragu Bolognese cooked up on the spot by Nancy Silverton and Matt Molina.

Citrin offers Lefebvre a taste of one of his creations.