When you think about dining in Hawaii, the first images that usually come to mind are the standard luau staples: poi, laulau, kalua pig and lomi salmon. Think again. In 1991, a dozen of Hawaii’s most talented chefs got together and pioneered a new regional cuisine—Hawaii Regional Cuisine—that put the Aloha State on the national and international fine dining map.
What Is Hawaii Regional Cuisine?
Hawaii Regional Cuisine utilizes Hawaii’s freshest ingredients of all varieties and incorporates them into wonderfully creative and beautifully presented dishes. Not only has Hawaii Regional Cuisine taken Island dining to the highest possible level, it’s also established Hawai‘i-grown products as among the finest in the world.
Previously, Hawaii’s food scene entailed sliced pineapple on a pizza. In her cookbook, The New Cuisine of Hawaii, noted food writer Janice Wald Henderson wrote, “Visitors had their choice of dining in pricey restaurants on frozen, shipped-in, picked-before-it’s-ripe food, or in tourist establishments that distorted traditional Hawaiian cooking for Western tastes. Small wonder that Hawaii had long been regarded as a paradise for beaches but a wasteland for food.”
That all changed in the late 1980s, when several gifted young chefs began to challenge the “old school” establishment that represented fine dining in the islands. In August 1991, twelve of these chefs got together on Maui and, after bouncing around a number of ideas, came up with a new concept.
The twelve chefs were Sam Choy, Roger Dikon, Mark Ellman, Amy Ferguson Ota, Beverly Gannon, Jean-Marie Josselin, George Mavrothalassitis, Peter Merriman, Philippe Padovani, Gary Strehl, Alan Wong and Roy Yamaguchi.
Examples of Hawaii Regional Cuisine
Hawaii Regional Cuisine may include items such as:
- Herb-crusted onaga;
- Green curry Keahole lobster;
- Seared Hawaiian ahi with lilikoi shrimp butter;
- Guava-smoked Kahua ranch lamb;
- Blackened ahi summer rolls;
- Pahoa corn cakes;
- Gourmet Waimanalo greens and vine-ripened tomatoes.
Today, as Hawaii Regional Cuisine continues to be refined and developed, a new generation of Island chefs is reaching for their own star within Hawaii’s culinary galaxy. On every island there are creative new dishes being presented, crossing cultures, stretching boundaries and inspiring appreciative “oohs” and “aahs.”