NEW YORK Award-winning chef Roy Yamaguchi wants to showcase the modern Hawaiian cuisine he helped pioneer more than 20 years ago and to share the spotlight with the next generation of chefs.
The Tokyo native, who is based in Hawaii, is known for his blending of classic techniques with Hawaiian and Asian ingredients. Yamaguchi's original restaurant, Roy's, won acclaim, and he has since opened almost another 30 Roy's restaurants around the world.
Yamaguchi started the annual Hawaii Food and Wine Festival four years ago with chef Alan Wong to raise awareness about the state's fledging food scene and fresh interpretations of taro, a tropical Asian plant, and other native ingredients.
At this year's event from Aug. 29 to Sept. 7, Hawaiian chefs will cook side-by-side with mainland U.S. and international colleagues to promote Hawaii as a food destination.
Yamaguchi, 58, spoke about the evolution of Hawaiian cuisine and the role of local chefs with farmers and fishermen.
Q: What is the new group of Hawaiian chefs doing?
A: Not everyone is doing what Alan Wong and I did 20 years ago. What you are seeing is more diversity in restaurants today than before. Some of them are doing their Mexican-theme restaurants. Some of them are doing casual Mediterranean. They are doing what they are comfortable with whether you are a native Hawaiian or Polynesian, Chinese or Japanese, Vietnamese or Korean or Filipino. They all make up what Hawaii is today.
Q: Are there any misconceptions about Hawaiian cuisine?
A: When we opened 25 years ago, people didn’t expect too much from Hawaii. They felt that food was pretty much non-existent, but today everybody thinks Hawaii has a lot of great seafood and an abundance of a lot of great produce and fruits. There is a revitalization of the food scene in Hawaii. What we started ... has trickled down to farmers growing a lot of great stuff. Now the fisherman are involved.
Q: Why did you feel the need to create a food festival?
A: With the festival, we brought all these international chefs and ones from the mainland. These chefs are basically our food ambassadors. Because when they go back to their towns or cities or countries where they came from, the visiting chefs work with our products from our land and sea. They come and work with our great taro, great sweet potato, our mangoes and papayas, pineapples and all our fruits that we have along with our beef, pork and our seafood.
Q: What still inspires you to cook today?
A: The people inspire me. The island inspires me. There are great fishermen, there are great farmers who are coming up with great-tasting tomatoes, great-tasting herbs. There are great ranchers who are making their beef taste better, to make it more tender. We have a lot of younger chefs coming in.
Q: What are your must-haves in the kitchen?
A: A Japanese mandoline for slicing and a Japanese grater for garlic and ginger. As for ingredients, garlic and soy sauce are what I always have.
Baby Back Ribs (Serves 4)
2 lb. slab pork baby back ribs
2 tbsp. garlic powder
1 ½ tsp. finely ground white pepper
2 ½ tsp. sea salt
½ cup red wine vinegar
¾ cup butter, melted and cooled
1. Sprinkle the ribs with the garlic powder, white pepper and salt. Place the ribs in a flat pan or sealable plastic bag. Add the vinegar, coating the ribs well. Pour the butter over the ribs and mix well. Marinate for 2 to 3 hours at room temperature.
2. Heat a covered charcoal or gas grill to medium heat. Place the ribs on the grill, meat side down. Cover and cook slowly for 15-20 minutes, checking to be sure ribs do not burn and basting with the remaining marinade a few times. At this time the ribs should be nicely browned; turn and continue to cook for another 15-20 minutes.
3. Remove the ribs from the grill and cover with foil. Place the ribs back on the grill to keep warm for 20 minutes. This steaming process will allow the meat to become tender. Allow the meat to rest for 10 minutes before slicing into individual riblets. Serve.
(Reporting by Richard Leong; Editing by Patricia Reaney and Leslie Adler)