Several months ago I read an article in Travel and Leisure Magazine about the Hawaiian culinary renaissance.. The article conjured my childhood memories of family vacations to Hawaii and eating what seemed like the same meal wherever we went. Every restaurant had the same over-priced tourist food that matched the cuisine on Magnum P.I. and Gilligan’s Island.
Even as a young child, my foodie instincts were strong and I could sense that there was something wrong with the force. Don’t get me wrong – I can eat macadamia-crusted fish and coconut shrimp like the next guy, but I clearly remember that the food there was not fresh and that it lacked creativity. I also keenly remember my parents complaining, “That place was a rip off; Tom, why do you always order the most expensive thing?” My response: “It was the only thing that wasn’t covered in coconut!”
Any renaissance is ignited by a small group of visionaries who awaken the local populace and push them to greatness. A handful of innovative chefs have begun to fight back and make Hawaii a culinary beacon for innovation. As pointed out in Travel and Leisure Magazine, during the mid-90’s chefs like Roy Yamaguchi and Alan Wong embraced a fusion trend between the East and the West and put Hawaii’s culinary scene back on the map.
The Hawaii culinary scene continues to evolve, as it continues to embrace new trends. Specifically, there are a couple of trends that the Hawaii culinary scene is using to lead and influence the U.S. Mainland:
• Farm to Table / Snout to Tail
• Organic and Artisan Farms
• Localvore movement
• Ethnic dishes are mainstream (not fusion)
• Family Owned/”Hole in the Wall” restaurants are En Vogue
Why is Hawaii well suited for these trends? The local population has always embraced these practices in their personal diets and within local restaurants. Due to Hawaii’s isolated geography, the Islanders have been forced to be judicious about using local, low cost food (importing food is expensive, even between islands). As a result, their recipes are seasonal and based on the abundant items in the local farms, jungles and ocean.
The practices of the locals (kama’aina), are being adopted by major restaurants and embraced by tourists. As a result, Hawaii is starting to become a global influence in the culinary scene by becoming the leader in these trends. Native chefs are cooking just like they have always cooked: with their family and friends. Since local farm-fresh food is in style, tourists are now seeking out the local hole-in-the-wall restaurants, farms and craft food vendors.
This series of blog posts will explore my personal investigation of the Big Island, Hawaii culinary scene and show you where you can eat like the locals. I will be placing a special emphasis on Agritourism, hole-in-the-wall dining spots and some fine dining. I will also touch on a couple of places you can go to just relax over decent food.
Link to the other Hawaiian Culinary Journey Posts
- Hawaii Gastromic Journey Part 2 – Hole in the Walls, Mom & Pop’s
- Hawaii Gastromic Journey Part 3 – Big Island, Hawaii Farmer’s Markets and CoOps
- Hawaii Gastromic Journey Part 4 – Wine, Honey and Coffee, Hawaii’s Artisanal Farmers
- Hawaii Gastromic Journey Part 5 – Sketchy, But Awesome! Carts, Shacks, Dives
- Hawaii Gastromic Journey Part 7 – While Visiting Volcano Park, Awesome Things to Eat
- Hawaii Gastromic Journey Part 6 – Fine Dining (coming Nov, 2012)