THE GOCHISO GOURMET: The ultimate in sustainability

columnist-logo_ryantatsumoto_FINALEarly on in the history of restaurant dining, only the most privileged class could afford and patronize restaurants, so menus catered to those with lots of extra spare cash. They featured the most decadent ingredients, whether it was truffle and foie gras in France, swallow’s nest and shark fin in China or eggs and oysters during the California Gold Rush. Of course, as time marched on, the industrial revolution allowed those in the middle class to also occasionally enjoy a restaurant prepared meal, all the way up to our current generation, where many can now dine out. Of course, at some point, the raw materials for these wonderful meals can cross the breakpoint where there just isn’t enough to go around, as is the case with the red drum during the Cajun blackened redfish craze of the ‘80s or the current plight of bluefin tuna due to the incessant demand for maguro (Japanese bluefin tuna) and o-toro (tuna belly). So over the past 10 to 20 years, younger generations of chefs have sustained a movement of using sustainable ingredients. And especially here in the 50th, where we’re isolated in the middle of the Pacific with shipping fees that are so exorbitant that local cattle ranchers find it cheaper to ship a 1,000-pound animal roundtrip to fatten stateside than to continually ship grain to the 50th.

So all restauranteurs should be practicing sustainability so subsequent generations can also enjoy the bounty of the harvest. Otherwise we’re all doomed to consuming… Soylent Green.

INVADING YOUR STOMACH ­— Chef Ed Kenny used invasive species to make a gorilla ogo salad and a lean loin of wild boar. photos by Ryan Tatsumoto

INVADING YOUR STOMACH ­— Chef Ed Kenny used invasive species to make a gorilla ogo salad and a lean loin of wild boar. photos by Ryan Tatsumoto

A Step Further
A new generation of chefs in Hawai‘i have taken purchasing local and sustainable a step further by incorporating invasive species into their repertoire of ingredients. These include seaweed that grows so fast it chokes out native species and threatens coral by blocking sunlight; feral pigs that constantly burrow for food, creating pits where water collects, creating the perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes that contribute to avian malaria and decimates native bird species; or even introduced fish species that breed faster than indigenous species and take over whole ecosystems by simply outbreeding everything else. We can organize mass eradication efforts of these invasive species to rebalance nature, but that takes time and money and what do we now do with dump truck loads of seaweed, swine or fish? Bury them in landfills? That’s not solving anything. It simply solves one problem, but creates another. But even invasive species often are alternate food sources so …

If You Can’t Beat ‘Um, Eat ‘Um!
Which is exactly what Chef Ed Kenney of Town, the Kaimuki Superette and Mud Hen Water did in creating a dinner using these “pests” in the 50th. He either used them as additions to the focal point, or to prepare a fabulous meal we recently sampled. To take a step back, Chef Kenney’s Invasive Species Dinner was one of many items up for bids during last year’s Hawai‘i Food and Wine Festival online auction. Ever since sampling his Whole Hog dinner about four years ago, I knew I had to win the auction. Fortunately, there was a “Buy it Now” option that I promptly selected, ensuring that I secured the dinner. So fast forward several months with the six of us eagerly anticipating our Invasive Species Dinner. The menu looked like this with the invasive species in bold font:

gorilla ogo (seaweed), pohole (fern), grape tomato, basil, shallots

piccolo frito with ta’ape (blueline snapper), fennel, sweet onion, lemon, remoulade

mangrove planked opah (moonfish), local veggies, salsa verde

hand-cut pasta, venison Bolognese

wild boar loin, navy beans, lacinto kale, vinaigrette

Kiawe financier, pineapple, honey

Gorilla ogo salad. photo by Ryan Tatsumoto

Gorilla ogo salad. photo by Ryan Tatsumoto

The starter salad with gorilla ogo was an updated version of the usual ogo, tomato and raw onion salad served at many lu‘au in Hawai‘i. It’s a little thicker than the prized Gracilaria species that’s normally used, but because it grows so fast, it has a tendency to overwhelm coral, blocking the sunlight from other seaweed, thus killing both coral and native seaweed alike. But mixed with the vegetal crunch of blanched pohole or young fiddlehead fern shoots with succulent grape tomatoes and fresh basil made it one of my favorite dishes of the evening.

Ta’ape was intentionally introduced to Hawaiian waters from French Polynesia about 40 years ago. Marine biologists are still uncertain whether their rapid propagation comes at the expense of indigenous reef fish but they seem to be everywhere … in very large numbers. But like most snappers, they have a mild, flaky white flesh that takes to many cooking preparations including the deep fryer. So we were served a plate of batter-coated mixed morsels and while the ta’ape was good, my favorite was the fried slice of lemon.
Our third course wasn’t an invasive species, but rather it was cooked on an invasive species. Chef Kenney used a slice of mangrove wood the way you would (pun intended) use a cedar plank to bake fish. It makes sense to me, instead of paying a lot of money for cedar planks, just use mangrove planks which basically are free, short of the elbow grease needed to saw the planks.

The pasta course once again returned to an introduced species though I think its habitat impact isn’t as severe as the rest. Venison primarily is limited to certain ranches and the populations that may have escaped from those ranches don’t cause havoc like our friends that ended the savory courses.

Wild boar. What can you say about these critters and the damage they do to the environment? I think it’s universal, wherever they establish wild populations, whether it’s contributing to avian malaria in the 50th to damaging native flora by their incessant digging and rooting and the subsequent soil erosion that ensues. And never mind running into a mother sow with her piglets while hiking or biking. Those tusks can maim and even kill. When I actively mountain biked years ago, we used to joke that if a wild boar started to chase you on a bike trail, you didn’t have to out bike the boar, you just had to out bike the guy next to you. But I did see them occasionally cross the bike path. And though we were served the loin, this boar did remind us that wild boar carries a lot less fat than their farm raised cousins and had a lot firmer muscle structure.

Huli Huli Anyone?
I see one species in the city that I’m sure everyone will agree is a pest. And it’s not even considered weird cuisine as the French have been dining on these for years: Those Histoplasma, Cryptococcus and Chlamydia propagating feathered nuisances also known as the pigeon. Because they’re about the size of Cornish game hens or young chickens, I’m sure they would be quite tasty marinated in shoyu, sugar, garlic and ginger then charcoal grilled while constantly turning … huli huli pigeon anyone?

The Gochiso Gourmet is a column on food, wine and healthy eating. Ryan Tatsumoto is a graduate of both the Univ. of Hawai‘i and UC San Francisco. He is a clinical pharmacist during the day and a budding chef/recipe developer/wine taster at night. He writes from Kane‘ohe, HI and can be reached at gochisogourmet@yahoo.com.

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