The Hawaiian word for family is ‘ohana. In our close knit community on the north shore of Maui, ohana is our village. We swap kids, we ship off our own, we carpool, we break bread, there may even be an occasional last minute dance party. We are there for each other and we are blessed by our ohana on Maui. I have had the great honor of working for many multi-generational family groups that venture to Maui, rent a large estate to house everyone and hire me to provide the food. My husband and I both come from large families- he being the oldest of 7 children and myself, sharing the middle child role with my identical twin sister with an older brother and younger sister, totaling 4 which in this day and age is considered a large family. I just love the dynamics: cousins, grandparents, spouses, etc. Its fun to see how everyone fits in the mix. Maui is the perfect place to provide ample activities for every member of family, for action sports extremists to world class spas and safe adventuring for all ages. Hiring a chef gives the guests the opportunity to just kick back and enjoy without the fuss of making dinner reservations, corralling small wandering children and, if you like to enjoy some libations – no worries because you can stay right where you are!
I consider the opportunity to serve and connect with a visiting family a great honor.
The Subjective nature of food and other cheffly ruminations….
Meanwhile, while Hurricane Lane is huffing and puffing his way through the Hawaiian Island chain, I’m having a glass of wine and writing a blog…
Culinary art is the ultimate art medium- to be experienced and appreciated by ALL the senses, also having the innate ability to hinder or heal a body on a molecular level. What a gift to create in the medium of food and to have such an amazing array of ingredients with which to do it!
With the ability to hinder or heal your body~ culinary art’s medium ( food) has the ability to do what no other art form can.
I joke that the only time I call myself a “chef” is when I’m wearing that fancy coat that has my name and company logo on it. Does this legitimize my cheffiness? What is it to be a chef? I prefer to name myself as a culinary artist. How can one claim this? Like art, culinary art is so subjective. I believe that the title of “chef”, incorporates the business aspect of the culinary art form of putting food together, The sourcing, pricing, working with a budget, the nuts and volts and not creative part is what the term “chef” begs for me specifically. Unfortunately, this is the ickiest part of my job and I am ashamed to admit, I have a bookkeeper and an accountant who I am quite happy to pay so they can deal with that mundane side of cheffy life. I mean, as long as I am getting paid, do I really give a crap what my food cost is?( For the record, I charge per person, not food cost, unless a very specific job order. Generally- I absorb food costs into my overall cost. ( glad I clarified that !)
I mean, is a $7.00 dragon fruit and a $5.00 tray of masago gonna kill my profit margin? …. the pop of these ingredients add value!..
On another subject, everyone’s palette is different, what tastes amazing to one person might be repugnating to another.. Then there’s that whole involuntary dietary restriction trend too- like building a house with an unlimited budget- I’m not terribly impressed when people can pool any number of resources to outsource the project to the very best architects, designers, finish carpenters and landscape architects. Along those lines, now produce for me a dish using a restricted budget, (like here’s $10.00- go find some cool stuff and make us an epic dessert- better yet- here’s nature- go forage for it all- oh yeah, and keep it clean – No soy, animal products, dairy or gluten. )
Another rumination about chef life ( and when I say chef life, I mean cooking as a means of making a living- people give you money to create menus, procure ingredients and create a meal) I had an hour long “menu consultation” today with a client who happens also to be a foodie who has run the gamut of many diets , currently a vegan herself, but the rest of the party just gluten free. I’m pretty sure when I have a menu consult with someone they get off the phone going, “wow, that girl is really excited about food!.” I do get all excited, jotting down notes frenetically, asking funny little questions like, “how do you feel about mushrooms, ummm, and when you say peppers, do you mean like sweet roasted smoky peppers or a shishito, and what about spice? And whats your feeling about searing mushrooms in rendered animal fat with fresh herbs?” In an hour’s time, we created a gorgeous party menu with like 12 courses for each of the nights that I will be coming to create culinary art. She knows she’s in good hands and I am excited to have a captive audience to present my creations to. On another occasion, I was hired for a 10 day stint to cook for a celebrity family ( who’s name I cannot disclose) and came in, guns blazing, setting up my beautiful vases of fresh kitchen herbs, arranging all my lovely artisan provisions in the fridge only to find out that they were TOTAL non foodies and really just wanted to hunker down and enjoy an estate with some food made that wasn’t made by them and didn’t want t ask too much of their traveling staff, so they hired me. 🙂
I may or may not have been paid a shamefully large sum of money to make cream cheese and tomato bagels for breakfast and a hot dog and cheeseburger lunch- more than once. Hey, my daily rate is my daily rate.
When I first arrived, I sat down to do a little mini consult with the said celeb- when asking what kind of lunches they prefer, the answer was “ you know that cheese with the holes in it.” I politely nodded, jotting down- internally begging, Swiss? Lorraine? Havarti? but realized I was dealing with someone who didn’t really do food and I was most probably annoying as hell with all my enthusiasm and grand inquisition of the foodie nature. End note- we finally did make culinary magic together, it did take a few days of gentle questions and some experimental dishes that were well received and they asked for an encore of those said dishes People like what they like.
Next up- ( I have to ration my blog ideas so I don’t condense them all into one blog) is the level of vulnerability you put on yourself when you say you are a “chef.” ( case in point, I bring something thats not my total “ A game” salad to a pot luck ( literally just threw it together) and I see a friend who knows my vocation there, they ask, “ Oh! what did you bring? I gotta try your food! “ Lesson learned- Always bring your A GAME- your family will have mercy on you but for your friends and associates – your neck is constantly on the chopping block!
Maine Foraging -Our annual trip to the motherland always yields some epic culinary finds!
Dormant half of the year, when the Maine forest comes back to life, all living things have twice the zeal to compensate for the dormancy. Life bursts forth out of the forest floor, especially after a good dose of moisture. Our annual trip to the motherland always yields some epic foraging adventures.
My parents introduced us to forest foraging at a young age. Amateur mycologists, they loved to take us out on epic hikes, baskets and field knives in hand, our eyes were trained to identify edible growth in the forest floor, and to remember where the spores yielded choice pickings the following year.
Although drudgery for a young child, as an adult, I now realize what a gift my parents gave us in our little forays into the deep Maine woods.
Here are some of our finds and a brief little snapshot of each of our forest finds;
Chanterelles- the choicest mushroom- apricot scented and mango in color, these gorgeous culinary treats are as good as gold and make beautiful delicate sauces, sauté up perfectly to be served as an accompaniment to a cut of meat, or added to a frittata or omelette. Truly culinary bling- and sell at select grocers for as much as 40.00/ pound.
Oyster Mushrooms – Although many evil doppelgängers exist for this, when you find the right one and can VERY positively identify it, you have a lovely meal awaiting you. Best sliced in half, lengthwise and marinated with little tamari/ garlic/ fresh pepper and fresh herbs, these are grillable, delectable delights. Abundant and farmed on Big Island of Hawaii at the Hamakua Mushroom farm, King Oyster mushrooms, or Ali’i ( Hawaiian for Prince) mushrooms frequent my grilled vegetable medley.
Morels- The elusive Morel is friend to the fire scorched land. Wherever there was a forest fire, soft pine needles and shade, check for morels! Perhaps the most choice mushroom in all the fungi phylum, if you are lucky enough to find morels, always go back to the same spot to see if they make an encore.
Porcini or King Bolete- This is a very dense, very flavorful mushroom and in fact, the favorite snack of slugs so these are most often pitted with bites from visitors. Popping up out of the earth like little red orbs, the stem is as thick as the cap the entire mushroom is edible. When harvesting, always cut perfectly horizontally to leave the mycelium intact to ensure a return crop . ( Mycelium is the web like network of essentially mushroom DNA – when you pick at mushroom with its whole stem, you can see the strands – leave these in the ground to ensure later propagation.)
Field mushroom – Pink gilled beauties, these guy are the cultivated version of what you buy in the supermarket as “button” mushrooms. They are choice mushrooms but not too exciting because you can find them at your grocery store without the risk of poisoning yourself from misidentification!
I feel passionately that when you are endowed with a gift, it brings you great joy and is energetically edifying to share your gift with others. When I walk in the door at the end of a long day on site, my husband is always in awe of how genuinely happy I still am. Not your typical response from someone who just was on her feet for over 10 hours, running hither and yon, prepping, grilling, stirring, whipping, serving and assessing all within a tight timeline.
The anticipation of a beautiful evening shared with friends is something that I feel so privileged to be a part of.
Many people ask me, “isn’t it weird to jump into such an intimate situation?, to just walk into someones kitchen, make yourself at home and feed them?” The answer is yes but for what I am called for, I also feel equipped for.
I come from a large family of gregarious characters and I grew up in a bustling restaurant. I know food and I know people.
There isn’t a situation that I have walked into carting my bins, coolers and my menagerie of staff that we have felt uncomfortable or out of place. When you show up with the food, most people are happy and when the scents start wafting out of the kitchen, the wine is uncorked, people relax and the promise of a good time becomes real. The people who work with me feel exactly the same. We love what we do and it shows.
This summer, a fellow lady chef, Mijin Kang (@ultimateguamie) her chef husband, Tak and I embarked on a cooking program at a local youth center. I cannot even tell you how much fun it was to see the kids faces light up when we started talking about Culinary.
Equipped with hairnets ( yes hairnets! ), gloves, knives (yes real knives!) and cutting boards…
The kids are learning how to create in the kitchen and cook real, balanced meals from scratch. The Kihei Youth Center provides drop in programs every single week day for kids all ages for anyone across the island of Maui. The director, an amazingly gracious, industrious woman named Lehua finds grants, donations and whatever else is necessary to keep the doors open and the programming intact for these kids, many of whom come from low-income situations and these are the only meals they eat all day. I feel so blessed to get to be part of these children’s lives. Teaching my own children how to cook and create fearlessly in the kitchen is one of my greatest memories of parenting as well as a gift that will hopefully be perpetuated onto my grandchildren. Wow, that makes me feel old! Love what you do and share it!