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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Ed Kenny talks Hawaiian Food

I've been a fan of the restaurant Town in Kaimuki since I first dined there back in 2008. I always make a point of visiting whenever I'm in Honolulu.

Ed Kenney is the chef and owner, and a great voice for sustainability in the food system. He's very approachable, in fact you'll see him shopping at the farmers market most weekends. He also has his finger on the pulse of what's happening so on my last visit I got a sat down to chat with him about the local Oahu food scene and since I'm heading back tomorrow, I thought it's about time I shared this interview...

What do you think would surprise most people about the food scene here?
We have different kinds of visitors, the Cheesecake Factory here is the highest grossing location in the world. Then there are the Opentable people who look for places to eat before they even get here, but it's still a small group. People know the chains and the upper crust spots, but what makes it really amazing is the middle range and finding out about that takes a motivated foodie traveler. It's the middle range that's so diverse. And the diversity is blossoming.

What are your thoughts on the food truck trend? Any trucks you particularly like or patronize?
There have always been food trucks, it's beach thing, people get out of the ocean dry off and want to get something to eat. But the culinarily driven ones are new. It's a stepping stone, also it adds diversity, Zaratez, from LA tacos. Melt is run by Nobu alums, so fine dining is going more approachable. Soul Patrol, Sean's a good friend. The food is excellent. It's heavy stuff. Camille's on Wheels is run by a home cook, and it's got a really homey feel. Deep dish pies with flaky crust, fusion tacos. I haven't been to Eat the Street yet because I'm working that night.

So where should the visiting foodie dine?
The Pig and the Lady, Plancha, some of the pop up roving restaurants have young passionate, creative chefs.

Which chef or restaurant impresses you these days?
Mark Noguchi at He'eia Pier. (Note: More on Hee'eia Pier after my next visit)

How would you describe Town for people who haven't been?
We're very italian. The regional manager of Gucci comes to Town every time he visits and says "This is not Italian but it is the essence of Italian food" and that's because because we have an Italian sensibility.

What should visitors not miss when they come to Hawaii, in terms of ingredients?
We can grow everything here, I'd like to think native Hawaiians would grow arugula today. Our locally grown vegetables even non-native ones are great. Paia hand pounded taro. We use it in breads and in dough. We slice and pan fry it crispy on the outside and mochi like inside. We've had invasive seaweeds, so it's good to eat those! Cooking with seaweed is like adding the sea to a dish.