WRITTEN BY FERN GAVELEK
PHOTOGRAPHY BY AARON FEINBERG
Motivated by a life-long love of cooking, two Kaua‘i sisters have embarked on second careers in the kitchen. Each woman has her own successful company—Lori Cardenas heads Aunty Liliko‘i Passion Fruit Products, and Laura Cristobal Andersland owns Salty Wahine Gourmet Hawaiian Sea Salts— but their stories are rooted in shared childhood experiences.
It all began during “small kid time” when the girls were growing up on O‘ahu and Kaua‘i. There were five girls in the family; Lori was the oldest and Laura was number two. A mere 15 months separated them in age.
“We had amazing grandmothers who cooked like nobody’s busi-ness,” recalls the younger Laura. “My earliest job was to make the criss-cross in cookies using a fork; I must have been around two years old.”
The girls spent weekends with their grandparents and a host of cousins. “There were at least 20 kids and we all learned to cook, dance hula and play ‘ukulele,” continues Laura. “Grandma taught me how to make tuna casserole and beef stew and I learned how to cook for large groups of people.”
When the girls were 11 and 12, respectively, their mother assigned them with meal planning and preparation.
“It was the early 1970s and mom was working long hours in the emerging data processing field,” details the elder Lori. “Mom wasn’t much of a cook, so we took control of the kitchen and gro-cery shopping.”
The family lived in Lihue a block away from Foodland, allowing the girls to readily shop for groceries. “We walked to the store to get what we needed fairly often,” says Lori.
While the girls worked together in the kitchen to feed a family of five, they had contrasting cooking styles.
“Laura and I attacked cooking in different ways,” remembers Lori. “I could easily read a recipe, follow instructions and turn out some good meals. Being exact, I did all the baking. Laura cooked like a gourmet chef, experimenting with flavors and hardly measured anything.”
“Mom had every faith in us…even though we had to stand on a stool to reach the (stove) burners,” adds Laura.
Lori’s first job as a teen was at the local fast food joint where she did it all, taking orders, making burgers and more -but what she liked best about the job was working with people. “When I was 19, I got promoted to a shift manager and I got excited about that,” she shares. “I liked managing people and processes.”
Lori studied accounting and sales management, at Kauai Commu-nity College and worked for 20 years in supervisory or management capacities for different businesses.
The younger Laura set her sights on a career in the travel indus-try—which she did for 30 years. She admits that people told her she should open a restaurant as a young adult, but adds, “Cooking was always fun for me but I never thought about making it a career.”
Like the saying goes, time changes everything and the two, mid-life sisters decided to retire from their jobs to delve in the culinary field, starting their own companies.
AUNTY LILIKO‘I PASSION FRUIT PRODUCTS
Lori and her husband of 36 years, Tony, purchased Aunty Lilikoi in 2001. At that time, the company consisted of five product recipes and the brand name. Today, the award-winning, Waimea, Kaua‘i-based company has grown to offer 46 items; manufacturing and selling food products made with passion fruit and body care items using passion flower oil.
Lori is “chief cook and bottle washer” at Aunty Liliko‘i while Tony does a variety of jobs including product research, procuring equip-ment, maintaining the website and taking care of the facility.
In the kitchen, Lori concocts jellies, butters, mustards, dressing, syrups and juices to worldwide acclaim. Aunty Liliko‘i Passion Fruit Wasabi Mustard won the coveted Grand Champion Trophy and Gold Medal at the 2005 Napa Valley Worldwide Mustard Compe-tition, besting 300 entrants including mustard giants Grey Poupon, French’s and Guldens.
“Winning Grand Champion in 2005 put us on the map,” says Lori. “Our wasabi mustard is our number one selling product by a long shot.”
While the wasabi mustard is Lori’s favorite product, she is most proud of her passion fruit mango chutney. Originated by special re-quest, it took five years to develop and was named among the top 125 products—out of 2,900 entries—at the Sofi (Specialty Food As-sociation) Awards in New York City. The nod earned Aunty Liliko‘i an Oscar-shaped, silver trophy.
“I knew nothing about chutney so I did my research and figured out what to do,” Lori details. In addition to passion fruit and tropical fruits, it contains tart Granny Smith apples, lemon, onions, ginger, ground cloves, cinnamon and cayenne pepper.
SALTY WAHINE GOURMET HAWAIIAN SEA SALTS
Laura opened Salty Wahine in 2008, attributing her business to “her passion for flavoring foods and making them unique.” She of-fers nearly 20 different sea salts, seasonings, rubs and sugars and specializes in infusion—a proprietary process that infuses each salt crystal with real fruit or seasonings to provide flavor and color.
“I came across the (infusion) process by accident when messing around in the kitchen,” she explains.
She recalls making her first rub at the age of 11, which later became her best seller: Salty Wahine’s Hawaiian Rub. Each salt crystal is infused with different spices and herbs.
“I’ve always loved the properties of salt,” shares Laura. “Grandma taught us its benefits, not only in the bath for soothing, but also for cleansing, cooking and spiritual use in family celebrations. I have high esteem for those who collect it.”
Salty Wahine, which has a factory outlet in Hanapepe, Kaua‘i, sources salt from a Molokai company that is allowed to harvest it commercially. The salt has a certificate of authenticity from the Ha-wai‘i State Department of Health.
Laura’s product line has garnered numerous awards including Best of the Best Kaua‘i-Made Product by readers of the Garden Isle newspaper, and the company was tapped 2012 SBA State of Hawai‘i Exporter of the Year.
“Salty Wahine was a finalist for “Best Hawai‘i Family Business,” continues Laura. “My children help with the business and my son Sean has come up with some amazing blends. We will be leaving the business in capable hands when we pass the torch.”
Laura is most proud of Salty Wahine’s Hot Lava salt mix; a variation of her trademarked Black Lava—which is sea salt infused with hick-ory and activated charcoal (the latter is good for digestion)—plus chili peppers and garlic to give it a hot “kick.” It’s great for season-ing steak, chicken and fish.
With product lines as distinct as the individuals themselves, sisters Lori and Laura collaborate on recipes to add a new, fun twist to their newfound careers in flavor. Find them at www.saltywahine. com and www.auntylilikoi.com.