Category: Summer 2017

Backyard Imu


According to Hawaiian lore, the demigod Maui and his brothers were fishing off of Kaupō when they first discovered fire. They caught a whiff of something unfamiliar and irresistible: the smoke of roasting bananas. Maui followed the scent and found a flock of ‘alae ‘ula (mudhens) gathered around a fire. He pestered the birds until they surrendered their secret and showed him how to rub dry sticks together to spark a flame. Harnessing fire is one of humankind’s greatest achievements. Cooking with fire is a powerful, universal ritual that reaches across time and space to connect us with one another and our ancestors. In Hawai’i, that connection finds its fullest expression in the imu, or under-ground oven.

When Polynesian voyagers first arrived in the Hawaiian archipelago, they brought their cooking traditions with them. Literally—their canoes carried pigs, chickens, breadfruit, taro, and sweet potatoes. Over time, the first Hawaiians developed culinary customs unique to these Islands. They sun-dried, salted, pounded, and fermented their vegetables. They pressed oil from kukui and coconuts and roasted reef fish over flames. But when it was time to really cook, to prepare the nourishing and resplendent feasts they are famous for, they turned to the imu.

Traditionally, Hawaiian homes had two imu, one for men’s food and one for women’s food. Priests also maintained ceremonial imu for offerings to the gods. Everything was cooked in the imu: whole pigs, dogs, chickens, fish, and all varieties of fruits and vegetables. Creative chefs mixed limu (seaweeds) with meats to make savory jellies and gravy.

In modern times, imu are reserved for special occasions: weddings, a baby’s first birthday, and other celebratory lū‘au. Growing up in Hawai‘i, I’ve enjoyed countless plates of succu-lent kalua pig pulled from the steaming pit in the ground. (Kalua literally means “the pit.”) But I had never helped build an imu, until my friend Calvin Hoe volunteered to teach me. His family runs the Waiahole Poi Factory and Hakipu‘u Learning Center on O‘ahu. There, he teaches students how to cook traditional Hawaiian foods during school campouts. He loves to make imu anytime, regardless of the occasion.

I soon learned that building an imu is a collaborative event that lasts hours, even days. A solid work crew is essential, so Calvin invited two friends to help, Chris Ikaika Naka-hashi and Randy Griebenow. Chris works for the state repatriating Hawaiian iwi, or skel-etal remains. He built his first imu at Hakipu‘u Learning Center and has since built many regular and ceremonial imu. Randy is just an all-around helpful guy. We were off to a promising start.

Our preparation began days in advance, with the search for an appropriate site. “An imu pit should be dug close to where the food will be served,” Calvin told me. “Using an exist-ing pit is best, less work.” Plus, like all cooking sites, an imu collects the mana (spiritual power) of the food and the chefs. That mana passes on to future feasts. Scott Fisher at the Hawaiian Island Land Trust graciously allowed us to use the imu at the Waihe‘e coastal refuge. When we inspected the pit, however, it was overgrown with grass and far too large for our needs. Instead of spending hours reshaping it, we opted to repurpose a nearby campfire. We pulled the circle of bricks back to roughly six feet in diameter. Presto: a tidy, ready-made imu pit.

Meanwhile, we had been busy gathering supplies. On our way to Waihe‘e, we collected tī leaves, coconut fronds, and banana stumps. Tī is thought to ward off negative energy; it’s also an all-purpose kitchen tool. Waxy, waterproof tī leaves serve as wrappers, baskets, ties, and clean surfaces to prepare and serve food on. To this day, Hawaiians plant tī liber-ally around their homes and outdoor cooking areas.

Other essentials were readily available at Waihe‘e: firewood and round lava rocks. Chris showed me how to select prime “puka-puka” rocks. Puka-puka rocks are porous with lots of small holes. They hold the heat of the fire, while dense stones often explode, sending dangerous, red-hot shards flying. We piled several dozen large puka-puka rocks near our pit, along with stacks of dry driftwood.

Calvin bundled some dry, brown coconut fronds together to use as kindling. The salty breeze battered his little flame, which grew as we fed it shredded coconut husk and small twigs. Once a few large logs were burning, we added our puka-puka stones to the fire and let it burn for the next three hours.

Next came the fun part: mashing the banana stump. That morning we had whacked down a tall banana tree in my backyard. Now we split the oozing, heavy trunk into chunks and laid the pieces onto a clean tarp. Using a driftwood log as a mallet, we took turns pulver-izing the stump. “Be careful not to get any dirt or sand onto the banana,” Chris instructed. “This is our cooking surface.”

With the banana prepped, we turned to the coconut fronds. Calvin demonstrated how to split a frond in half and weave sections into plates. By the time we had a stack of mu-seum-quality platters, three hours had passed and it was time to tend our fire. The wood had burned away, leaving behind red-hot rocks. Using shovels, we carefully removed any still-burning charcoal. We shifted the rocks around until they formed a relatively smooth, flat surface and spread the banana pulp evenly on top. Banana fiber is full of liquid. Placed on the hot rocks, it exuded a fragrant steam that would soon permeate our food.

Finally, it was time to cook. We had a wealth of foods gathered island-wide: pork, chicken, a whole kala fish, filets of ‘ahi and salmon, sweet potatoes, beets, and some ‘ōpae (fresh-water shrimp) mixed with pohole fern. Randy contributed two huge pork roasts and Chris brought Hawaiian bananas and breadfruits. We arranged everything on our woven plat-ters, covered them in tī leaves, and let Calvin place each item where it would cook best: meats in the center, bananas and ferns tucked into the edges.

“This is the most diverse imu I’ve ever seen,” Chris said of the colorful assemblage. Calvin noticed my impressed stare and laughed. “In our tradition, you don’t prepare just enough food. It’s bad manners if you run out. People remember. So you always put extra food in.”

We began to close our imu, first covering the food with wide banana leaves. Next we dipped burlap sacks in water and laid them down methodically, closing any gaps where steam could escape. We covered the sacks with two large tarps and sealed the edges with rocks and sand. An imu relies on the radiant heat of the stones, steam, and pressure to cook food over several hours. It’s extremely efficient, using few resources for maximum benefit. Leaning on our shovels, we admired the compact mound. Aside from a few modern assists—burlap sacks and plastic tarps—our imu was identical to those built many centuries before. Now, our job was to wait.

“Making an imu is an art,” Calvin said. “You’ve got all these things happening. It’s too hard to control the temperature and timing. Four hours is the minimum. Any less and the taro will be mane‘o [itchy in the mouth] or the pork won’t be cooked.”

Chris nodded. “Eighteen hours isn’t too long,” he said. Unless you fail to remove all of the burning embers before sealing the imu, that is. That happened once on Kaho‘olawe, he heard. The guy in charge didn’t know what he was doing and when they opened the imu, everything inside was black charcoal. Inedible. “So many things can go wrong; there’s so much pressure on whoever does the imu.” When Chris finds himself in charge, he laughs, “there’s a lot of prayer.”

With nothing else to do, we peeled off our smoky clothes and jumped into the ocean. Five hours later, the anticipated moment arrived: time to open our imu. “I hope it’s edible,” Calvin teased. We had invited friends and family to join our little lū‘au, and they helped shovel away the sand and rocks and pull back the tarps. One by one, we lifted each coconut platter from the steam and set it on the picnic table. By now, the sun had set. Our glorious feast would be enjoyed in the ebbing light of the day.

Despite Calvin’s warning, everything was perfectly cooked. No one could stop commenting on how juicy and delectable the food was. The sweet potatoes were like candy. The bananas turned dark red, and the flesh inside bright pink. The pork had melted into shreds. We hadn’t seasoned the food with anything other than sea salt, but the natural flavors were pure and potent. The beets were Cal-vin’s experiment, and they were a surprise hit. My favorite was the crunch of the salty ‘ōpae nestled in the earthy ferns.

Few things rival the deep satiation of meal shared with real aloha. As I ate, I felt great gratitude to Calvin for sharing his knowledge, to Chris and Randy for sacrificing an entire day to help cook, to Scott for allowing us the space, to all of the plants and animals we consumed, and even to the fire itself.



Chef John Cox offers a rare glimpse into the grueling life of local line cooks

Carl first walked into the kitchen six weeks ago, a tidy knife roll tucked beneath the starched sleeve of an immaculate chef coat. He was bright eyed and exuberant, eager that this second job would enable him to get ahead on his school loans and car payment.

If you saw Carl today, you wouldn’t recognize him—there are dark bags beneath his eyes, his jacket is wrinkled and his shoulders sag. He lethargically nurses a massive cup of coffee while staring blankly at the morning prep list. Casting his eyes toward the floor, he addresses the chef, “I’m sorry, I didn’t get home until midnight. I don’t know how much longer I can do this.”

“Can do what?” the chef asks.

“I can’t keep working until midnight and then getting here at 8am. It’s killing me.” That was it. A few days later Carl packed his bag and went his way. Six weeks of working double shifts in the kitchen had wrecked him. They shook hands on his way out the door. Just as Carl stepped away, the chef whispered something just loud enough for the two of them to hear, “At least now you know how it feels to be a real line cook.” It was harsh but true.

Someone outside the industry could never imagine the physical and psychological endurance required of professional cooks. I’m not talking about the recent culinary school graduates or kids making a living while pursuing school. I’m talking about the lifers, the cooks who have spent more time in the kitchen than anywhere else on earth. There is something super-human about career line cooks that often keeps them going from before dawn until past midnight. What drives these men and women to give their lives to such a demanding profession?

In the case of another cook, Tomás, it was growing up in the tiny village of Santa Inés Yatzeche, in the southern corner of Oaxaca. He lived in a single room with his parents and four siblings. By his own account, he grew up with nothing. When I asked what that meant, he described it this way: “When the rains come, it will be a good year. When there is drought, there will be nothing to eat. We were too poor to have a cow or other livestock—we depended on the seeds we planted, and that was all we had.”

Tomás set out to the United States shortly before his 16th birth-day. He knew only vaguely that he was headed to Seaside, Calif., where he would meet a distant uncle. He did not leave home in search of a better life; he left because he had no choice and because, as the eldest sibling, his family depended on him.

Tomás did make it to Seaside, but finding a job proved difficult. The largest hurdle was that he didn’t speak English, making it almost impossible to communicate with anyone. Even today, almost 90% of Santa Inés Yatzeche residents speak exclusively Zapotec, Tomás’ first language. Eventually, despite the language barrier, Tomás was able to get a job washing dishes at a private school, where a group of Tutus (older women) who worked there slowly taught him to speak English.

It wasn’t long before Tomás was working two jobs and making enough money to pay his monthly expenses and send a little money back to his family in Oaxaca. Each week he would travel to Salinas where he could transfer funds and occasionally get a package of food from home; Oaxacan goodies like tlayuda, chiles de agua and chapulines.

Tomás arrived in Seaside in 1988 and has been working two jobs ever since. His first job paid $4.95 per hour for washing dishes. Over the years he steadily moved up through the kitchen and was paid increasingly more. He spent nearly 25 years working at a cel-ebrated local restaurant where he moved up through the ranks from dishwasher to lead line cook. At the height of his career he made more than $20 per hour, but when the restaurant sold a few years ago, he was offered a demotion and lower pay. He elected to leave, taking a dishwashing job at a busy restaurant in Carmel, where he would have less stress and responsibility.

Today he rolls out of bed at 5am. He jumps in the shower, brews a cup of coffee and quietly slips out the front door, trying not to wake his kids or wife. By 6am he is parked in downtown Carmel and headed toward his first job as lead cook at a busy breakfast restaurant. During the height of the season the restaurant can serve more than 600 guests a day. Steaming pots of poaching water for eggs, dozens of omelet pans and large griddles are all pushed to their capacity as the cooks burn through close to 1,000 eggs per shift.

The tempo is non-stop; from the time the restaurant opens its doors at 7:30am, there is a constant stream of activity, a perpet-ual line of hungry tourists eager to be fed and go about their day. It’s all the cooks can do to keep up with the ever-growing stack of order tickets, as they relentlessly spew from the printer to the counter below.

At 3pm the restaurant finally closes its doors. The adrenaline begins to fade, and Tomás can feel the stinging welts left by grease spattered across his hands and the burning red lines across his forearms from bumping the oven door. The kitchen is a mess. A wayward egg has been smashed into the floor mat, and grease from the griddle is overflowing its trap and down into a meander-ing stream across the floor. Piles of kitchen towels crusted with golden egg yolk, strawberry jam and black soot lie in a greasy pile in the corner.

As the servers count their tips, Tomás takes a deep breath and begins pulling kitchen mats—heavy with grease and food scraps—out of the kitchen and up to the loading dock to be hosed down. He wipes and polishes the counters, then sweeps and mops the floors before returning the cleaned mats to their positions and turning out the kitchen lights.

It’s already 4:15pm, and he was supposed to be at his next job 15 minutes ago. Tomás hurries out the back door and jogs a few blocks to an already bustling restaurant. The morning dishwasher has already left, and the dish station is stacked with dirty plates and pots. The line cooks from the morning shift, also rushing to get to their next jobs, have left a mountainous stack of half-emp-tied containers and pots and spoons caked with dried sauces. Drink straws and lemon wedges intermingle with chunks of dis-carded chicken, shrimp shells and a mosaic of greasy sludge cov-ering the stainless dish pit.

By 5pm, despite a deluge of dirty dishes continuing to arrive from the dining room, Tomás has caught up with the mess and has been able to clean the pit in preparation for dinner. The line cooks had put up a plate of tacos for the staff, and he is just in time to snag a couple and store them on top of the dishwashing machine to keep warm for later. His hands are prune-like and swollen from the hot dishwater, but that doesn’t stop him from taking a few quick bites before the dinner rush.

Dinner service pumps out dishes relentlessly from around 6pm until well after 10pm. By the time the last plate is washed and the floors are cleaned, it is just past 11pm. Tomás walks through the empty streets of Carmel back to his car parked six blocks away. At 11:45pm he quietly slips through his front door, trying not to wake his children or wife.

This is Tomás’ life, a relentless grind from well before sunrise until almost midnight—five, sometimes six, days a week. Yet despite the constant throbbing that comes with standing 18 hours a day, he is always smiling, radiating warm optimism and a level of grace that defies explanation.

After 28 years of working as a cook, this schedule has somehow become a normal part of life. No matter how difficult the work or how long the days, he sleeps well knowing that he has made an incredible difference in the lives of his parents and children. Today, four out of his five siblings live and work in Seaside. They spend holidays together, often with more than 30 family members gathering to celebrate the occasion. His eldest daughter is now studying law at UC Santa Cruz on a full scholarship while his middle son applies for computer engineering programs.

Meanwhile, with the help of their kids, Tomás’ parents in Mexico have been able to build a larger house and create a more sustain-able farm with chickens and cattle. They are no longer entirely dependent on the summer rains and have been able to use the money their children sent home over the years to create a life they would have never dreamed possible.

When you look at what Tomás has been able to achieve over the last 30 years, it is truly a testament to how much he loves and respects his family. It is a reminder that, for many, the true Amer-ican dream is far from easy to attain—it is a road that is long and grueling, one that both makes lives and takes them away.

It is easy for us to talk about a “living wage” or whether restau-rants should abandon the traditional gratuity models in exchange for a higher inclusive menu price and consistent pay for both cooks and servers. It is easy to speculate about how higher hourly pay rates will destroy the service industry. It is much harder to talk about the facts, the raw reality of the way many people in the restaurant industry live. The hard numbers can be seen on the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s living wage calculator, link shown below. And remember, the figures don’t include movie tickets and dinners out on the town. They also don’t include vacations to San Francisco or fl ights back home. They only cover the bare necessities required to live a basic life.

When you consider that Tomás currently makes an average of $15 per hour between his two jobs, and that he has a wife and three kids, it is hard to understand how he makes ends meet, let alone fi nds enough at the end of the month to send back home. It’s only possible by working literally twice the hours that the “living wage” calculation is based on—instead of eight hours per day, he works tions to San Francisco or fl ights back home. They only cover the bare necessities required to live a basic life. When you consider that Tomás currently makes an average of $15 per hour between his two jobs, and that he has a wife and three kids, it is hard to understand how he makes ends meet, let alone fi nds enough at the end of the month to send back home. It’s only possible by working literally twice the hours that the “living wage” calculation is based on—instead of eight hours per day, he works

The former executive chef at Post Ranch Inn’s Sierra Mar, John Cox is now pursuing a number of projects, including serving as a partner and consulting chef at Cultura – comida y bebida in Carmel and chef-partner at The Bear and Star at the Fess Parker Ranch in Los Olivos. John also spent several years as executive chef in Hawaii For more, go to www.chefj This story fi rst ap-peared in edible Monterey Bay.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: If this article was about the success of local chefs or sommeliers, their names would be prominently featured and they would bask in the limelight. But at their request, we have changed the names of the cooks in this story. Sadly, there are thousands of people in California who share Tomás’ story and accomplishments—people who will never make it into a magazine or be publicly celebrated. There is no magic utopian formula that will end inequality or enable a “living wage,” but at the very least we owe these cooks our respect and admiration. I wrote this story to put a spotlight on thousands of faceless restaurant workers who deserve recognition.

*Documentation for families with an adult working part-time can be found at Source: Massachusetts Institute of Technology:



Course: Speciality


  • Cheesecloth or Plastic Wrap
  • Dehydrator or Another Precision-Controlled Device


  • 2 lbs. Polished Rice or Barley
  • 1 tsp. Dispersed Koji Spores


  • 1 Cup Rice
  • 10 Cups Water
  • 1 Cup Koji Rice


  • 1 lb. Koji Koji Rice or Barley
  • 6 oz. Salt.
  • Cups Water


Prepare Koji.

  • Don’t rinse the rice or barley. You want the extra starch to stay around. Koji consumes starch—more is better for the fungus.
  • Cook the rice or barley. You want it to be fluffy and the grains to maintain their shape.
  • Cool the cooked rice or barley to 90°.
  • Sprinkle the koji spores once the grain is cooled. Gently toss so that the spores are evenly dispersed.
  • Set your dehydrator to between 80° and 90°. Place the grain and spore mixture on the dehydrator trays.
  • Cover each tray with thick layers of cheesecloth or plastic wrap. If using plastic wrap, be sure to poke holes in it or to leave the edges of the pan open to allow for air circulation. Insert the trays into the dehydrator.
  • Using clean hands, gently mix the inoculated grain a few times a day over the next 48-72 hours. After 2-3 days, you’ll have your koji. The rice or barley will have a fuzzy white covering and have an extremely yeasty and sweet floral aroma. At this point, you can dry the koji and freeze it.
  • You can also turn it into Amazake, which is sweet koji, or Shio, which is salt koji.

Prepare Amazake.

  • Make a thin rice porridge by cooking the rice in the water, which may take about 30 minutes. The porridge is ready when it resembles a thin rice pudding and the grains of rice have completely broken apart.
  • Once the porridge is cooked, let it cool down to 80° for sour Amazake or 138° for sweet Amazake. Add the koji rice.
  • Keep the mixture at the desired temperature for 6-10 hours or overnight. The Amazake is finished after incubating. Cool it down, and store it in an airtight container in the fridge.

Prepare Shio.

  • Mix all the ingredients evenly together. 
  • Transfer the ingredients to a glass bowl. Leave the bowl on your counter, covered.
  • Mix the ingredients 1-2 times a day for 7 days. After seven days, your Shio-koji is ready. Store it in an airtight container in your fridge.

Surprisingly edible – Falling In Love with Koji

Falling In Love with Koji


I’m in love with a mold. I know this seems a bit odd, pretty weird even, but my work as a zymologist is driven by my fascination with the transformative actions of bacteria, yeasts, and molds on foods. Falling in love with a microbe isn’t all that strange in my world. When a relationship like this one blossoms, monumental advancements take place within gastronomy. These microbes are the ones responsible for some of our most beloved foods. Cheese, chocolate, beer, bread, pickles, and miso are all foods that we love dearly, so why shouldn’t that feeling be parlayed to the beings re-sponsible for making them?

I fell in love with the mold known as koji a little more than two years ago, while working with my friend Jonathon Sawyer at Tren-tina. Chef Sawyer asked that I start making miso out of garban-zo beans for use as an ingredient. Koji, whose scientific name is Aspergillus oryzae, is the mold responsible for the autolysis, or breakdown, of beans into a fermentable medium. You simply cannot make miso without koji. This was the start of a love affair that has grown into an undying passion for me.

When you work with fresh koji, it’s easy to understand how one can fall under its spell. Molds responsible for making foods like blue cheese and charcuterie smell either sour or of ammonia, or they reek like a damp cellar or wet dog. Koji smells like a sweet fra-grant combination of apples, fresh yeast, champagne, and honey-suckle. When you smell it for the first time, you see why people decided to use it as a food more than 9,000 years ago. It’s irre-sistible. Foods made with koji contain such depth of complex and nuanced tastes and flavors that they are unrivaled.

After 9,000 years of dominance in Asia, koji is finally embarking on a much-welcomed global conquest, making an appearance in restaurant kitchens from Copenhagen to St. Petersburg, Mexico City, and even Cleveland. You don’t have relegate koji to Asian-style foods. It’s just as much at home with a burger and fries as it is with miso soup and sushi. I predict that in the next five to seven years, koji, in some shape or form, will be a go-to ingredient in your kitchen.


Koji has a long and varied history. It’s believed that it was domes-ticated shortly after rice, somewhere around 7,000 BCE on the Korean Peninsula or in China. After domestication, its users real-ized it could transform the unfermentable long-chain starches in rice into simple fermentable sugars. Its discoverers also realized it could do the same for the complex proteins found in beans by turning them into extremely tasty amino acids.

After these discoveries, people developed many applications for koji, and it spurred countless types of foods. The most commonly known ones are Japanese: soy sauce, miso paste, and sake. Ver-sions of these foods exist in their own unique ways in China, the Koreas, Thailand, Vietnam, Taiwan, and several other Asian and Southeastern Asian countries. In fact, within each country there are several diff erent versions of each of these foods. Koji is Japan’s national mold. Koji makers in Japan are so revered, that they enjoy the same status we grant to our celebrity chefs. Koji’s magic is that powerful.


Koji is a mold, and molds are fungi. Fungi are enchanting organ-isms that are so distinct in their physiology and morphology, they have a taxonomic kingdom all to themselves.

The lifecycle of a mold or fungus begins as a spore. The spore is something akin to the seed of a plant or the egg and sperm of an animal. Once a spore starts its life, it produces tiny filaments called hyphae. These hyphae eventually form mycelium, a dense mass that resembles the roots of a plant. The hyphae and myce-lium grow on and in various substrates, wood, insects, soil, and animals, and break them down using enzymes. The fungus then absorbs the remaining base nutrients after this breakdown.

Koji produces two types of powerful enzymes—protease and amylase—as it grows on cooked grains or seeds or just about any-thing. Proteases break down proteins, and amylases break down carbohydrates. Koji is unique because of how fast it does this.

Once koji spores have been incubated on cooked rice or other foods, the fl avor, taste, and aroma changes associated with this enzymatic breakdown are fully noticeable within 48 hours. That’s incredibly fast. It may take many months to see a similar transfor-mation if you were to look at this process in a fruiting fungi, such as oyster mushrooms.


Soy sauce, miso paste, and sake are just the tip of the iceberg. Many more foods are made using koji. Two of the most prominent are Amazake (sweet koji) or Shio (salted koji). These two foods are made by mixing koji with cooked rice and water in Amazake, and koji with water and salt to yield Shio. Both Amazake and Shio are used to make a variety of foods or even consumed as is.

The Japanese drink Amazake is consumed for its healthful proper-ties, much as many Americans drink kombucha or other hip pro-biotic beverages. Amazake is also an important ingredient in sake and rice vinegars. When pitched with yeast, Amazake ferments into sake, which can then be fermented into vinegar.

Shio is used as a seasoning when cooking and also as a medium to cure or pickle vegetables and proteins. Other uses include making a variety of amino (umami) sauces, ice cream, and baking bread.


Two years ago, I had an epiphany. Given koji’s traditional uses and its ability to transform foods, could I harness this in a new and surprising way? Could I use koji as an age-accelerant for fresh cuts of meat and seafood or for charcuterie? I decided to put this to the test.

The first thing I did was set out on a mission of academic research. I couldn’t find any easily accessible information about using koji in this way. So I reached out to various people in Japan to see if this was some-thing that had been done before. Again, nothing. After that I decided to just go for it.

My first test was growing the mold on scallops. I figured that if I could do that without spoiling them, I was on to something. I gently seasoned the scallops, coated them with rice fl our and koji spores, then set them up in an incubation chamber with 95% humidity at 90° for 48 hours to culture. When I checked them after the 48-hour time limit, I was amazed. The intoxicatingly delightful aroma of koji mixed with the crisp briny aroma of the scallops was so intense that I started to salivate. I cooked them up immediately and was further amazed. The fl avor, taste, and texture were unlike any food I had ever experienced.

This spurred more investigation and experiments. Beef, llama, venison, lamb, duck, chicken, and a host of grains, seeds, and pulses were all sub-jected to koji culturing. Each experiment yielded a food that amazed and enchanted my colleagues and me.

I also realized how fast this process is. I could create a koji-cultured steak in two days that was comparable to a 30-day dry-aged steak. Cuts of charcuterie that would normally take two months or more to make using traditional methods were ready to slice and eat within 14 days. This was truly unique, not only due to this accelerated timeline but also due to the intoxicating aroma, flavors, and tastes developed by the koji.

Koji’s uses and results in the kitchen are so magical that once you ex-perience them, you’ll become as passionate as I am. From an aging and charcuterie accelerant, to a seasoning and pickling medium, the uses for koji are just beginning to be explored in a broader and nontraditional context. I’m curious to see where this wonderful modern embrace of an ancient food might lead us.

This story originally appeared in the Spring 2017 issue of edible Cleveland (






Course: Appetizer, Main Course, Side Dish
Author: Chris Damskey


  • Sheet Pan
  • Foil
  • Food Processor
  • Large Stock Pot
  • Grill Pan or Grill or Sauté Pan



  • 3 Red Peppers
  • 2 Garlic Cloves
  • 1 Red Thai Chili Seeded and Minced
  • ½ tsp. Salt
  • Cup Macadamia Nuts
  • ½ Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 1 tsp. Sherry Vinegar


  • 2 Cups Celery Chopped
  • 2 Cups Yellow Onions Chopped
  • 1 Cup Fennel Chopped
  • 1 Thyme Sprig
  • 1 Cup Champagne Vinegar
  • 3 Cups Dry White Wine
  • 4 Quarts Distilled Water
  • 2 lbs. Octopus or "Tako" in Hawaiian Head and Beak Removed
  • ¼ Cup Salt
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil


  • Preheat oven to 400°. On a sheet pan, line with foil and roast red peppers and garlic cloves for 20 minutes. Flip the peppers and roast for another 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool, cut away pepper stems, peel the skins, and set aside.
  • In a food processor, puree the Thai chili, and salt until smooth. Add the macadamia nuts, extra virgin olive oil, and sherry vinegar and pulse, so the mixture still has texture. Add the roasted red peppers and garlic and puree just until smooth and set aside or refrigerate overnight.
  • In a large stockpot, coat the bottom with extra virgin olive oil, then add celery, onions, fennel, thyme, and sweat on low heat. Add the champagne vinegar and dry white wine, and cook for an additional 5 minutes. Add the distilled water and salt, then bring the water to a low simmer. Add the tako into the water, cover the pot and cook for 45 minutes or until tender.
  • Once tako is cooked, remove it from the pot and let cool in the refrigerator.
  • To serve, heat grill to medium-high and char tako around 1-2 minutes per side.
  • In a bowl, add 1 Tbsp of the romesco and 1 tbsp olive oil and mix. Add the tako legs and toss to coat.
  • On a plate, add romesco, tako, and garnish with choice of microgreens, lime, and Kewpie mayonnaise.




Photography courtesy of Soni Pomaski
Course: Appetizer, Main Course
Author: Chef Mark Pomaski of Moon & Turtle, Hilo Hawai‘i


  • High Power Blender
  • Pressure Cooker
  • Grill Pan or Grill


  • 1 Large ( 3-4 lbs. ) Octopus Cleaned
  • 5 Cloves of Garlic
  • 2 Bay Leaves
  • 1 Tea Bag Black, Green, or Oolong
  • 3-4 Large Ripe Tomatoes Cut Into Bit Sized Pieces
  • 1 Medium Sweet Onion Thinly Sliced
  • 2-3 Stalks of Scallion Green Parts Only - Julienned and Rinsed in Cold Water
  • 1 Bunch Watercress Washed, Drained, and Cut into ¾ Inch Pieces.


  • 12 Large Cloves of Garlic
  • 1.5 oz. Fish Sauce
  • 2 oz. Rice Vinegar
  • 2 oz. Lemon Juice


  • Place all dressing ingredients into a high-power blender and puree until garlic is completely broken down. Unused dressing will keep one week.
  • Place octopus, garlic, bay leaves, and tea bag in a pressure cooker and cover with salted water (use ¼ cup salt per ½ gallon water, or less to taste).
  • Bring to full pressure, cook for 15 minutes, and use the quick-release method to relieve pressure. Allow octopus to cool to room temperature in its cooking liquid, strain, and chill. (Reserve cooking liquid for use in another recipe, such as a seafood soup.)
  • Once chilled, divide into 4 sections by separating the head and tentacles and cutting each piece in half.
  • Toss lightly with vegetable oil and grill over high heat until warmed through and slightly charred.
  • Slice into bite-sized pieces and place into a large mixing bowl along with tomato and sweet onion.
  • Gently toss with a liberal amount of dressing and plate onto a bed of watercress. Garnish with scallions.

This Story Has Legs: Kanaloa Octopus Farm


Tucked away at the far end of Natural Energy Lab of Hawai‘i Authority (NELHA) in Kailua-Kona, Kanaloa Octopus Farm is making quite a splash with visitors who book tours of the unique aquaculture attraction.

Continuously fed by deep-cold seawater pumped offshore of Keahole Point, the farm’s big blue tubs provide living quarters for adult octopuses harvested live from the wild for the captive-breeding project.

Marine biologist Jacob Conroy, who launched the re-search-and-development venture at the end of 2015, seeks to successfully raise octopus in an aquaculture setting. His ultimate goal: to become a production facility that can provide restaurants with a sustainable option for locally sourced octopus. It’s a feat that has eluded other research-ers through the years, however, due to the unique breeding challenges of the species.

“This research is in its infancy and the methods haven’t really been figured out,” said Jacob, CEO and president of Kanaloa Octopus Farm. “I got into the field in the first place to provide a pragmatic solution to overfishing, which is less of a problem in Hawai‘i, but more of a problem in Asia, the Mediterranean, and especially the Philippines. I tell people never to buy octopus that comes from the Phil-ippines because of their overfishing practices.”

Rather than jump through hoops for federal grant money, Jacob keeps his octopus business afloat with tourism. Working an average of 12 hours a day at the farm, he finds time to fit in two tours per day to help cover his expenses. The idea for hosting tours came about organically after a visitor posted about the farm on TripAdvisor.

The current facility includes a small, 500-square-foot wet lab with an open-air shack. Now that he’s successfully kept animals alive in tanks where they’ve mated and produced eggs, Jacob will soon be moving into a larger facility to-taling 4,000 square feet directly across the way. The new facility will accommodate 30 tanks, 100 animals and hope-fully two to three hatchings per month.

Round two of the research will involve successfully rearing larva to the juvenile stage. It takes 30 days for a larva to become a baby octopus, he said:

“We’ve had about seven hatches so far, which is good considering how few animals we have. Each hatch is a quarter-million larva each. In the wild, we don’t really know how many larva become adults, but survival out in the ocean is probably one percent. Babies live in a differ-ent part of the ocean than adults. They feed on plankton, unlike the adults that feed on reef animals. The core of our research is to recreate the ocean environment and food sources crucial for survival of the larva.”

Known as the “day octopus,” the species that frequents Hawaiian waters has a lifespan of only a year and a half. Cold-water species in the Pacific Northwest live for about three years. Jacob plans to conduct research on six or seven species eventually, but for now his focus is on the day octopus.

How long will it take before his farm begins supplying restaurants with octopus? “It could be a pie-in-the-sky dream, it could take 20 years or it could be just around the corner,” said Jacob.





`Awa was one of the original canoe crops brought to Hawai`i in sailing canoes by the earliest Polynesian voyagers. The word `awa (pronounced ah-vah with the “w” as a “v” sound) means “bitter.” A member of the pepper family, the plant grows well at low ele-vations where there is constant moisture and partial sun. Though it now can be found growing wild, it is also cultivated throughout the Pacific Islands, where it is called Kava or Kava Kava. More than a dozen varieties of `awa were known in old Hawai`i.

`Awa’s roots – as well as its leaves, stem and bark – can be used medicinally to treat the following maladies: general debility, wea-ry muscles, chills, colds, headaches, lung and other respiratory diseases such as asthma, displacement of the womb, diabetes, congestion of the urinary tract, and rheumatism.

`Awa is used principally as a sedative to induce relaxation and sleep, and is especially potent in combination with lomi lomi massage. It is also used as a tonic when people feel weak, as it is stimulating and refreshing, unless drunk in large quantities. Over indulgence in `awa can adversely (but temporarily) affect the skin and eyes.


Written By Gene Logsdon
Format: Hardback
Size: 5.5 x 8.5 inch
Pages: 232
ISBN: 9781603587259

Letter to a Young Farmer is both a compelling history and a vital road map—a reckoning of how we eat and farm, how the two can come together to build a more sustainable future, and why now, more than ever before, we need farmers.

We are about to witness the largest retirement of farmers in U.S. history. There are now more farmers over the age of 75 than between the ages of 35 and 44.
Meanwhile, 400 million acres of farmland are slated to change hands in the next two decades—an area roughly four times the size of California. Quite simply: our future hinges on the investments we make today in the next generation of farmers. If we invest in farming that is adaptable and regenerative, that respects the limits of sea-son, that builds soil and economies—we can grow a vibrant way of farming that delivers good food to more Americans while being re-silient in the face of a shifting, highly variable climate. Helping begin-ning farmers succeed is crucial to creating a sustainable food future.

In Letter to a Young Farmer,  the first book from Stone Barns Cen-ter for Food and Agriculture, some of the most influential farmers, writers and leaders of our time share their wisdom and insight in an anthology of 36 essays and letters. Barbara Kingsolver speaks to the tribe of farmers—some born to it, many self-selected—with love, ad-miration, and regret. Bill McKibben connects the early human quest for beer to the modern challenge of farming in a rapidly changing cli-mate. Michael Pollan bridges the chasm between agriculture and na-ture. Dan Barber, Temple Grandin, Wendell Berry, Rick Bayless, Mari-on Nestle and more offer advice and inspiration.


Written By Jeremy Fox
Format: Hardback
Size: 10 5/8 x 8 1/8 in
Pages: 320
Illustrations: 150 illustrations
ISBN: 9780714873909

The highly anticipated cookbook from Jeremy Fox, the California chef who is redefining vegetable-based cuisine with global appeal.

Known for his game-changing approach to cooking with vegetables, Jeremy Fox first made his name at the Michelin- starred restaurant Ubuntu in Napa Valley. Today he is one of America’s most talked-about chefs, celebrated for the ingredient-focused cuisine he serves at the Los Angeles restaurant, Rustic Canyon Wine Bar and Seasonal Kitchen. In his first book, Fox presents his food philosophy in the form of 160 approachable recipes for the home cook. On Vegetables elevates vegetarian cooking, using creative methods and ingredient combinations to highlight the textures, flavors, and varieties of seasonal produce and including basic recipes for the larder.

Jeremy Fox is an award-winning chef, having garnered accolades including Los Angeles Times “Jonathan Gold’s 101 Best Restaurants” 2013-2016, and three James Beard nominations for “Best Chef: West”. He was previously at Ubuntu in Napa, CA, earning the restaurant a Michelin star and at Manresa in Los Gatos, CA. Fox is the executive chef at Rustic Canyon and Esters Wine Shop & Bar in Santa Monica, CA.