Category: Summer 2018


1. How important is sourcing locally made oil to your business for self sustainability factor?

At Koko Head Cafe, we strive to showcase as many local ingredients as possible. The reality is there is always a cost factor, with local product sometimes being more expensive than imported commodity goods. Understand that not only are you getting the freshest product possible, you are also supporting a community member and business.  Sustain-ability and food security start with the community working together to create a dynamic and intricate web of relation-ships. I love discovering new products made here in Ha-waii, and getting to meet the people behind them. The fact that these oils are high quality and have multiple health and beauty benefits makes their value inherent.

2. How did you use the oil? Be specific to sunflower oil or macadamia nut oil.

I used the sunflower oil for sautéing sliced leeks. Tradition-ally, I use butter, haha, but I loved the result when using the sunflower oil; the leek flavor came through cleanly. I used the macadamia nut oil for roasting cabbage in the oven. The result was simple but stunning.

3. Please describe the macadamia nut oil and sunflower oil’s appearance, scent, texture, and taste, both raw and cooked. One or two word descriptions are fine. If a cer-tain quality stands out, please elaborate. 

The macadamia nut oil is delightfully complex. Medium vis-cosity, fresh aroma of coffee and cacao mixed with the es-sence of a blonde raw nut. When it cooks it deepens in flavor as a macadamia nut would, becoming nuttier, more roasty.

The sunflower oil is very similar to a fresh  young olive oil with plenty of grassy and green notes. It stands up well to heat and allows whatever you are cooking to shine through flavor wise.  I would use both for raw and cooked applications.

4. Did you find anything surprising about the oils?

After doing some research, discovering the health benefits of both oils makes me reconsider utilizing these in my fats wheelhouse at home. I already use macadamia nut oil at the restaurant but this particular oil was less refined and had more character and flavor. The sunflower oil is an everyday use type for me so I’m excited to cook with it more.


Lee Anne Wong is the chef and owner of Koko Head Cafe in Honolulu, Hawaii. A native of Troy, New York, Wong grad-uated from the International Culinary Center (ICC) and began her culinary training at Marcus Samuelsson’s Aquavit before playing an integral role in the opening of Jean Georges Vongrichten’s Chinese concept, Restaurant 66. Wong went on to work as the Executive Chef of Event Operations at ICC, during which time she was prominently featured on Season One of Bravo’s Flagship Series “Top Chef”, and subsequently was hired as the series’ Supervising Culinary Producer for the next 6 seasons. Wong has also been featured on numerous food television series in addition to star-ring in her own web series The Wong Way to Cook on In 2013, Wong moved from New York City to Honolulu where she debuted Koko Head Cafe to popular acclaim. Wong released her first cookbook, Dumplings All Day Wong, in August 2014. Chef Wong continues to expand her brand across the globe, joining the culinary team for Hawaiian Airlines in 2015, and debuting Sweetcatch Poke in NYC in the fall of 2016. She was most recently named Hawaiian Airline’s new Executive Chef, with her menus set to debut in June 2018.

Pu‘u O Hoku

Rooted in Culture, Guided by the Stars


Surrounded by more than 14,000 acres of protected land in East Molokai, stretching from cloud-draped mountain- tops to the shorelines of the blue Pacific, Pu`u O Hoku Ranch is emblematic of resilience and connection between past and present, with a clear vision to the future.

The area has been a cattle ranch for more than 100 years, but the place name, Pu`u O Hoku, or Hill of the Stars pre-dates that.

Legend has it, as told by Harriet Ne in “Tales of Moloka`i, that centuries ago a man named Nakoa from Maui was directed by a vivid dream and celestial signs to paddle his canoe across the Pailolo Channel, seeking relief from the persecution of an angry chief. Upon landing, he climbed a series of hills until, exhausted, he lay down and gazed at the stars, which appeared so vividly that he felt they were close enough to touch.

The next day he awoke and met an esteemed elder, Lanikaula, who tended the sacred kukui grove. Lanikaula told Nakoa that he could take refuge and it was the will of the Gods that he would always be safe at Pu`u O Hoku.

Fast forward to modern day, where the fast pace of urban life elsewhere is the polar opposite to that of East Moloka`i. Pu`u O Hoku Ranch still tends some cattle, with dedicated efforts focusing on niche and value-added products, including organic honey, dried apple bananas, awa—one of many Polynesian-introduced “canoe plants,” and a Lodge and retreat center featuring farm to table meals from their pastures, orchards and vegetable gardens.

Family owned for the past 30 years, film-maker and conservationist Lavinia Currier has overseen the evolution of the vast, verdant lands while raising her children. Currier first became aware of the ranch in the mid-1980s while working with The Nature Conservancy (TNC). She implored TNC to acquire Pu`u O Hoku after learning that then-owner George Murphy was courting Japanese developers interested in developing golf courses. When TNC declined, Currier stepped in and made the purchase herself, more intent on the purpose of conservation than operating a working ranch.

Currier’s son Galen McCleary is sort of an “`ohana leader” to the ranch. After local schooling at Kilohana Elementary and Punahou, he studied at Stanford before returning to Hawaii to launch a business with three Punahou classmates. BananBowls took Oahu by storm, based upon a dairy-free frozen confection made from local bananas. Now a thriving Oahu favorite, Banan has a food truck, three brick and mortar stores, and will be launching a pop-up store in Japan this summer. McCleary says Banan is now the largest consumer of local bananas, surpassing Safeway, at 3,000 pounds weekly.

McCleary is currently based in San Francisco and oversees Food Sourcing for Patagonia Provisions. He recently spoke at the Re- Gen18 conference, sharing his perspective on creating regenerative supply chains in agriculture and fishing. He expects to return home to Pu`u O Hoku in time, where he appreciates the slower pace of life. “There is an inherent beauty of being there,” he muses, “like a throwback to older Hawaii.”

Bananas also emerged as one of the trademark products from the ranch. An hour by car from Kaunakakai town and harbor, getting food to market or shipping is a significant challenge. Thus, mangoes and papayas, while abundant and raised organically and bio-dynamically, did not prove to be economically viable. But a ranch favorite, super-sweet apple bananas, sliced lengthwise and dried to create a chewy, nutritious confection, premiered at the 2017 Made in Maui County Festival and completely sold out.

Yet, the geographic isolation of East Molokai is also a unique advantage, as apparent from a recent, rare USDA organic certification for Pu`u O Hoku honey. Given the proliferation of agricultural pesticides, less than a dozen such US operations have been similarly certified.

Mark House, with 20 years of organic farming experience in upstate New York and California manages the vegetable gardens and 50 bee hives. He views the bees as a unifying part of the ranch, which he views as a pollinator’s sanctuary.

House recounted that Molokai was historically renowned for honey production, setting a record with a half million pounds produced in the 1920s, mainly from abundant kiawe tree blossoms. It is illegal to import bees to Molokai, says House, and thus there is a natural biodiversity in the bees found few other places.

He developed techniques for capturing wild swarms and bringing the colonies to strategic areas in their gardens and pastures. Beyond producing honey, “the bees provide invaluable services to the gardens and ranch overall,” says House. “They are also an indicator of the overall health of the area,” he noted, adding that Molokai is free from varroa mites and other pests and diseases that attack apiary operations elsewhere.

With an understanding that many people are seeking uncontaminated, high quality foods, Pu`u O Hoku honey was tested and found to be among the purest anywhere, free from any of 150 chemical contaminants found in other honeys, as attested by FDA surveys. The light, delicate flavor of the honey has helped it become a favorite in Maui health food stores where it is sold.

The top cash crop on the ranch, surprisingly, is one of the original “canoe plants” brought by original Polynesian voyagers who arrived in Hawaii. `Awa (known as kava or kava-kava in the South Pacific islands) has a long cultural history of medicinal and ceremonial use, as a soothing, somewhat bitter beverage. It is enjoying a bit of a return to mainstream usage, with `awa bars surfacing throughout the islands.

Keoki Coelho worked on the ranch for two summers while in high school, as part of the Alu Like program. After a stint in the Navy, he returned, and was part of a chipping crew clearing areas for cultivation and making mulch. Former ranch manager Jack Spruance hired him to take charge of the `awa operation.

“We have about 15 strains, and most are native to Hawaii,” says Coelho. “I learned from Ed Johnson and Uncle Jerry Konanui, and I’m still learning, sometimes through trial and error.”

The plant can take four years to mature, growing to twelve feet or taller. Coelho uses a backhoe to unearth the roots and corm, cutting off roots with a machete. The root is pressure washed, run through a grinder, then frozen for two days before being blended in a Hobart mixer in the ranch’s certified kitchen. Coelho weighs the product and mixes in just enough of the `awa stump to add flavor. The final product is frozen and shipped overnight by FedEx.

“We have 1,000 plants in the ground right now,” the Molokai native shares, “and many more cuttings in the nursery waiting to plant around December,” to take advantage of the rainy season. He harvests and markets 150 pounds or more weekly, which finds its way to Diamond Head Health Collective, WaiWai Collective and Banan on Oahu, and even to the West Coast. The majority of customers buy for personal or ceremonial use, not commercial.

“I feel really blessed to be working here, doing something that is not just making money but fits into the culture,” he says. “I love my job.”

Seeking to respect the cultural and ecological connection to the land, Currier consulted Auntie Harriet Ne about the sacred Kanikaula kukui grove, that of legend. “The site was degraded by years of drought and cattle damage,” she said. “I asked Auntie Harriet about what some called the Curse of Kanikaula,” that no endeavors on the land would work out favorably.

“She told me it’s not a curse, but a responsibility. She said, ‘you must do the right thing.’”

Currier continued to work with la`au lapa`au herbalists Auntie Marie Place, and more recently Bobbie Akane, to restore the site. In recent years the site has hosted the Ka Hula Piko festival, celebrating the indigenous Hawaiian dance form and the elemental roots from which it was born.

Currier has continued to honor the integrity of the land, natural resources and culture, planting endemics to foster biodiversity, and creating a safe haven for the Hawaiian Nene goose. In 2008 she quietly dedicated a 2,800-acre conservation easement to the Maui Coastal Land Trust, including more than 3 miles of coastline.

Looking to create a food forest featuring original Polynesian canoe plants, she enlisted University of Hawaii Endangered Plant Horticulturist Bill Garnett. 2011 marked the beginning of “Kanaloa’s Garden,” celebrating the Hawaiian god associated with fresh waters for cultivation of kalo, `awa and the mai`a, or banana.

Garnett noted that the food forest garden is fenced, as any planting must be to keep out Axis deer and pigs. He noted that the fence is not infallible, and that when baby pigs once found their way in they ate so well that they fattened up and could not escape. They, in turn found their way to the dining table.

Kanaloa’s Garden hosts school groups to teach about canoe plants, and hosts many unique varieties, such as the manini, or variegated banana. He noted that restaurateur Ed Kenney approached him after he spoke of the high nutritional value of Hawaiian bananas at a Hawaiian Conservation Congress presentation a few years ago. Kenney offered to buy all he had and continues to feature them at his Oahu eateries.

Recently, the search for a new ranch manager helped foster a long-range vision for Pu`u O Hoku. Initially focusing upon a 3-5 year farm plan, Currier, her children and employees spent three days crafting an ambitious 100-year plan.

“We must adapt,” Currier states, “including to influences such as climate change. We must be regenerative to the land.” She notes that Molokai has always been sensitive to food security, and that the ranch can play a significant role in addressing it.

“We envision a regenerative, bountiful land economy,” says McCleary. “Education will be a core value, including using the ranch as an outdoor classroom.”

With such foundational values as guiding principles, the future of Pu`u O Hoku appears as bright as the stars sparkling down upon it.




Photography by Barry Frankel
Course: Side Dish, Vegetable
Author: Lee Anne Wong


  • Pastry Brush
  • Baking Tray
  • Parchment Paper
  • Food Processor or Mortar and Pestle


  • ½ Head Green Cabbage Cut In Quarters - Core Still Attached
  • 2 Tbsp. + 1 tsp. Macadamia Nut Oil
  • Fine Hawaiian Sea Salt
  • ¼ Cup Macadamia Nuts Freshly Toasted
  • ½ Cup Cilantro Leaves Minced
  • 1 Tbsp. Fresh Lemon Juice


  • Use a pastry brush to coat both sides of the cut cabbage with the 2 tablespoons of macadamia nut oil.
  • Sprinkle the cabbage generously with the sea salt and roast on a parchment-lined baking tray at 425F for 15-20 minutes, until the cabbage begins to color at the edges and is tender when cut.
  • In a food processor or using a mortar and pestle, pulse the toasted macadamia nuts until they begin to resemble crumbs and add in the cilantro until well combined. 
  • Then add the lemon juice, 1 teaspoon of macadamia nut oil, and salt to taste.
  • Sprinkle the mixture atop of the roasted cabbage. Serve immediately.


*Alternatively, you can add a Hawaiian chili pepper and some chopped green onion whites (1/4 cup) to the maca-damia nuts, cilantro, lemon juice, macadamia nut oil and salt. Pulse together in a food processor or muddle in a mortar and pestle.




Photography by Chef Jana McMahon
Course: Pupu, Snack
Author: Chef Jana McMahon


  • 2 Sheet Pans


  • 2 Molokai Purple Sweet Potatoes Scrubbed and Sliced ⅛" Thick ( If you can’t find these potatoes, orange ones work too )
  • 2 Tbsp. Sunflower Oil
  • ½ tsp. Sea Salt


  • Preheat the oven to 400F.
  • Line 2 sheet pans with parchment. Divide sweet potato slices between 2 sheet pans.
  • Drizzle sunflower oil, toss and arrange the sweet potato slices in a single layer on each baking sheet.
  • Bake for 20-25 minutes. Flip chips once, 10 minutes into baking time.
  • Sprinkle with sea salt and serve.


1. How important is sourcing locally made oil to your business for self sustainability factor?

We work hard to find and use local products at Hukilau Lanai. Produce, fish and meats are all pretty easy to get our hands on. This is the first cooking oil produced in Hawaii that I have used. Each year (weʻre 16 years old this month) there seems to be more products available. Of course quality trumps all, so we canʻt use a local product unless it is of high quality. I believe we have it with both oils.

2. How did you use the oil? Be specific to sunflower oil or macadamia nut oil.

I made a Kona Kanpachi Poke Bowl using both oils. The Kanpachi poke was tossed with avocado, cucumber, onion, limu and a yuzu, white soy & sunflower oil vinaigrette. It was served on a bed of macadamia nut rice which was infused with the macadamia nut oil. The raw fish was topped with a yuzu kosho aioli made with the sunflower oil.

3. Please describe the macadamia nut oil and sunflower oil’s appearance, scent, texture, and taste, both raw and cooked. One or two word descriptions are fine. If a certain quality stands out, please elaborate.

The macadamia nut oil is crazy flavorful. It does to macadamia nuts what sesame oil does to sesame seeds. Neat toasted nutty cacao flavor really comes through. The macadamia nut oil is a great flavor enhancer. I added a tablespoon of oil to two cups cooked (warm) rice with toasted diced macadamia nuts and a pinch of salt. This was the bed for the poke bowl. The clear oil has a brown hue and is slightly viscous similar to sesame oil. Cooking the macadamia nut oil broke it down rapidly. I see it being a finishing oil more then a cooking oil.

The sunflower oil is a pretty yellowish green color. It has a similar viscosity to olive oil. It has a rich somewhat green flavor that I would compare to some California olive oils. The rich green earthy flavor was really accentuated when I used it to make the aioli. The oil stood up well to heat. I seared some fresh fish in it and was really pleased with the result. I can see using this oil as a cooking medium.

4. Did you find anything surprising about the oils?

I was surprised at the complex flavors of both oils. They couldn’t be more different from one another. The macadamia nut oil has so much going on. I shared a blind taste with several sous chefs and cooks. I wish you could have seen their expressions. They lit up, smiled, and said, “Wow! What is that?” They too were impressed.


Chef/Owner Ron Miller began his Hukilau Lanai journey as Executive Chef in 2002 when the restaurant opened. At that time, Ron began searching for interesting local products to serve. Exciting new partnerships were formed, many of whom still contribute to the menu today. Sixteen years later the small produce farmers and local artisans abound, and the possibilities seem endless. Local fisher-people have always played a starring role on the Hukilau Lanai menu. The restaurant is a certified member of the Monterey Aquarium Seafood Watch Program, which helps guide consumers and buyers to sustainable seafood buying choices. When choosing a product, Chef Ron strives to source Kauai first, neighbor island second, and mainland last. Hukilau Lanai has always been a collaborative effort, and a talented and dedicated kitchen staff help keep consistent quality at the forefront. Most nights, Ron can be found where he likes it best, working the line in the kitchen.

Banana Flower

A banana flower is an edible fruit produced by several large, flow-ering plants in the Musa genus. In many tropical climates the bananas that are used for cooking are called plantains. The fruit varies in size, color, and firmness, but is usually elongated and curved, with the soft, starchy flesh covered with a rind, which may be green, yellow, red, purple, or brown when ripe. The fruits grow in clusters hanging from the top of the plant. Almost all modern edible bananas come from two wild species: Musa acuminata and Musa balbisiana.

When the plant first flowers, the inner portion of each flower is ed-ible. The dark purplish-red outer petal, called a “bract,” can be re-moved, gently cleaned and used as a serving plate. Once the bract is removed it exposes a group of long thin florets with a bright yel-low tip. Carefully remove the outer light-yellow portion to reveal a delicate inner flower that is whitish in color. The cleaned floret can be added to salads, eaten raw or added to soups and curries.




Photography by Keri Cooper
Course: Appetizer, Pupu, Side Dish
Author: Chef Ron Miller


  • Bowl
  • Whisk
  • Rice Pot


Poke Bowl

  • 3 oz. Kona Kanpachi Diced
  • 2 Tbsp. Avocado Diced
  • 1 Tbsp. Cucumber Diced
  • 1 tsp. Green Onion Chopped
  • 1 Tbsp. Yuzu Limu Vinaigrette Recipe Below
  • 2 oz. Macadamia Nut Rice Recipe Below
  • Yuzu Kosho Aioli Recipe Below
  • Wasabi Tobiko
  • Pinch of Hawaiian Salt

Yuzu Limu Vinaigrette

  • 1 tsp. Limu Diced
  • ¼ Cup Sunflower Oil
  • ¼ Cup White Soy Sauce
  • ¼ Cup Rice Vinegar
  • ¼ Cup Yuzu

Macadamia Nut Rice

  • 1 Cup Cooked White Rice
  • 1 Tbsp. Toasted Macadamia Nuts Diced
  • 1 tsp. Macadamia Nut Oil

Yuzu Kosho Aioli

  • 1 Egg Yolk
  • ¾ Cup Sunflower Oil
  • ½ tsp. Garlic
  • ½ tsp. Dijon Mustard
  • 2 tsp. Yuzu Juice
  • ¼ tsp. Yuzu Kosho
  • Pinch of Salt


Prepare Yuzu Limu Vinaigrette.

  • Combine all ingredients in a bowl and whisk. Stir well before each use.

Prepare Macadamia Rice.

  • Cook white rice in a rice pot – 1 cup rice to 1 ¼ cups water – making sure to rinse rice thoroughly before cooking. 
  • Once cooked, add the toasted macadamia nuts, the macadamia nut oil, and a pinch of salt. Mix well. Store at room temperature.

Prepare Yuzu Kosho Aioli.

  • Separate egg yolk from egg white reserving only the egg yolk.
  • Beat egg yolk with dijon mustard, yuzu juice, and salt.
  • Slowly incorporate the sunflower oil.
  • Once sunflower oil is fully emulsified season with garlic and yuzu kosho.

Prepare Poke and Plate.

  • To marinate the Kanpachi combine with avocado, cucumber, green onion, and one tablespoon yuzu limu vinaigrette.
  • Assemble the poke bowl by placing half a cup of rice in a serving bowl. Top with the marinated fish mixture, and garnish with yuzu Kosho aioli and wasabi tobiko.


1. How important is sourcing locally made oil to your business for self sustainability factor?

Excited to have a locally made oil.  Enjoy sharing all locally produced product with clients.

Concerned about the high omega 6 fats in the sunflower oil, but can off set that by consciously combining the food prepared with the high omega 6 oil with a high omega 3 in-gredient.

2. How did you use the oil? Be specific to sunflower oil or macadamia nut oil.

Sunflower oil made some super delicious Molokai purple sweet potato chips. Complimented them with a high omega 3 dip with walnuts, sardines, olive oil, lemon, garlic and salt.

Macadamia nut oil made a beautiful salad dressing. Paired the macadamia nut oil with fresh passionfruit juice, rice wine vinegar, honey and sea salt. Also made a really good simple sherry vinaigrette with the macadamia nut oil.

3. Please describe the macadamia nut oil and sunflower oil’s appearance, scent, texture, and taste, both raw and cooked. One or two word descriptions are fine. If acer-tain quality stands out, please elaborate. 

Sunflower oil: clean taste, subtle sunflower seed scent and flavor.

Macadamia Nut oil: more viscous, umami scent and flavor from nut flavor profile. Both oils have a predominate nut like flavor.

4. Did you find anything surprising about the oils?

No surprises. Sunflower oil is very versatile.


Chef Jana McMahon has owned a Maui-based private chef business for 15 years, specializing in locally sourced Hawaiian ingredients and food restricted diets. Jana’s food philosophy is quality ingredients make good food. Simply beautiful meals are created from fresh beautiful ingredients which allows the food to sing. Chef Jana also works at a non-profit which teaches and advocates for people touched by autism by creating 365 days of healthy whole food-based menus. Obesity rates went from 80% to 18% within 20 months of implementing the menus. Jana’s YouTube Channel, Jana Eats, debuts June 2018. The cooking show will showcase delicious, healthy gluten and dairy free foods for people with auto-immune issues and autism. Jana currently has a live streaming TV show, Cooking with Jana, on The Autism Channel and co-stars with her autistic sidekick, Jason Brummett. Cooking with Jana was recently selected by Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines to be included on the ship’s in-cabin video feed. Chef Jana is a degreed horticulturalist, a Hawaii Master Gardener, a beekeeper, and grows organic produce and herbs for her clients’ meals. She also has her own laying hens. She is a founding member of Slow Food Maui, and a member of the Women Chefs & Restauranteurs Association.

Sunflower Power

The Missing Ingredient


Going locavore is relatively easy in Hawai‘i. Island farmers produce almost every imaginable vegetable, fruit, protein, and spice, year-round. Grains are scarce, but they can be replaced with breadfruit and tapioca, both of which make great flours. And thanks to local coffee, cacao, and wine orchards, even your vices are covered. In fact, when creating a 100-percent Hawai‘i-grown menu, you’ll encounter just one missing ingredient: cooking oil. Unless you press your own, you’ll have to cheat.

Dig a little deeper, though, and you’ll unearth a bigger dilemma. “Grown here, not flown here” may apply to your sweet potatoes, kale, and carrots, but all of these crops rely to some degree on imported fuel. Fossil fuel powers the farm equipment and the planes and barges that deliver seeds, tools, and bags of fertilizer. Add this all up and you realize: sustainable, local agriculture requires sustainable, local energy. The tourists snapping giddy selfies at the new sunflower farm on Maui probably aren’t pondering these issues. But this field of bright blooms, which belongs to Pacific Biodiesel, is more than just a cheery roadside attraction. For sustainability advocates, it could be a game-changer.

Twenty-four years ago, Pacific Biodiesel owner Bob King was the mechanic in charge of the generators at the central Maui landfill. Restaurant grease was a regular problem there, so Bob proposed converting the waste oil into fuel. He’d heard it was possible. “A year later,” he says, “I had built a biodiesel plant. I don’t wait around when I have ideas.” Bob and his wife Kelly began collecting used cooking oil from Maui restaurants and turning it into tank-ready fuel. Their plant was the second of its kind in the world and their retail pump the first in the nation. “We were pretty early in the industry,”

Bob says. So early, in fact, they snatched up the domain www. Over the years, the Kings built twelve biodiesel facilities across the U.S. and Japan. They weathered industry bumps. When regular diesel prices dropped, many biodiesel companies couldn’t compete and folded. Pacific Biodiesel hung on.

In 2012, the Kings opened a state-of-the-art distillation facility in Hilo. “We had to do a systemic change to meet new emissions standards,” says Bob. They had a choice: relocate to the mainland where the majority of their business was, or expand operations in Hawai‘i. “We chose to stay. We picked the Big Island because that was where the innovative farmers were at,” he says. Used cooking oil wasn’t as available as it had been, so they started collecting trap grease—a good deal grimier and harder to recycle. Their new plant allowed them to turn even this waste product into high-quality fuel. “It comes out clear like water,” says Bob.

Where Hawai‘i restaurants once paid landfills to accept their waste oil, Pacific Biodiesel now takes it for free—at a $250,000 annual savings to the industry. The company produces 5.5 million gallons of biofuel a year. Its major clients include the City and County of Honolulu, Hawaiian Electric Company, Daniel K. Inouye International Airport, and Campbell Industrial Park. Trilogy Excursions’ fleet of sailing catamarans runs on biodiesel and thousands of Hawai‘i residents rely on it to fuel their cars.

Demand for biodiesel in Hawai‘i exceeds supply; Pacific Biodiesel has to import waste oil from the mainland and Australia. While it’s still better for the environment than fossil fuel, imported grease doesn’t quite fit the company’s mission: to promote a clean, sustainable energy future through the community-based production of renewable fuels. The Kings recognized early on that to meet increasing demand, they’d have to supplement waste oil with something equally eco-friendly. That’s where the sunflowers come in.

Wind whips through Maui’s central valley, where a dozen residents gather in the shade of a pop-up tent. They’re attending Pacific Biodiesel’s first official farm tour. The West Maui Mountains couldn’t offer a more stunning backdrop. Rows of yellow-bonneted sunflowers nod towards Haleakalā, house of the sun.

“We always knew we wanted to transition to a crop,” Kelly tells the group. But she admits they thought other people would do the farming—which is why they built their distillation plant in Hilo’s farm country. As it turned out, local growers weren’t ready to make the leap from food to fuel crops, so the Kings led the way. In January 2017, they leased 115 acres from Maui Tropical Plantation owner and developer Mike Atherton. They invested in a big red combine and crushing mill and planted oilrich sunflower seeds on former sugarcane land. Central Maui’s arid wind tunnel is a tough climate for many crops. But sunflowers do well in the wind, says Bob. “Over and over, it amazes me how resilient this plant is. It just wants to live.”

The Kings’ first sunflower crop in April of 2017 drew attention— to put it mildly. Around 50,000 people pulled over alongside busy Kuihelani Highway, irresistibly drawn to the blooms. It became a traffic hazard, prompting Maui County to install “No Parking” signs along the highway. The Kings turned this unexpected popularity to their advantage. Partnering with Maui Tropical Plantation, they planted a decoy sunflower field across the street and away from traffic. And now people can also tour the farm—in biodiesel-powered buses.

The Pacific Biodiesel farm is a zero-waste operation. The recyclers-turned-farmers don’t use pesticides, additives, or genetically modified seeds. The combine and trucks run on the company’s fuel, naturally, and dark, silt-y piles of compost fertilize the fields. Rainwater serves as the main irrigation. Sunflowers can generate 100 gallons of oil per acre and the production cycle takes “100 days from soil to oil.” During the flowers’ ten-day blooming bonanza, they are pollinated by hundreds of thousands of honeybees. Local honey is a sweet byproduct of the operation. The primary products: biodiesel and cooking oil.

“We live on an island,” says Kelly. “If the ports stop working and we have crops that can be food or fuel, that’s really good.”

Sure, the sunflowers are stunners, but how does their oil taste?

The Kings have produced three batches of sunflower oil so far. Still in the testing phase, they’re passing out small bottles to local chefs for review. The Maui-grown oil has several things in its favor beyond its local origin. For starters, it’s expeller pressed. Most conventional cooking oil is extracted using chemicals and high temperatures, which results in bland flavor with few nutrients. In contrast, Pacific Biodiesel uses a crushing mill to extract the oil. The result is a bright yellow, viscous liquid—much like bottled sunshine.

The feedback thus far has been positive. Allen Hess of Mai Grille on Hawai‘i Island described the sunflower oil as “sweet, light, and grapeseed-ish” with a lingering flavor that includes herbal, seed, and pollen notes. He tested it in a wide variety of applications, with everything from roasted vegetables to raw poke, goat cheese, and whiskey. “It worked great with lighter fish and ingredients,” he says. “It was a big surprise with whiskey; they were very good together.”

“The sunflower oil has a clean taste, subtle scent and flavor,” says chef Jana McMahon from Maui. “It’s very versatile.” Chef Lee Anne Wong of Koko Head Café on O‘ahu praised the oil’s clean flavor, comparing it to “fresh young olive oil, with plenty of grassy and green notes.” “The sunflower oil is an everyday use type for me, so I’m excited to cook with it more.” Ron Miller of Hukilau Lanai restaurant on Kaua‘i agrees. “This is the first cooking oil produced in Hawai‘i that I have used,” he says. “Of course quality trumps all; we can’t use a local product unless it is of high quality. I believe we have it.”

In addition to sunflower, Pacific Biodiesel team is developing other food-grade oils: macadamia, avocado, kukui, and coconut. True to their recycling roots, the Kings buy up macadamia nuts that can’t be sold whole and press them into oil. As if the entrepreneurs don’t have enough pots boiling on the stove, they’ve also launched a cosmetic line. “Kuleana” incorporates all of these locally grown oils into beauty products, massage oil, and reef-safe sunscreen.

Growing food has to be the priority on Hawai‘i’s agricultural land, says Bob. But high-value fuel and cosmetic crops can help prop up food farmers. “The bigger the toolbox, the more options they have,” he says. The same goes for local chefs, who now have another essential ingredient to work with.

Turn the page for Recipe Wave, where we invited three talented chefs, each from different islands, to taste-test the sunflower oil and macadamia nut oil. We thank them for generously sharing their professional thoughts and recipes.



At the edible Hawaiian Islands test kitchen we can get kind of obsessed. We eat birthday cake for breakfast, slather poi on fresh pineapple as a pupu, and test the same recipe over and over — and then a few more times — to make sure it’s just right before we go to print. We enjoy the process of refining a recipe, but we also really love a recipe that’s easy and delicious. There’s a special place in our hearts for those recipes that are so perfectly simple we have to pause, shelving all thoughts of alterations, as we get lost in the act of eating.

Other days we get lost in books, spending most of the day reading. We make extra coffee, pull up a few pillows, and grab a stack of newly published cookbooks. We try to keep things local but find inspiration in all cookbooks. Here in Hawaii there are few new releases, so we find ourselves reaching beyond our shores, seeking out cookbooks of distinction, such as Michael Solomonov’s cookbook, Zahav.

I have traveled to Israel many times and have fallen in love with the country, the culture, the people and the food. The last time I traveled to Israel, I focused on trying street food and found the flavors and street food-culture to be awash in simplicity. I especially enjoyed the conversations I had with others, sharing a meal while standing at the curb. A physician in between surgeries remarked that his grandmother would have added much more cumin to the hummus, and a mother with a new born son spoke of her excitement to have him grow up so they could cook together and share oral family recipes. Food like this has the power to connect strangers and remind us we are all family.

Later, on a chance trip to Philadelphia, I had an opportunity to eat at Zahav Restaurant. When the first course arrived at our table, I was immediately swept up in a wave of nostalgia, recognizing the same flavor profiles I had tasted on the streets of Israel, but in dishes that were refined, exquisitely prepared and beautifully presented.

I was given Zahav cookbook by a trusted foodie friend — it was a perfect gift. This book has since inspired so many dinners that I decided to reach out to the chef and ask him to share a few recipes. He was generous in his reply, so now you can all enjoy too.


Michael Solomonov is the executive chef and co-owner of Philadelphia’s

pioneering Israeli restaurant, Zahav. He is the 2011 James Beard Award winner for “Best Chef, Mid-Atlantic”, a 2016 James Beard Award winner for “Best International Cookbook” and “Book of the Year” for his and business partner/co-author Steven Cook’s first cookbook, Zahav: A World of Israeli Cooking, and the 2017 James Beard Award’s “Outstanding Chef.” In addition to his duties at Zahav, Chef Solomonov co-owns Philadelphia’s Federal Donuts, Dizengoff, Abe Fisher, Goldie, NYC’s Dizengoff, and the philanthropic Rooster Soup Company, which donates 100% of its profits to Broad Street Ministry Hospitality Collaborative that provides meals and essential services to individuals experiencing homelessness and hunger in Philadelphia. Also in 2017, Solomonov and the Israel Ministry of Tourism (IMOT) created a partnership to champion Israel’s extraordinarily diverse and vibrant culinary landscape.