Story by Fern Gavelek
Photos by Kirk Shorte
Food fosters togetherness in the Kenoi household
Sitting down at the table and enjoying dinner together as a family is a priority for Hawai‘i County Mayor Billy Kenoi.
“Dinner is the one time a day we all have together,” states the second-term mayor and Big Island native.
Leading full and busy lives, Mayor Billy and wife Takako share the parenting of their three children: Liam, 16; Justin, 14 and Mahina, 12. A flight attendant, Takako travels three days each week and in her absence, Mayor Billy takes over. Fatherly duties include transporting keiki to their activities and supervising dinner preparation.
“Over time, we have developed roles in making meals,” Mayor Billy says. “Takako likes to cook, so she takes over when she’s home. When it’s me and the kids in the kitchen, we work together.”
Family food participation starts with shopping. Typically, after picking up the kids in the afternoon, Mayor Billy takes his brood to the grocer’s or the Kea‘au Farmers Market to source ingredients—unless there’s something already in the works. When kalua pig is available in the freezer, made earlier in the family’s own imu (earthen oven), then one of the kids simply cooks cabbage.
There’s always hamburger in the freezer too to grab and defrost for the night’s meal. Other Kenoi meal-making “starters” are rice, poi and poke.
Justin’s favorite is Hamburger Helper and he readily takes charge of its preparation. “The kids love that; it doesn’t last long around here,” Billy says with a smile.
Another well-received family dish is “gravy burgers.” Prepared with hamburger, cream of mushroom soup, chopped onion, egg and bread crumbs, the recipe involves heating the soup, shaping and frying the patties, simmering the finished patties in the soup and then enjoying atop rice. It’s easy for kids to make.
“I make shoyu chicken, broiled pork chops and grilled salmon,” says Mayor Billy, adding that salmon and chicken are Liam’s favorites. “We always have a salad.”
Fresh fruit is readily available for all to grab, plus chocolate milk, juices, sports drinks and water. “I encourage the kids to hydrate,” notes Mayor Billy, who is an avid surfer and regular recent competitor in island triathlons.
“The kids can be picky; but they are pretty flexible and we have fun,” he concludes.