Tag: Cooking Fresh

A Passion For Food Sustainability


Written by Fern Gavelek
Photography by Anna Pacheco

When you ask Scott Hiraishi what’s his favorite ingredient, he quickly replies, “anything sustainable from Hawai‘i Island.”

And why does he cook? “To make people happy and create a memorable experience,” he grins.

The executive chef at The Feeding Leaf, a Kona catering and event company, has a passion for food sustainability and fostering chef-farmer relationships. With over two decades of culinary experience, Hiraishi has been wowing Hawai‘i diners at numerous restaurants and community culinary fundraisers. Shy and humble when talking about himself, the 40-yearold beams with pride when discussing the Big Isle’s hard-working food providers.

“I admire my lettuce farmer, Zac,” shares Chef Scott. “His son is ill but he’s still farming every day, still producing beautiful food.”

To help Zac with medical expenses, Scott came up with a month of special lunch and dinner menus showcasing the farmer’s lettuce. Proceeds were donated to the effort.

“People like Zac are not just business relationships, but friendships,” continues Hiraishi.

The simple need to bring a prepared dish to baseball potlucks is what got a young Scott Hiraishi in the kitchen. He concocted desserts and local favorites like mochi to share with teammates. Ironically, Chef “doesn’t do desserts” anymore, explaining that baking is a more difficult, refined process. “Cooking is way easier and you can be more flexible.”

After graduating from O‘ahu’s Pearl City High School, Scott decided he would try a career in culinary arts. The teen enrolled in Hawai‘i Community College-West Hawai‘i and got a job at Sam Choy’s restaurant located in the then-Kona Bowl.

“Everything just fell into place; I was very fortunate,” recalls Scott, who worked alongside his mentor for 13 years. “Sam taught me to do it the right way; the way it’s supposed to be done—rather than taking shortcuts.”

Other culinary stints were at Four Seasons Resort Hualalai and The Sheraton Kona Resort & Spa at Keauhou Bay. When Sam Choy opened his Kai Lanai restaurant in Keauhou, Scott served as Chef De Cuisine for three years before helping form The Feeding Leaf last summer. The company took off with its aprons on, creating the coffee-themed Roast & Roots event and participating in the Hawai‘i Food and Wine Festival, where Chef Scott offered a Kona Coffee Rubbed Beef Carpaccio using 100 percent locally sourced ingredients. More recently, he prepared an entr.e of Molokai Venison with a canoe crop hash for the Kona Edible Event—a fundraiser for the “I Am Ha–loa” kalo documentary.

At The Feeding Leaf, Chef Scott creates meals for activity outfitters like Hawai‘i Forest and Trail and KONASTYLE Sailing Adventures. In an effort to educate visitors about island food sustainability, the menu incorporates local canoe crops—kalo (taro), ‘ulu (breadfruit), ‘uala (sweet potato) banana and coconuts— plus macadamia nuts, produce and value-added products like Original Hawaiian Chocolate, Punalu‘u Sweet Bread and Atebara Chips.

“Serving locally sourced food on our catamaran is an awesome tool,” notes Kalani Nakoa of KONASTYLE. “We tie the ingredients into our stories about Hawai‘i…I can point to where their banana came from as we bounce among ahupua‘a.”

Succinctly summing up his preference for using locally sourced ingredients, Chef says, “My passion with food focuses on being as sustainable as I can. I go out to farms to find out what’s new and fresh and I use it. I support the local economy.”

A Pastry Chef’s Dream

Words by Melissa Chang
Photography by Melissa Chang & Jamie Takaki

When Michelle Karr Ueoka was in high school, she wasn’t thinking about becoming an award-winning pastry chef: She was on the Hawaii golf team, making a name for herself in the golf circuit.

She wasn’t even thinking about it when she got to the University of Hawaii, when she was majoring in Travel Industry Management. But one day, it clicked.

“I was doing an externship at Alan Wong’s, and he asked me if I knew how to cook. I said no, and he thought I was being humble … but I didn’t know how to hold a knife correctly or turn on a pilot light,” she said. “I always enjoyed cooking with my grandmother, even though I didn’t cook. Working there inspired me to learn to be a chef.”

She headed to the Culinary Institute of America, using money she had saved from waitressing at Planet Hollywood Waikiki to pay for her tuition. While there, she decided to apply for a coveted externship at The French Laundry, and sent owner/chef Thomas Keller a toothbrush and a letter saying she would do anything for the opportunity, even scrub toilets with a toothbrush.

She got the externship, of course, and was at The French Laundry for two years until she graduated from the CIA in 2000. She came home to again work for Alan Wong, this time as a chef. (This is also where she met her husband, Wade Ueoka, the chef de cuisine.) Although Alan wanted her to work in savory, she was adamant that she become a pastry chef.

“I had to put myself on the path to my dream,” she said.

For Ueoka, the years of training in savory laid the fundamentals of cooking out for her so she could create the sweet.

“You need to understand how to make the basics first, or you can’t get creative,” Ueoka explained. “For example, there are so many custards … but if you don’t know how to make it, you can’t recreate it. What happens if you add coffee? Or coconut? You have to make a good custard before you can experiment with flavors.”

Ueoka became the first woman from Hawaii to be nominated for a James Beard Award — and being so humble, she had no idea she had been nominated, or that she was the first woman.

The day the nominations came out, her East Coast friends were texting her congratulations and she didn’t know what for. One friend called her to tell her she had been nominated, and she thought he was joking— so she hung up on him. She later apologized when he sent her a picture and a link.

“In my wildest dreams, I would never have thought I would have gotten the nomination. The other James Beard categories are separated by region. Pastry nominations cover the entire U.S.,” she explained. “It was truly an honor and great to share with the team.”

She’s been busy with husband Wade at their self-named MW Restaurant, which opened in October 2013. It’s been a learning experience for them in business and in cooking, and they’re moving forward with a new private dining room adjacent to the venue, as well as offering wine dinners, cooking demos and more.

“You gotta dream big,” Ueoka said, with a big smile. “It’s a journey. We’re striving for excellence, and looking to make things even better.”

Thanksgiving At The Simeons

Story by Eliza Escano

Photos By Mieko Hoffman

Rooted in authentic regional Filipino cuisine

Chef Sheldon Simeon’s gratitude cup is overflowing. Since finishing Top Chef Season 10 as a top-three finalist and fan favorite, the talented toque has partnered with chef and restaurateur Mark Ellman to open Migrant restaurant in Wailea. The awards came not too far behind, with Simeon most recently securing Food and Wine magazine’s “The People’s Best New Chef Award” in the Northwest and Pacific Division.

Accolades aside, it’s Simeon’s humble demeanor and smile that endear him to both peers and fans. One gets the idea that his successes are merely byproducts of what the two-time James Beard finalist celebrates most: family and the Filipino-Hawaiian culture that raised him.

On Maui, where Simeon and his wife Janice raise their four children, Thanksgiving resembles those of the chef’s younger days. Simeon’s dishes, which are replicated from his father’s recipes, are a delectable and honest study on authentic regional Filipino cuisine, specifically Ilocano.

At a Simeon Thanksgiving, there will be a lot of guts, and it will be glorious. Tripe is stewed with tomatoes, reminiscent of Italian Trippa. Most innards and cartilage are boiled down to a softer texture and flavored liberally with shoyu (soy sauce), vinegar and the essence of bay leaves or a combination thereof. The dishes tell a poignant history of hard-working folks who turned parts that would otherwise be discarded into something comforting and tasty. When one of his uncles puts a whole plate of thinly sliced, vinegary cow skin aside to take home, Simeon considers it the most meaningful approval. “That’s the best feeling,” he said. “I would take that over anything.”

Other less “gutsy” fare is still quintessentially Filipino. Ensaladang katuday is a lovely salad of white flower buds, blanched and mixed with cubed tomatoes and patis (fish sauce). Sweet tocino is smoked pork belly cooked with pohole (fern) shoots. Balatong is a thick stew made with boiled green monggo (mung beans). Simeon adds crispy-skinned lechon kawali (deep-fried pork belly) from Lahaina’s Ilocandia grocery store, bagoong (shrimp paste) and alii mushrooms. The delicious soup is finished with marunggay (moringa) leaves, which the Simeon girls picked from their yard and cleaned.

Warm and melty blueberry mocha, almond cheesecake and bibingka, a Filipino holiday sticky rice pudding, marvelously conclude the extraordinary feast. And ever true to tradition, Simeon picks up an ‘ukulele to wind down a splendiferous evening of gratitude with family and friends.

The Simeon's Thanksgiving meal

Chef James Babian: Hawai‘i Grown Italian

Slowing down has allowed James Babian to reenergize his love for food and family. Last year, Babian transitioned from a grueling position as executive chef of a four-star resort to ownership of a family-run restaurant. Now he’s able to wholeheartedly pursue his passion for providing the Big Island with an authentic taste of Italy.

In early 2013 Chef James Babian and his wife Christine opened Pueo’s Osteria in Waikoloa Village, a restaurant that caters to locals, visitors and their peers in the hospitality industry. [Pueo is the native Hawaiian owl, and the restaurant caters to night owls by staying open until midnight.] The idea came from his and his wife Christine’s love of Italian food after a recent trip to Italy. James has Sicilian roots on his mother’s side and always remembers growing up being exposed to superb food and how it positively affected his soul.

Indeed, the restaurant has a family feel. Christine is there all the time, greeting everyone hello and goodbye. Her influence extends to the decor, menu and recipes. Through the osteria (basically an Italian version of a bistro), the Babians reinterpret the authentic flavors of Italy without ever losing the flavor of the islands.

After working in his family’s restaurant on the East Coast where he grew up, Chef Babian attended the California Culinary Academy in the early ‘80s. He came to Hawai‘i in 2000 where he worked at the Fairmont Orchid as Executive Chef. After seven years, he moved to the Four Seasons Resort Hualalai, ranked as one of the top resorts in the world. During his time there, he helped champion the concept of RSA, “Regional, Seasonal and Artisanal” menus.

His steadfast philosophy is to create rewarding dining experiences that are culinary adventures. “I like to stay in the region, buy products only when they are in season, and support all the local artisan food producers I can,” explains Chef Babian about his locally sourced ingredients, which include goat cheese, macadamia nuts, Kona coffee, honey and Hawaiian salt.

Life is different now that he runs his own restaurant catering to the dinner crowd, in contrast to to the 12-14 hour days he spent as an Executive Chef at the resort.

“I spend much more time with my family than when I was working at the Four Seasons,” Chef says. At the resort, I was ultimately responsible for running six operations including the restaurant and 24-hour room service. Now, I run one restaurant and I can get a knife on a cutting board again. I am back out at the Farmer’s Markets, talking to farmers, buying fresh produce and being involved with the daily creation of specials.”

Clearly, he is happy to be in his element of crafting menus utilizing both the finest imported Italian products while choosing the freshest local
ingredients. “If you want to experience how the food tastes in Italy, this is the place. We buy 80-pound wheels of Parmesan each week. My team and I look at three to five variations of a recipe to decide how we can make it more flavorful by applying the plant to plate concept,” Babian explains.
“I don’t know who has more fun, me or the guests!”

Chef Babian’s Chicken Milanese and Arugula Salad



Photos by Pueo's Osteria
Course: Salad
Servings: 4 People
Author: Chef Babian


  • Knife
  • Meat Tenderizer
  • Pan
  • Mixing Bowl


Chicken Milanese

  • 4 Chicken Breasts (Approximately 6 oz. Each)
  • 2 Eggs (Beaten)
  • 1/2 Cup All-Purpose Flour
  • 3/4 Cup Seasoned Breadcrumbs


  • 2 oz. Pinot Grigio
  • 2 Tbs. Butter
  • 1 tsp. Flour
  • 2 Tbs. Capers
  • 1 Lemon
  • oz. Chicken Stock
  • Salt And Pepper (To Taste)

Arugula Salad

  • 4 Cup Arugula
  • 6 Hamakua Grape Tomatoes (Cut In Half)
  • 2 oz.  Parmesan Reggiano
  • 1 tsp. Lemon Juice
  • 1 tsp. EVOO
  • Salt And Pepper (To Taste)
  • 4 Lemon Wedges


Prepare Chicken Milanese.

  • Trim chicken breasts to remove any sinuet or fat and pound out to an even thickness.
  • Season with salt and pepper. Dust in flour, dip in egg wash, and bread lightly with breadcrumbs.
  • Sauté in olive oil until golden brown on each side.
  • Place in a 350 degrees oven until internal temp reaches 160 degrees.
  • Remove from oven and pat off any excess oil. Divide onto 4 plates.

Prepare Sauce.

  • In the pan used to cook chicken, discard used oil.
  • Add the butter and 1 tsp. of flour. Melt and mix well.
  • Add wine and remaining sauce ingredients; taste and adjust seasoning.

Prepare Arugula Salad.

  • In a mixing bowl put arugula, tomato halves, salt, and pepper to taste. Drizzle with olive oil and a bit of fresh lemon.
  • Toss, taste, and adjust seasoning.


  • Place a few tablespoons of sauce on each chicken breast and top with arugula salad. Garnish with cheese and lemon wedge.