Let’s Talk Food: Chef Alan Wong visits HCC

  • Courtesy of AUDREY WILSON Chef Alan Wong conducts a demonstration for Hawaii Community College culinary students.

  • Courtesy of AUDREY WILSON First Migration poke.

Thanks to the Hawaii Culinary Education Foundation, Chef Alan Wong came to speak to the culinary students at Hawaii Community College last week.

One of the 12 original Hawaiian Regional Cuisine chefs, Wong is very knowledgeable about the influences of food by various timelines. Butchering several types of fish, he made several dishes to show the students how the various times changed the way poke was made.

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The First Migration brought the Polynesians to the island and the style of poke was simple, with salt, inamona and limu kohu.

Wong said they might have added opihi and the liver of certain fish to add flavor to their poke. The other possibility was that fish such as menpachi would have been cut in half and the flesh sucked out from the bone.

The Second Migration of large sailing ships, or post Captain Cook, brought along chili pepper, onions, pineapple and sugarcane. Chef made ahi poke using chili pepper, salt, round onions, green onions and sesame seed oil.

The Third Migration brought with it infectious diseases such as measles, chickenpox and tuberculosis, with more than 66 percent of the Native Hawaiians dying. That devastated the workforce, and so the recruitment of foreign labor began.

The influences that made Hawaiian regional cuisine what it is today, Wong explained, were due to the arrival of the various people. It is a style that borrows from all the ethnic influences that make the cuisine of today.

The exact immigration timeline to the islands is as follows:

• 1200: The first Tahitians arrive.

• 1778: Captain Cook discovers Hawaii.

• 1837: American ships arrive.

• 1839: French ships arrive.

• 1843: Chinese immigrants arrive.

• 1878: Portuguese chic immigrants arrive.

• 1878: Puerto Rican immigrants arrive.

• 1885: Japanese immigrants arrive

• 1900: Okinawan immigrants arrive.

• 1903: Korean immigrants arrive

• 1906: Filipino immigrants arrive.

• 1910: Indian immigrants arrive.

• 1976: Vietnamese immigrants arrive.

Mexicans, Samoans, Laotians, Cambodians, Malaysians, French, Canadians, Cubans, etc. also made their way to the islands to inject their heritage into the regional cuisine.

Wong also talked about the importance of butchering your own fish in order to see, touch and feel the flesh and whether it is fatty, tough or tender. This will influence how you prepare the final dish.

He cut slices of ono, or king mackerel, and said it had very little fat, so the protein needed to be protected. He made a tempura batter for it and even pan fried it to show the students how dry it would cook up.

Wong also talked about sustainability of seafood and the need to protect the various fish we enjoy now for our grandchildren’s children to be able to also enjoy eating those fish. Therefore, his restaurants practice sustainability by serving farm-raised kampachi, moi and tilapia.

Then he had three items: an egg, an orange and a tennis ball.

He asked the students how they would react to adversity and how much perseverance and discipline they have. Would they crack like an egg, get bruised like an orange or be able to bounce back like a rubber ball?

These many traits, including dependability, consistency, reliability and the ability to be open, learn and grow, besides having the ambition, all make for a successful career in the culinary arts.

Chef often asks students what their ambitions and goals are, with many saying they want to open a restaurant. He explained it could take more than 20 years of learning and apprenticing to be able to do so and be a success.

The last slide that was shown during Wong’s presentation was a large iceberg, with 10 percent showing and 90 percent underwater.

The 10 percent was fame, fortune, publicity and money. The hidden 90 percent was attitude, commitment, sacrifice, work ethic, dedication, enthusiasm for learning and the willingness to pay the price.

Some of the most interesting items brought up were when the students asked questions.

Wong revealed that as a child, he hated vegetables, and in elementary school teachers would check the lunch trays to make sure all the children ate their vegetables. He would drink his milk and then hide his vegetables in his empty milk carton.

It worked for awhile until one day, the teacher saw him put the vegetables in the carton and he got busted. So, he then started to put them in his pants pocket and was the only kid at the playground after lunch with wet pockets.

His mother tried to make him eat more vegetables, but Wong said he had a terrific gag reflex and his mother gave up after a while. Having gone through the difficulty of getting Wong to eat a variety of vegetables, his mother was very surprised that he ended up being a chef.

Another question was asked, what is Chef’s favorite food, to which he answered, “Japanese, for its simplicity and because his mother is from Japan.”

I have heard Wong speak for many years, talking about his passion. He has developed into such a motivational speaker for anyone thinking about a career in the culinary arts.

It is wonderful that he is willing to share his thoughts and experiences to help these culinary arts students find their way as they carve out their careers.

Foodie bites

• HCC’s Culinary Arts Program’s Cafeteria and Bamboo Hale are open today till Friday. Call 934-2559 for specials of the day and reservations for the Bamboo Hale. This week at the Bamboo Hale, the European Standard menu and the cuisine of Italy will be featured. The semester is quickly coming to an end, so make sure you get to have lunch at the Bamboo Hale before it closes for the year.

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• The Rotary of South Hilo’s Huli is on Sunday, May 5th at Mokuola (Coconut Island). Members will have tickets available for purchase.

Email Audrey Wilson at audreywilson808@gmail.com.

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