World Chefs: Hawaiian chef savors its melting pot cuisine

Tue Jun 5, 2012 6:22am EDT
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By Dorene Internicola

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Chef Alan Wong is striving for the authentic experience. When customers dine at his restaurants in Hawaii he wants them to savor all the ethnically diverse flavors and traditions of the islands.

"It's all about a sense of place," Wong, a winner of the James Beard Award for Best Chef of the Year for Pacific Northwest, said in an telephone interview from Hawaii.

"Hawaii is called the melting pot of the Pacific for a reason. Even a pineapple picked in Hawaii tastes different from one picked in San Francisco or New York City."

An impassioned locavore, Wong is a founding member of Hawaiian Regional Cuisine (HRC), a nonprofit group dedicated to highlighting his islands' products and cuisine.

Wong, 56, spoke to Reuters about merging Hawaii's diverse ethnic cooking styles into cohesive dishes, his dedication to promoting the islands' produce, people, and culture, and why he thinks President Barack Obama, a repeat visitor to his eponymous restaurant in Oahu, is a foodie.

Q: How would you describe Hawaiian regional cuisine?

A: "My simple definition is that it's the way we cook in Hawaii today that borrows from all the ethnic influences you find in Hawaii. We're in the middle of Pacific Ocean, halfway between America and Asia. For an American it's the gateway to Asia, for an Asian it's the gateway to America. The cuisine here is very East-West and very melting pot-like."

Q: Why did you co-found the organization Hawaii Regional Cuisine (HRC)?   Continued...

Chef Alan Wong poses in Hawaii, in this handout picture taken in April 2012. REUTERS/Michael Gilbert/Handout