Chef Alan Wong demonstrating his soy panna cotta recipe

It’s only been a few weeks since my return from my Hawaii vacation, but the islands are still on my mind – especially last night when I went to a Taste Hawaii Tour event at San Francisco’s Japanese Cultural Center.

The tasting tour is led by celebrated Chef Alan Wong, the dean of Hawaiian regional cuisine. The chef made several appearances in the Bay Area this past weekend along with Arnold Hiura, a Hawaii historian and writer. And while Wong’s tour is primarily a promotion of his new cookbook, “Blue Tomato,” he serves as an ambassador of Hawaii’s local sustainability movement.

In fact, his cookbook is more than just recipes but a look at the local farmers whom he sources for his restaurants, the fine-dining Alan Wong’s Hawaii and the casual Pineapple Room. The beautiful photographs showcase local ingredients presented in refined, creative dishes in Wong’s signature style.

Cooking team from Alan Wong's and Hukilau working the kitchen

As for last night, people who attended were treated to a Hawaii-style dinner, courtesy of Hukilau Restaurant, a group of restaurants from Hawaii that has one location in San Francisco. Hukilau’s food is more local-style than Chef Wong’s refined plates, and it’s what writer Hiura described as Hawaiian comfort food. There were trays of Asian chicken salad, kalua pig, Hukilau chicken (a version of mochiko fried chicken), teriyaki beef, and ahi poke (pronounced po-kay).

Wong, who did a brief demo earlier in the evening, treated guests to two dishes – a seafood salad on top of a soy panna cotta and a miniature saimin bowl that was an homage to Hamura’s saimin, an extremely popular saimin (the Hawaiian version of ramen) joint on Kauai.

Even though this was called a “tasting,” like any food event in Hawaii there were lots of food and everyone gathered around tables to “talk story.” They ate dishes that have a variety of origins but are all very familiar in one place, Hawaii.

Rice squares sprinkled with furimake

Hukilau chicken made of mochi flour and soy sauce marinade (left) and thin slices of teriyaki beef (right)

Historian Arnold Hiura talks about the evolution of Hawaiian cuisine (and yes, he is holding a can of SPAM)

Spoons of ahi poke or raw tuna seasoned with soy and other Hawaiian touches

Asian chicken salad (right)

People lining up to kau kau

Chef's Wong Seafood Salad on top of soy panna cotta (includes fish roe, uni, ahi, and crunchy cucumber)

Chef Alan Wong signs his new cookbook, "Blue Tomato"

Traditional tray of kalua pig, or slow-cooked salted pork

Chef Wong's saimin bowl was more like buttery spaghetti with shrimp

Gathering to eat and talk story

13 Responses to Taste of Home with Chef Alan Wong

  1. hungry dog says:

    Wow, what a fun event! How’d you wrangle that invitation??? I love Hukilau, their Geary location isn’t far from us and we go there when we’re craving a plate lunch. Now, while everything looks delicious I am particularly intrigued by those rice squares. What’s the deal with those? They look awesome.

    • Ben Ben says:

      I got an invitation by paying $39 for a ticket! LOL 😛 (Along with the food, the ticket included Wong’s new cookbook.) … As for the rice squares, I have to say I’ve never seen that growing up in Hawaii. And actually the concept is better than the execution. It kind of didn’t have any taste, and was kind of tough. It’s kind of like a flat musubi. Everything else was good, though.

  2. Aloha Ben! Mahalo for coming to join us for our Taste Hawaii event at the JCCCNC! We’re glad you enjoyed all the food and talk story. The rice squares were a version of “yaki onigiri” — essentially a grilled musubi. The dish relates to the epilogue of Arnold Hiura’s “Kau Kau,” in which he explains that his grandmother would eat the burnt rice at the bottom of the rice pot and make it look so delicious. These days, there’s no such thing as burnt rice in a rice cooker; they’re so high tech. Instead, restaurants charge you for what was basically the “rubbish” at the bottom of the pot that Arnold’s grandmother would self-sacrificingly eat, saving the “good” rice for the rest of the family.

    And there’s still time to join us at the Hukilau in San Jose for Chef Alan’s Birthday Bash on Nov. 2! Tickets available at

  3. foodhoe says:

    my co-worker is a big fan of Chef Wong and told me about this, but I couldn’t make any of these events. It looks like a lot of the dishes were from Hukilau, no dishes with spam tho?

    • Ben Ben says:

      Nope, no SPAM musubi or anything similar. Chef Wong talks about making his own version of SPAM that he calls SPONG, and it’s more healthy because he knows what goes in them, and they’re mostly real pork meat.

  4. That looks and sounds like a delicious Hawaiian feast! I am glad Chef Wong was able to take you back to Hawaii (in spirit) even though you just returned to the mainland. And I think every person should hold up a can of Spam when talking at a podium. It would command everyone’s attention! Will you be making any recipes from Blue Tomato any time soon?

  5. Carolyn Jung says:

    I wish I could find poke as easily in the Bay Area as ya do in Hawaii. I love the stuff. I could eat it every day! 😉

    • Ben Ben says:

      I have to go all the way to Tokyo Fish Market in Berkeley for a big order. Otherwise I just do a quick and dirty version myself using sesame oil, soy sauce and konbu (maybe some green onions for garnish).

  6. Carolyn – try to find Pat the fishmonger from Mission Fresh Foods and ask him to reserve some sashimi-grade ahi for you. That’s what I used to make our ahi limu poke: