Hilo-raised Sturgeon: Ugly Fish, But Tasty

Jo McGarry
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Wednesday - March 10, 2010
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Chef Alan Takasaki at Le Bistro

If you want to see an example of a really ugly, unattractive fish, then check out sturgeon. I’m calling it the Pinocchio fish. Once you see one, the reason will become obvious.

Fortunately, the only time the appearance of the sturgeon really matters is when it’s presented on the plate, and the fatty, fleshy meat makes for a quite tasty dish. It’s one of the species being farmed in Hilo as part of our progressive aquaculture programs.

Alan Wong and Brooks Takenaka organized a recent sturgeon tasting event as part of a series designed to encourage local chefs and buyers to support farmers and fishermen.

“It’s kind of like the old days where we had to introduce the fish to chefs one at a time,” says Takenaka, the popular face of Hawaii’s fishing industry.

“Used to be we went to Side Street Inn and talked about the local produce and how we could get the chefs to use it,” adds master sommelier Chuck Furuya, also in attendance.


“But that was in the old days,” quips Takenaka. “We can’t drink like that anymore.”

You can find out more about Hawaii seafood at a new Web site, www.Hawaii-seafood.org, and you’ll find the ugly but delicious sturgeon on the menu April 27 at a dinner at Alan Wong’s King Street Restaurant ...

Halekulani executive chef Vikram Garg was at the sturgeon tasting and was quick to suggest ways to serve the Hilo-farmed fish. His interest in local produce is obvious and impressive, and no further evidence of his commitment to local farmers is needed than the menus at exclusive Table One, an exceptional dining experience. One of the most impressive aspects is that Garg doesn’t start planning the menu until a few hours before guests arrive.

“I conceptualize the dish,” he says, “and of course it’s based on what the guests like to eat and what’s available that day, but most times I cook it for the first time right as they’re sitting down to dinner.”

Garg is certainly one of the most exciting - and fun - chefs of the moment, and Table One makes for a memorable evening ...

While we were talking about locally farmed food and ugly sturgeon, Garg mentioned that one of his own favorite places to dine is Le Bistro in Aina Haina. Le Bistro is no longer a great secret, and is a popular favorite with top chefs. I am always impressed with the way that chef/owner Alan Takasaki blends his creativity and great talent for French-inspired food, with a humble and utterly unpretentious manner. Part of the charm of Le Bistro (apart from the food) is the way Takasaki comes out to chat with guests, and to make sure that everything is OK.

“I’m so afraid that we might take our guests for granted,” he told me the other day. You can’t fake that kind of commitment, and happily he’s passed it onto Le Bistro’s staff who for the most part display the same kind of customer appreciation. It always makes me smile to think that Takasaki has the rich and famous along with celebrated chefs beating a path to his door, yet he still worries that everyone is happy. It’s rare to find a hands-on restaurant owner who cares more about his customers. If you haven’t yet tried this gorgeous restaurant, then give yourself a treat. When my husband Bobby and I realized that last week’s tsunami was a non-event and that our Islands had been spared, we immediately made plans to head to Le Bistro to celebrate all the little things - like our wedding anniversary - that we always seem to forget.

“I thought we’d be underwater by now,” said Takasaki, referring to the tsunami day closure of Kalanianaole Highway and the evacuation of the area. “It’s nice to be celebrating life.”

Yes, it is. Happy eating!

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