It’s About More Than Food

Jo McGarry
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Wednesday - July 22, 2009
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Ever since I started writing about food for MidWeek eight years ago, I’ve become used to people greeting me with: “You have the greatest job.”

It’s true. But not for the obvious reasons.

Eating out for a living is a joy, but the most exciting part of my job is much more about people than poke and pork chops. When I first began writing for MidWeek, I thought that the columns would be about local restaurants and their food, but it soon became clear that MidWeek readers wanted to know about the scenes behind the restaurants, the chefs behind the grills and the inside stories of farmers and growers as much as the restaurants themselves.

And for that reason, some of the highlights for me these past years have had less to do with individual meals and more to do with the circumstances surrounding them.


Years ago, for example, I walked into a little Korean barbecue shop near Old Stadium Park and tasted one of the best burgers I’d ever had. But this particular Korean store wasn’t doing too well and was on the verge of closing. A column in MidWeek changed that. Readers, along with listeners to my radio show, flocked to the restaurant and today there are three Kiawe Grill BBQ joints in town, with a fourth on the way.

Getting the word out about good food - and helping the future of small family-run businesses - is one of the best things about this column. And the reach of MidWeek is so much greater than just here on Oahu.

I’m writing this column sitting in a diner in New York, having spent the last two weeks here visiting with chefs and eating in some of the city’s best restaurants. Part of the trip involved seeking out interesting chefs, so I called up Hawaii Kai native and KCC grad Tony Liu, the executive chef at Morandi in New York’s West Village, to introduce myself and see if we could meet. “Hey, I read your stuff. I like your style,” was his immediate response.

Tony’s been away from Hawaii more than 13 years, but means he can find out what’s happening on the local food scene on Oahu.

But eating is still the main part of the job, and the question people ask me most is about my favorite restaurant.

I don’t have one.

I have favorite dishes, favorite tables, favorite waiters and bartenders, favorite places for wine, for steak, for local food. But just like anyone else, my favorite restaurant is often the one I’m sitting in. What hasn’t changed over the years is that a favorite meal is still more about the people I’m sharing it with than it is just about the food.

E-mails to this column are another huge part of the reason I enjoy meeting looming deadlines each Tuesday morning. Yes, even those ones that start off ‘Are you crazy?’

And the biggest talking point since this column began? Pizza stirs a few passions, for sure, but when I wrote my first column about bad service, there were an unprecedented number of e-mails. What we all care about more than great food, it seems, is good service. After eight years, my e-mail box is full more often with complaints about poor service than it ever is about bad food. Going out for a meal remains something more than just eating in a place other than your home.

Just as writing a column about restaurants is, hopefully, something more than just writing about food.

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