Picking Fresh MA’O Produce With Chef Nobu
Wednesday - February 17, 2010
It’s a bright, hot morning and I’m driving along Lualualei Road in Waianae under a blue sky that’s completely clear of anything save one or two perfectly positioned white clouds. I know this road really well, having lived here for a while when I first came to Hawaii 20 years ago, but much as I’d like, I don’t have much time to take a trip down memory lane this morning. I’m meeting world-renowned chef Nobu Matsuhisa, staff from his eponymous Waikiki restaurant, and Gary and Kukui Maunakea Forth, the owners of MA’O Organic. Chef Nobu has come to Waianae to see their farm and to hand-pick produce for dinner at his restaurant. In Honolulu for a week, he’s using local produce to bring attention to the fact that his restaurant in Hawaii is using some of the freshest food on earth. Proceeds from each omakase evening will go back to MA’O.
Chef is down in a muddy field snipping peppery arugula with a pair of kitchen shears when I catch up with him and start chatting. He tells me that of his 25 restaurants worldwide, only a few have the luxury of an organic farm as their main source of produce.
“I just came back from the Bahamas a couple of weeks ago, where they started an organic farm,” he says. “In California, of course, we have one, and in South Africa we’re using local, organic farm vegetables.”
But it’s Hawaii, with its clear, blue oceans and its rich soil, that seems to best inspire Nobu.
“It’s very much exciting, don’t you think?” he says, his eyes positively twinkling.
Nobu is so thrilled to be here on the farm on this gorgeous February morning that he can barely hide his enthusiasm.
“It’s wonderful,” he says, walking through the 16 acres of organic produce. “I have known Hawaii for more than 20 years and this is just incredible.”
His enthusiasm is fueled in part by the fresh produce, but also by the renewed commitment to youth and to sustainability that’s blossoming in Waianae’s vibrant agricultural community.
When Gary and Kukui and a group of their friends were prompted to “do something” about their community and its direction more than a decade ago, they had high hopes for an organic movement that would inspire young people, guided by their culture. But keeping up with MA’O requires a feature of its own: On this sunny morning, keeping up with Chef Nobu is my full-time job. He’s in the assembly area, where produce is being cleaned and packaged and sent to restaurants around the island in time for dinner tonight.
“Look at this!” says Nobu, clutching a bunch of cilantro as I bump into him in the outdoor room. “I just cut this myself and now I am going to make salad.” With that, he’s off to a makeshift cooking area, plastic container of dried miso (his new product), Parmesan cheese and lemon juice in hand.
Moments later there’s a gorgeous salad in front of us - a dish that will be eaten by this eager group and then re-created at Nobu Waikiki tonight.
I spend some time with students on the farm, record segments for radio and take photographs that will appear in an upscale food-ie magazine, and as I climb into my car ready to make the trek back to Honolulu, I glance back and see Chef Nobu and Gary Forth sitting at an old plastic table on a couple of rickety chairs eating lunch and talking about food.
“I want to come back and go fishing,” says Nobu. “Fresh vegetables and fish, they go perfectly together.”
To see just how perfectly, try the MA’O-inspired omakase menu next time you’re at Nobu, Waikiki.
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