Serving Food That Comes From Here
Wednesday - June 15, 2011
Restaurants are like relationships. They flourish in the right hands, wilt when there’s not enough love and attention, and can be turned from mediocre to magnificent when people really care.
You won’t feel this any more powerfully than sitting on the edge of Heeia Pier, where Mark “Gooch” Noguchi, russ Inouye, Kanoe Sandfur and an ohana as big as the island have breathed life back into a Kaneohe landmark.
Paying his dues as a chef (culinary Institute of america, Hyde Park, chef Mavro, town Kaimuki), Gooch is now the thoroughly charismatic face behind the Heeia General Store and Deli, where locally sourced food makes up a menu that reflects a perfectly unpretentious sense of place.
Loco moco, fresh catch from Kaneohe fishermen, taro, kalua pig and o’io fishcake are all here in a testament to the long-awaited new Hawaii food movement.
Fine dining and years spent in training might bring a culinary pedigree to the pier, but the food is honest, simple and locavore.
Ho’io shoots salad, fried kole, Kuahiwi beef stew, daishi saimin, limu, taro mac salad, fried rice and whatever comes out of the ocean have been on the menu these past couple of weeks, alongside the more traditional loco moco, Spam, eggs and burgers.
Three pounds of crimini and portabella mushrooms dropped off by a local grower yielded salads and specials one day, and as farmers and growers stop by, the chefs “play” with ingredients.
“We’re not about gourmet food,” insists Gooch. “We bring a level of care. yes, we’re going to take time with the rice and skim the Portuguese bean soup, and make sure the food is as good as it would be in any fine dining restaurant, but the menu is about this place - and about the food that comes from here.”
With fish from Kaneohe fishermen, pork smoked just a few miles away, luau leaves from the Wong family and a commitment to support neighboring Mahuahua ‘ai o Hoi, Heeia Pier doesn’t simply have new owners - it has guardians.
russ Inouye, who was born and raised near the pier, waded through mountains of DLNr paperwork to help secure the 35-year lease after original owners, “aunty Mimi,” “aunty Sharon ” and “Uncle Ernie” choy - who’s now the harbor master - retired after 30 years.
The dream vision, he says, is a return to the old days.
“Everybody here has memories of Eastsider families who’d come down to the pier to fish and to eat,” says Inouye. “We hold the lease,” he adds, “but they own the pier.”
But among the incredibly good food, the kindness, the camaraderie and the sounds of a working harbor, what I love most is this: Heeia General Store and Deli is an honest salute to sustainability, not just a nod in its direction.
“If there’s fish on the menu, that’s because the local fishermen caught it,” says Noguchi.
“People pop their head around the door and say, ‘Eh, you guys get fish today?’ and we say, ‘No more. Nobody caught fish.’ you either get it, or you don’t.”
To hear an interview with Gooch talking about Heeia Pier, go to http://tabletalkhawaii.com/
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