TV Chefs Heat Up Hawaii

Jo McGarry
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Wednesday - February 27, 2008
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Robert Irvine: a lesson in Imu 101 from Sam Choy
Robert Irvine: a lesson in Imu 101 from Sam Choy

If you’re a fan of TV food shows, you’ll be seeing a lot of our local restaurants on the networks shortly. The made-in-Hawaii shows are the result of almost a year of negotiating between HVCB, their PR team at McNeil-Wilson Communications and Travel Channel and TV Food Network producers.

Dinner: Impossible with Robert Irvine aired Feb. 20 and will replay again later in the month. Robert’s the guy you wish you had with you at 5 o’clock in the evening when you can’t decide what to make for dinner. He’s a culinary James Bond who flies to a secret destination and then has to make dinner in less than 8 hours for around 200 people. He’s done everything from feeding cattle ranchers in the middle of nowhere (the nearest store was a 30-minute drive), to preparing a wedding reception including the cake. And while he’s had an interesting week fighting off rumors that his impressive bio is not entirely accurate, he was able to keep his cool when he flew to the Big Island to prepare an authentic luau for 150 discerning guests. I chatted with him last Saturday and asked him if he’d had any idea where to begin.

“None whatsoever,” says the native of England and former Royal Navy cook. “I’d only been to Hawaii once, years ago with my wife, so I had no idea about the food or what I would have to cook. My mission was to prepare luau food - everything you’d expect at a traditional feast - in less than 8 hours.”

Irvine did however, have a little help when grand master of the luau, Sam Choy, stopped by to teach “Imu 101.”

“I was so happy to see Sam Choy,” said Robert. “I know Sam - he’s a friend - and he’s also such an incredibly well-known and well-loved chef on the Mainland. I felt confident knowing that he was my teacher.”

Despite having to pound poi from scratch, make poke with freshly caught fish and dig an imu, the former British Marine chef succeeded in his mission. “It was one of our favorite shows,” said Irvine.

When Anthony Bourdain made his Travel Channel trip to Hawaii to film his show No Reservations, there was only one contender for the restaurant segment: Side Street Inn. Despite an overflow of foodies and columnists who just happened to stop by, Bourdain (who famously wears his hatred of food critics like a sommeliers cup), the TV gourmand had a great time.

“He was pretty quiet, really,” said Side Street owner Colin Nishida. “You can tell he’s a restaurant guy, though, he was real interested in things like the kitchen and staffing issue and drinking.”

Bourdain was seated next to local boy and aficionado of such dishes as opihi and kim chee crab, Alan Wong. “We had Alan show him how to break the crab and suck it out, and how to eat opihi,” said Colin.

You can see Bourdain at Side Street (and a few other Hawaii locations) on March 3 on Oceanic 58 (Digital 325).

So who’s next? The impossibly cheerful Andrew Zimmern, who as an accomplished writer, radio host and chef, spends most of his time eating a succession of disgusting food while maintaining a broad grin. He’ll be in town the first week of March to film episodes of his Travel Channel show, Bizarre Foods.

Personally, I can’t wait to see what he thinks of mountain oysters served sashimi style. Yum.

Happy eating!

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