Michelle Yamaguchi

Jo McGarry
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Friday - November 30, 2011 Share | Del.icio.us | podcast Podcast | WineAndDineHawaii.com

Jo McGarry photo

Profession: Co-owner Umeke Market, Kahala and Downtown.

Where were you born and raised? Kenosha, Wis., on Lake Michigan.

What started your interest in food and cooking? My grandparents were farmers, and they grew cabbage, tomatoes, onions, potatoes ... and they would truck it down to Cincinnati where they would sell to Campbell Soup. And my mom had a huge garden, where we would grow our own food and can our own tomatoes, vegetables. We were like little farm laborers picking seasonal berries and fruits, canning vegetables, sterilizing jars ... Once I started cooking, I cooked for our family, and in high school I started to cater graduation parties for my friends.

So you instinctively were drawn to food. Yes, I was always selective about what I ate and what I cooked.

Umeke Market was one of the first places to start changing the perception of plate lunches. Yes, at first people would come to the deli and look for the white rice and be kind of annoyed it wasn’t there. Now they wonder where the quinoa brown rice is or they’re asking for millet ... There are a lot of whole grains that people are realizing taste really good!

Do you cook at home? Almost all the time. We make a real effort to cook and eat at home.

What’s usually for dinner? Maybe a stir-fry, two to three vegetable dishes, pasta. But less and less starch. You don’t really need it.

What’s always in your fridge? Milk and soymilk. And I use Oahu fresh produce. The bag comes to the store every week, so we always have fresh farm food. And butter. I have a butter weakness.

Favorite food when you do eat out? Vietnamese, usually, because it’s healthy we love the soups. Super Pho is a favorite.

With whom would you most like to have dinner at Umeke? Well, I was super envious but so happy for Ed Kenney when he made lunch for Michelle Obama! On a less-famous note, I love to cook for my mom. She’s the person I learned from, and it would be nice to have the chance to see my grandma one more time. I learned recently that she used to cater parties and weddings on the farm.

You’ve started a series of seminars about food. I like that your approach is always simple and encouraging. Yes, more than just a cooking class, it’s about teaching people how to cook for themselves and encourage them to eat well.


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