In Hawai‘i, aloha ʻāina (love of the land) is a philosophy of caring for one’s personal place and for the setting. “O‘ahu may be very near not being salvageable; they need to work actually arduous to protect with what little pure areas they do have there,” Hirata says. Whereas the island of Hawai‘i is extra rural than O‘ahu, business and residential developments have nonetheless bulldozed by means of acres of historic bushes and native vegetation. “I fear about this island,” Hirata says.
Through the pandemic, the lull in tourism offered a chance for the pure habitat of those islands to recuperate from overcrowded seashores, parks, and trails. It additionally highlighted the significance of vacationers fostering the love of the land once they return. “Native Hawaiian meals comes by means of an understanding and consciousness about place-based sourcing, and [chef Hirata] actually highlights that in essential methods,” Hobart says. “When vacationers get to work together with and style the components, it helps them perceive not solely what is exclusive about Hawai‘i meals but additionally its fragility. It helps them perceive why it’s essential to guard the setting and conventional practices.”
To keep away from useful resource depletion, Hirata by no means fishes from the identical location or forages from the identical plant greater than a few times a 12 months. And since he’s the one particular person curating the wild components, he can simply observe the frequency he visits every website. Even with Na‘au’s rising recognition, Hirata has no intention of scaling up his enterprise. “What we placed on the plate will not be designed for a big luxurious resort or restaurant,” he says. “We wouldn’t be capable of maintain it as a result of sources are so restricted.” Hirata’s eventual objective is to have the ability to donate a proportion of Na‘au’s proceeds to fund limu `ele`ele (native Hawaiian seaweed) restoration initiatives. A main meals supply and shelter for native fish, crabs, urchins, and sea snails, limu is important in Hawai‘i’s fragile ecosystem and an essential ingredient in its culinary heritage. He additionally needs to proceed looking and cooking invasive species like Axis deer, goats, and wild pigs, which injury the bottom nests of endemic birds and the roots of native bushes and vegetation.
The three fiddle heads he collects from his foraging journey shall be enough for the following handful of dinners. When he returns residence from the forest, Hirata pops the fiddle heads right into a pot of boiling water that he arrange in his storage, taking care to keep away from the noxious fumes that might burn his eyes and throat. Twelve minutes later, he pulls out the hāpu‘u, peels the brilliant inexperienced pores and skin to disclose a white asparagus-like inside, chops them into cubes, and marinates them in a combination of rice vinegar, soy, garlic, onion, sugar, and sesame seeds. One ingredient down. Seven extra to go.
Hirata continues to collect components within the days main as much as the pop up. Someday, he’s chain-sawing down a Peach Palm tree in his yard to reap a log-size coronary heart of palm, and the following, he’s crouched down over the aspect of the mountainous Saddle Street to select lemony sheep sorrel. And when he can’t get the components himself, he has a man—a retired carpenter who catches octopus the traditional Hawaiian means, free-diving with a three-prong spear; the farmer who captures wild pigs and fattens them up with macadamia nuts; and the buddy who is aware of the secluded spot the place limu `ele`ele grows.
In a small kitchen outfitted with a fundamental electrical range at Anna Ranch Heritage Heart, Hirata works quietly alongside his former scholar Mitchell Mizuguchi. The pair has a snug rhythm, with Hirata in instructor mode as he explains the required mise en place and the development of every dish. When a rice cake received’t crisp up correctly on the range, Hirata presents a couple of recommendations on tips on how to repair the issue. “We solely want 16 tonight,” says Hirata, reassuringly. “Take your time. You’ll get it proper.” Even in the midst of dinner prep, Hirata continues to impart his data to his youthful sous chef; the behind-the-scenes classes are an integral part of Na‘au’s philosophy. “I’ve by no means labored with a few of these components earlier than,” says Mizuguchi, who works as a butcher on the Waimea Butcher Store. “I need to be taught from the chef, which is why I’m right here.”
Whereas Hirata and Mizuguchi assemble dishes within the kitchen, enterprise accomplice Nishimura leads the entrance of home employees to brighten a handful of tables with candles, tropical foliage, a replica of the menu, and jars of custom-made poke combine, a present from Na‘au. That night, in a comfy ranch-style room with hardwood flooring and wrap-around French home windows, native and visiting dinner friends hear attentively as Hirata introduces every dish, describing the importance of the components and sharing tales from his circle of relatives’s foraging experiences. Carried away conversations and loads of wine, diners pattern silky bonefish blended with limu and kukui nut, a contemporary interpretation of poke utilizing historic components; popcorn chicken-style octopus; and Hirata’s signature cheesecake with delicate `ōhelo berry jam.
“We need to share with the world these distinctive components that [haven’t] been shared as a result of we’re so remoted,” Hirata says. “You may get truffles and caviar wherever. We’re giving somebody an expertise about Hawai‘i, a spot the place we grew up and that we love. It’s one thing they’ll preserve for the remainder of their life.”