July, 25 2012

I received an e-mail almost immediately after sending out the info about the Steak House saying that a Sustainable Steak House was impossible due to the nature of raising livestock along with other points about land usage and import fees. This got me inspired to further question what we were about to do and did our intentions match our actions. I began to break down the practices of each person involved to see if their being a part of this event was justified.

Duane Shimogawa of A’akukui Ranch oversees hundreds of acres of free range cattle. They are slaughtered locally and he remains steadfast in trying to supply Kauai first, but his beef isn’t in a lot of restaurants or grocery stores. This is mostly due to not having a packaging facility to break down the beef since butchery for most is a thing of the past. Couple that with the notion that local beef is tough or gamey, a stereotype that’s as misunderstood as is sustainability. Aging of beef is integral in serving it properly; quite the opposite of pork which is best fresh. The chemical reactions that break down the tissue make that tough steak a tender one, but because we don’t have the facilities most places don’t want the responsibility and so our local beef is often passed over in favor of grain feed Midwest or South American cattle. Since grain isn’t in the normal diet of a cow, it fattens them faster and less expensively than grass but also dilutes the flavor as you really are what you eat. Grass fed beef tastes beefier because it’s more balanced and when properly aged is one of the most desirable culinary products. So I handed my money directly to Duane for some incredible ribeyes that he aged for me and were my only cut of beef at the Steak House. The beef sold out by night’s end - a testament to offering locally-produced and properly-prepared food here on island.

Valerie Kaneshiro married into pig farming but it seems like she was destined to work with them. The relationship they have seems awkward due to the final destination of each and every pig, but don’t tell them that. After standing down the hill from her house in the stalls talking for a good hour, the pigs seem more like family pets. They seem happy to see us and are looking for attention. We stroll through where they are being weaned from their mothers when all of a sudden it happens – brand new Spring pigs - how apropos. I continue to enjoy many conversations with Valerie (we both are long winded) and have, even without owning an establishment, moved into a new price bracket for product due to the volume of pork I have bought in the last six months. You can only buy the whole pig from M & H Kaneshiro Farms and this seems to be a hang-up for most potential buyers unless it’s for a luau. What do you do with a whole animal, who can actually sell that much pork? Well in the few hours our pop-up was open we sold an entire 45 pound pig as well as a 51 pound lamb from the Kaneshiro family in addition to the 47 pounds of ribeyes and 20 pounds of Ahi. That comes to 163 pounds of locally sourced proteins sold in about 4 hours!

Daryl Kaneshiro's Oma'o Ranch is on the other side of the Oma'o valley from Valerie, but their farms come as close as just 100 yards down in the crux of the valley as she explained to me. My first use of Daryl’s lamb was when he provided 5 pounds of lamb livers for my cocktail party as a donation; curious of what I was doing but offering his generous encouragement. The Steak House lamb was actually the second whole lamb I have bought from him; the first I took delivery of at the post office where he pulled it from the front passenger seat of his truck. His lamb is also best fresh and has such a sweet smell and low fat content compared to the oily versions that I commonly receive at restaurants; it’s just a better product as with all of the local businesses that I choose to work with.

These great meats were served with sides sourced from Ono Organic, Olana Farms, Rainbow Gardens, Growing Strong and Kauai Roots Farming Co-op. Each and every one of these farms has become a special part of Grown and provides me with incredible products that are utilized in many different ways. I provide for my community and my community provides for me. I hold each and every one in high regard and am thankful for what they bring to the kitchen so that I may bring it to the table.

To get back to the question of “was this a sustainable venue?” I say that it was significantly better than many of the alternatives for dinner that evening. Beauty and perfection are in the eye of the beholder and these restaurant concepts that we put together are never perfect but they certainly are beautiful. My goal is to raise awareness about possibilities and resources available to us now so they don’t disappear from Kauai but instead become better appreciated and supported. So I encourage you to make the decision for yourself and please channel your feedback to me so that I may improve on the next concept and work toward a better food scene in Kauai and Hawaii.

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