Honolulu ranks among the urban climes across the nation that boasts a thriving "pop-up" dining scene. Youthful culinary leaders are reshaping the way diners experience local flavors here, often in temporary or "borrowed" space from other, established eateries after they've closed or on dark nights.
Mark Noguchi is one of th leaders of this movement. The former owner/founder of Heeia Pier General Store & Deli, has since sold his interests there to lead a "permanent pop-up" – Taste in Kakaako.
From Noguchi's perspective, the evolution of Hawaii Regional Cuisine (HRC) – from its explosive propulsion of island cuisine in the early 1990s to a worldwide phenomenon known across the globe – draws foodies and culinary travelers to Oahu's shores daily, just to get a taste of what's hot.
THE MODERN HONOLULU: Explain the roots of HRC and how it has evolved into today's dining scene with chefs like yourself?
Mark Noguchi: Chef Mavro [and the group of HRC founders] put a definition on what we do here in Hawaii back in the 1980s and 90s. I think the latest evolution of that is, we now cook like our grandparetns. You cook what's around. We are returning to our roots as Hawaiian people utilizing the nearby bounty of Hawaii and playing to what people want to eat right now, which is local.
TMH: What's different today that allows you to elevate the manner in which you prepare food?
MN: Back in the day, you ate something fancy and took the menu back home. You'd look at them in your kitchen and try and figure it out. Now, it's right on the phone; we find outlandish stuff and try it. Thanks to social media anyone can find anything with immediacy -- recipes, photos and the direct contact to the person who made it!
TMH: Who are the others creating culinary experiences here?
MN: Chris Kajioka [from Vintage Cave] is one of the most technically proficient cooks in that nation, bar none. He has access to the finest ingredients in the world...Yet he still chooses local as often as possible.
Andrew Le at the Pig and the Lady is doing progressive Vietnamese fare while doing traditional Vietnamese at the same time.
You know we're on a good track when stars like Chef Morimoto come to town and insist on finding the best local ingredients they can find, and using as much as they can. That's awesome.
TMH: Do you feel a responsibility as a leading Hawaiian chef to "do something" special, or elevate Hawaiian foods?
MN: I think that French, Italian and Chinese cuisines are specific cooking styles that are timeless. But the ancient Polynesians, their luau fare, it's rooted in culture. So, you don't change that. You can change or modify food, but not so much with an indigenous culture. It's a privelege to say we call Hawaii home, that we were born and raised here. Those of us tapped to be a voice of Hawaii, it's a pretty awesome responsibility. I try very hard to be conscious of that privelege – I don't take it for granted.