It all came about when Dania Katz, Publisher of Edible Hawaiian Islands, asked me to do the photo shoot for one of their featured articles in the Fall 2013 edition of the magazine. The story, written by Melissa Chang, would cover Chef Lee Anne Wong creating home cooking, farm-to-table recipes using local fresh produce by Maui’s Kula Fields.
That’s when I had my first encounter with a celebrity chef, such fantabulous Lee Anne Wong.
Those of you who follow cooking shows on TV will know Lee Anne from, among others, Top Chef and Top Chef Masters. I do not watch TV and haven’t in twenty years – cable is not even connected in my home, as I only watch movies either streamed or on disc – so, though I had heard of Top Chef and some of the other popular cooking shows from friends who are devoted fans, I did not know who Lee Anne was. I was shocked to find out that she is a native New Yorker because, when I met her, she gave off such strong Aloha vibes that I was sure she was from Hawai’i. Her Mana, her light, her open friendliness and ease of being is so in tune with the islands that all that was missing was pidgin coming out of her mouth.
In between some very fast chopping, sautéing, stirring and (me) photographing, I found out that Lee Anne had been coming to Hawai’i every few weeks for some time. She had, in fact, just flown in from New York the day before just for this cooking session, and would be flying back there again the next day. She could have fooled me! She must be immune to jet-lag, and I need to find out what her trick is.
Now, a year later, she is officially a Honolulu girl, but more about this in a moment.
There we were, a bunch of girls setting things up, clearing space, finding props, and generally busying ourselves with all the crazy little details of a magazine photo shoot, even a pretty straightforward one like this one. In a few hours we wore and exchanged all kinds of hats: editor, farmer, writer, chef, sous chef, prop master, photographer, dish washer, director, cleaning woman, refreshment provider… Basically: we had fun, the hard-working, exhausting kind, but fun nonetheless. How can you not, with such a great group of ladies: Dania N. Katz and Sara Smith, respectively Publisher and (then) Managing Editor of Edible Hawaiian Islands, Roxanne Tiffin of Kula Fields, Honolulu’s own and blogger extraordinaire Melissa Chang, Chef Lee Anne Wong and myself. All in all I would say we made an amazing team.
All of this, by the way, took place at the now closed Taste (image above), which used to be a kitchen space with indoor and outdoor dining space for new and experienced chefs to showcase their talents.
Working very fast, Lee Anne created four wonderful and mouthwatering dishes which I photographed, but somehow did not manage to taste – bummer – so I will have to duplicate them in my kitchen:
and the divine Cronut Hawai’i 5-0.
If you click on the links for each dish, you will find the recipe on the Edible Hawaiian Islands website.
The recipes are not complicated and are intended for home cooking. They are perfect for all occasions, but definitely for Thanksgiving, whether you are in the Islands or not. The recipes were originally published in the Fall 2013 issue of Edible Hawaiian Islands, which is one of the best magazines in Hawai’i, and certainly the best one covering food and related topics.
If you are interested in getting a taste of the islands four times a year, the best way to get hold of the magazine is by subscribing, which is very easy to do and will assure you of promptly receiving your copies directly in your mailbox, or e-mail inbox in case of the digital edition.
I promised to share the latest about Lee Anne in Honolulu, and here it is. This amazingly talented being is now the Chef at the recently opened Koko Head Cafe in Honolulu, serving brunches to a fast growing and very appreciative crowd of fans. If you take a peek at their website or the images that Lee Anne posts on social media, you will know why it was an instant success. And you will drool, of course.
Even more recent news: just a couple of days ago, Chef Lee Anne Wong won the Battle of the Brunch event at this year’s Hawaii Food and Wine Festival. There was never any doubt in my mind that she would.
Koko Head Cafe is located in the old 12th Avenue Grill space and is still owned by Kevin Hanney, chef and owner of said 12th Avenue Grill, one of the best restaurants in Honolulu, which is only less than a block up the street, making Kaimuki quite the gourmet spot. After renovations, the cafe opened shortly after I moved to California, so it is at the top of my list for my next trip to Honolulu.
Besides nourishing people by cooking from the heart at the café, Chef Lee Anne has been working on a cookbook which just recently hit the stores: Dumplings All Day Wong. Is that title brilliant or what? You can see the cover in the image above, which I borrowed from her social media because my copy is scheduled to arrive later this month. Knowing how Lee Anne cooks, I can’t wait to try these recipes.
I know you must be ogling the wonderful produce in the image above, and I cannot close this article without mentioning the wonderful Hawai’i-grown fresh farm produce service provided by Kula Fields. Owned and operated by magic faerie Roxanne Tiffin, Kula Fields “connects island residents and visitors with local farms and food artisans” bringing fresh produce directly to people’s homes through their island-wide delivery service. Boxes, produce and other food specialties are available from different sources and in different assortments depending on which island you live on and what your need is. You can find out more details directly on the Kula Fields beautiful and well organized website.