The Sheldon: Table-to-Farmer

The only dish on the Hanai menu that has been there every night from the very first day is the Sheldonia greens salad. It's a masterpiece that I help raise in the fields under the wings of farmer Phil Sheldon. Last night at the dinner table he told us that he's experimented with 40 types of lettuce, and that most of the ones that are good quality and grow well in California, don't do so well here in Kauai. His 30 yr old trip has been to find a half dozen varieties of lettuce that are exceptionally beautiful and tasty, and will grow in the Omao micro-climate. Natural selection is key. Farmer Phil's decades of hard work has made it to our table and we want to share this gift to all. It's a moral responsibility of mine to provide adequate respect, material supplies and personal energy to caretakers of the land such that they may continue on in the righteous path of sustainable cuisine and farming. 

Lettuce is often bypassed for sincere good quality since a salad tends to be topped dressing and garnishes, which mask the flavor of the greens beneath, but trust me, one does know what lettuce truly tastes like until they try the Sheldonia greens. Like a house, a dish is only as good as it's foundation. If the greens that first plop down on a plate have a texture and taste like none other then everything else that goes on it is just icing on the cake.

 On the farm our techniques are old school and simply organic. In the kitchen with Hanai the techniques are traditional and simply simple and effective. Chef D with Hanai made a sweet corn soup last night that was cooked in a way that elevated the flavors of the natural sugars of the corn from a molecular means topped with a pinch of roasted kernel in the oven, and the main and only ingredient was... corn. So there it is, the lettuce is so good all you need is the lettuce, and the corn is so good all you need is corn, and the fish is so good we don't dare to cook and therefore fly it into a crudo plate and top it with basic raw veggies and fruits and borage flowers. Kauai is unique in that you can grow, fish, hunt and harvest a world of ingredients that have more punch in each bite, more bang for the buck, because the composition of this landscape is extremely rich with old volcanic soil intermixed with ocean spray, global biological diversity, fresh water and ample insolation year-round. The culture(s) that inhabits is a collage of all the Pacific Rim native peoples plus that of the Western civilizations. In the middle of all of this is me and I'm stoked that this is pretty darn close to a miracle to have my mentor farm dude eat his own salad and 7 other bangin' courses in a strictly Hawaiian-grown pop-up restaurant just a half mile from old church studio where my lovely wife and little Kauaian girl are dreaming under a monkey pod tree. 

Farmer Phil eating 'The Sheldon' salad. 

Roasted eggplant, brushed with local: banana vinegar, mango juice, pink peppercorn juice, kiawe spice and pink sea salt. Caramelized on a panini press. Laid on top roasted sweet potato and padron peppers, watermelon radish and sweet peas. Garnished with calamansi, dianthus and spring onion curls. 

Hapu brandade mixed with banana, underneath a 61.5 C juicy egg and mushrooms and sunflower sprout, garnished with pumpkin seed powder.

The ahi crudo with cucumber ribbons, lilikoi, heart of palm and avo puree.

Colossal shrimp for two on the fly.

Mary's Hanai to go order. Nearly everything of the menu in a box.

Family meal shrimp platter.

This photograph is the greatest gift I could ever receive from working with Hanai. Here is a group of cutting edge, but down to Earth, chefs and solo waitress (and barber) with the Sheldonia farmer (and barber), whom I've been working with since May of 2013 when my daughter was born. Farmer Phil led me to Chef Adam two months ago,  and Chef Adam led me to Collin and Hanai, and from there I've been helping put together the Hawaii farm-to-table and bringing the table to the Kauai farmer. 

Mahalo arigato. 


Raising Kauai

Rosa Kai Lee, my little girl hiding beneath the hibiscus tree. Reminds me of how awesome it is to not get too caught up in work and outside relations, and simply have fun. Yesterday morning I woke up really early and decided to get a head start to bypass traffic and get to the farm. I arrived before sunrise and ate cacao kumut cereal in the middle of the lettuce fields that come daybreak will be harvesting from. That's the first time I've ever seen sunrise from Sheldonia and boy was it magical. The colors of a cotton candy Hawaii sky hanging above rows of lettuce painted in shades of purple, red and green. When I could see a few meters in front of me in the I began weeding and slowly woke up with the plants and insects. Rooted in the consciousness of the land, tramping around in bare feet with the sun on my back, aware of so many changes going on minute by minute, day after day... time stopped. Eight hours working the land had gone by and it felt like I just arrived. The only left to do was to laugh. 

When a salad goes out the door at a Hanai dinner a flashback comes back to the Sheldonia nursery; where lettuce and good health are born.

Keiki curly.

Once the flats leave the nursery they come to me and I plug each into the ground in a matrix of one and half hand lengths. We measure everything in farmer paces and hand lengths. Farmer Phil always tells me that the best tools are your hands. The hands are the original pitch fork and sickle. By relying on the human body to do the work there is no need for machines or gasoline. No need for pesticides since we're plucking out cut worms by hand from the fields and feeding them to Mr. Bird Man. No need for herbicides or weed killers since I have two hands that can pull any plant out and toss it into our compost pile. Good thing island time is on our side.

A couple months later from the day the seeds are planted comes this. The biggest lettuce heads ever seen on Sheldonia. There are some twice as big as the ones in the photo below. From July to October of 2014 there was next to 100% nothing in lettuce due to super high temperatures and little rain. A record of little yield. Months later we have the opposite situation where the lettuce is so big and it's so plentiful we're forced to eat like rabbits and share the wealth. Dis be da Matanuska kine season of greens.

Sexy lettuce.

On Wednesday night I came home with a box of lettuce heads and arugula. Jessica made plans for us to bring a big salad to the Kauai Farmers Union potluck.

This was our first time meeting the farmers union. The night started off with a potluck dinner full of salads, roasted breadfruit, mashed purple potato and sweet rice pudding. Then the speakers got into current news pertaining to Kauai farmers. The hot topic of this month was progress in establishing burn laws, which are meant to curb air pollution that can harm the public; a roundabout way to jab at the Kauai GMO operatioons. Back in the day county politicians made laws that limited where and when one could burn hay since burning it would choke out the local community if done in proximity and in certain climatic situations, and was excessive. From hay burns to cane burns the laws grew. Now they're looking to broaden the law to cover other smoky activities, like Chicken in a Barrel's barbecue next to the highway (Bill #2573). Big question to me is, how far do they want to go with air pollution laws? The volcano a few islands over ain't going to stop making big smoke with humans tell it to? And why no regulation on how many planes can come into the island? Why not subsidize bike lanes and more renewable energies? What ever happened to the Kauai's sugarcane trains? Could we not have used the old sugar tracks and made way with passenger trains to minimize traffic and gas use? If we're talking about air pollution, we have lots to talk about.

Next day, off to the farmers market after a half day of farming ('market gardening') on Sheldonia to see what Collin and Adam are up to. First rule of Hanai is we do not speak of Hanai. Yet, without words, one can taste and see how it works. The foundation of Hanai is 100% local Hawaiian pop-up restaurant. More than half the ingredients are procured from the Kapaa farmers market. The other half comes from ranchers, fisherman and wild pickers just like us.

The Hanai guys are not the only chefs at the farmers market, which is good news. I've always said that competition is collaboration. If the chef next store is making a bombastic dish with farmers market ingredients and selling it at an effective cost that supports the consumer, restaurant, farmer and land, then I reckon that the chef next store would wish to do the same, right? Do all chefs care about where their ingredients comes from? How about the consumers? What do WE need to care about when sit down for a meal? 

Gathering one's menu directly from farmers ain't all that easy sometimes, but if you can work it then there is nothing else more rewarding. Big thing I'm all mixed up about is getting on farmers time, then getting off it to work in a kitchen. It takes months to grow something, and sometimes chef need an ingredient, tomorrow. Sometimes a plate needs a flower garnish, right now, before it goes out to the table. Farmers time is the growing motion of longer time spans. Got to cook what's in season and if you want something special, put an order in for 6 months down the road. You'll be a half year older by the time you can taste them carrots.

Here is half of Hanai packed into a van. More or less a food truck. Everything from fancy wine glasses to propane stoves and sprouted coconuts. 

First step: unload.

When we arrive to the kitchen it's marketed as Java Kai, which it is 90% of the week. Come Friday and Saturday afternoon the coffee joint turns into a festive Hawaiian fine dining small plate restaurant.

The sign gets replaced.

The menu and concept changes.

Here is what the kitchen is before Hanai takes over.

Here it is gutted and bare.

Here's Hanai in action. Adam in the back behind the helm with immersion circulator for the 61.5 C degree eggs. Cody up front keeping an eye on the panini press, which is the only heat source I have to grill steak, shrimp and veggies. We're very limited on equipment, so it's nice to have as much preparation done beforehand so it's a reheat and serve type process, but time is also limited. Come a couple hours before service stuff gets all Western in the kitchen and like a box of chocolate, never know what you're gonna get. I have no clue what the menu is until 2 hours before service when Adam throws me a to-do list. Just cause the menu is written down doesn't mean it's going to truly come out that way. Everything is changing. The chefs must be adaptive. Farmer Phil always says that when he has it, he has it, and we he don't, he don't. Farmers do their best to provide the highest quality of ingredients, but sometimes nature takes over and says nope, not right now. The same applies to the kitchen. We run with a dish and tweak it to make it as good as we can, but when it starts to lose quality due to limited ingredients, lack of equipment, or the fresh flowers start to wilt on day two, then it's crossed off the chalkboard and back to the drawing board to invent a new dish with what's in the cooler.

Java Kai and their menu.

Collin writing out the Hanai menu.

Hanai means 'to adopt'.

Here's Adam writing out the menu from digital format in the back of his truck. All of our freshies are in the coolers behind him.

Here's my station: banana leaf, cilantro blossoms, kermit eggplant, plantain, watermelon radish, stripped cherry tomatoes, kumquat, calamansi, two different types of lilikoi fruit, green lilikoi ribbons, grapefruit, pomelo, lemon, eggfruit sauce, chili salt, pink salt, toasted pumpkin seed powder, roasted mushroom powder, fresh onago, sprouted coconut apple and sweet coconut sauce.

Ding ding ding.. dinner time! Blast off! Panini press and blow torch. Yeehaw! Ice cream banana brulee.

Pork belly from Kaneshiro farms on top a roselle fruit sauce from Sheldonia farms, topped with a bunch of goody green garnishes and flowers from the farmers market.

The presentation is sought out to be like this... you're walking through the Hawaiian jungle, a big wind blows and from the tree canopy above falls this litter of fruit and leaf and all of a sudden you look down to the forest floor and see this...

Or perhaps you're walking along the beach and a small tsunami comes to shore... your run to high ground and when the water retreats you find this at your feet...

This kind of plating is 'fall into place'. We all come together and dance, and somehow, everything works out and is beautiful.

At midnight after Adam gets an inventory on what is left, and has an idea as to what has to be gathered for tomorrows dinner, everything is tossed back into the carriage.

I walk home in the dark starry-lit sky past the cow and horse pastures. 

Here's the front door to our studio under the full moon.

Ice cream banana and beeswax candle ceremony on the stoop.

The monkey pod tree above us. 

The wild within us. 



Ho'oponopono - 'I am sorry, please forgive me, I love you, I thank you'. 

Time and time again I question why I am where I am. Just a couple years ago I was flying between Antarctica and the Arctic cheffing at field camps. Now this. The Kauai life. Yesterday I went out into the backwoods and gathered fallen guava tree limbs for a barbeque.  Rosa and I set fire to our hibachi grill and roasted local sweet potato and sweet corn, The grass fed island beef steaks from the Medeiros farm we did up on cast iron stove top under the monkey pod tree. From a traveling nomadic life full of adventures into the big white polar ice desserts with no life except humans and a kitchen full of canned and frozen decade-old goods, to a homestead lifestyle nested in a beach-side rain forest full of fresh produce, fish and meats... harvested and gathered daily, by us, the 70,000 some residents of Kauai. 

The meals we share between us are what ground us to this island. They give us good health and appreciation for what is. During the Hanai dinners it's common to witness the territorial boundaries around dining tables evaporate and the folks engaging in sacred conservation amongst each other about how good it feels to be eating this. Last Saturday night we had enough leftovers after our midnight family meal that we boxed em up and gave em to the homeless that keep their beats on the coastal path in downtown Kapa'a. Without the pure natural beauty around us we would not have our priceless pantry and menu, and our beds and the Earth's blanket. 

I do not have the time to consume the news of the outside of the world, or have the energy or money to consume much of what is brought in by plane and vessel to the island. Yes, I have a gas powered truck, but if I could ride a horse and buggy, or train to south shore to the farm then I would. So, where's it at? 

Busy bees we are providing fruits and vegetables for family and friends with rusty tools from a kanaka haole kapuna and an acre of soft Kauai soil. My skin is becoming dark, like a native. I farm several days during the week and volunteer my time there to harvest extra greens and fruits for the community back home. Come the weekend I help with Hanai Kauai and get to furthermore exemplify how miraculous this land, sun, air and water taste and how important it is to support the caretakers of the island. There is so much to do and so much to learn, and it's all fun and exciting. I am asked to be of a good role model for the keiki. On one hand it feels like I'm doing something totally radical and new age, but on the other hand I'm doing nothing different than what my great grandparents did to sustain themselves. My grandmother pickles her peppers, and we pickle our peppers. She shares a big garden to bring fresh veggies to table in the summer and pickle the rest to savor throughout the winter. 

Here on Kauai we share land like the olden days and work it allowing us to bring home bushels of fresh greens and fruits. I am just starting to tap into the world of preservation and fermentation to create long lasting treats. The guys at Hanai are one step ahead and I'm learning from them, like last weekend when they prepped a carboy of starfruit juice to be turned into a local fruit wine for aperitif.  It feels good to reconnect with our ancestors and conjure old wisdom. It feels good and is healthy to feed the dormant soul that's shrouded with technology and pursuit of material. Once I had nothing much material here in Kauai I started to learn about the trees, and what their seasons are and when their fruits are at their best. I started watching the net casters at the beach in more detail and look at what they're bringing in. I asked to be taught how to take a wild chicken, and found a way to make it taste tender. I am learning how to cook meats in banana leaf stuffed inside a heaping pile of lively compost. 

Our taste buds must be full of memories. Each taste is a story that goes all the back to when Kauai was young and molten under the sea. Now she's a tall jagged land with valleys of dark, rich soil where plants from all across Pacific rim have come to grow together. The weather is perfect for this gathering. Locals stop along the highway and just start picking the bushes for fruits. Driving back from work and can stop on the way home and harvest a piece of dinner or something to share with the neighbors? Nice. Reminds me of all the berry picking and roadside moose hunting in Alaska.

I do not forget the hundreds of thousands of children each day that do not have access to fresh water, or the communities involved in war or oppression. All I can offer is an example of peace and respect, and my intentions to unify this web of life into a path of acceptance. What is given to you is given to you, and you must make the best of it in a way that supports you and the world around you. To give everything that has been given to me seems to be my path right now. To seek more than is what is needed is insanity, because it only takes a few simple elements to feed the soul; be it kindness, appreciation, simplicity and love. We all end up in the same place; earth. I am sorry that there is hunger in the world and that I cannot provide, for that I ask for your forgiveness. I love all creatures under the sun and beyond and I thank you for sharing this time and place with me. Mahalo nui loa. 


Check out the most recent Hanai Kauai photos at http://www.hanaikauai.com/gallery/ and if you are on island be sure to book your table for Valentine's day. Doesn't matter if you a cat or rooster, we got your plate.