Peter Merriman, one of Hawaii's top chefs, chooses a choke.
Peter Merriman has been called the Pied Piper of Hawaiian cooking, a pioneer who helped generate a distinctive regional cuisine. Since 1988 the chef has been putting fresh twists on traditional dishes that go far beyond pork lau lau and poi. He has five restaurants on three islands (merrimanshawaii.com).
Q What exactly is Hawaiian cuisine?
A It’s a potpourri: Chinese, Japanese, Portuguese, Filipino, all mixed with native Hawaiian foods.
Q You’re redefining it?
A Take a classic Hawaiian dish like loco moco: white rice, a hamburger patty, a fried egg, packaged gravy. At Merriman’s Waimea on the Big Island, I do a version with macadamia rice, wild boar bacon, a fresh farm egg, and shallot gravy. We also reinterpret the local fare in a gastropub setting at Monkeypod Kitchen on Maui (monkeypodkitchen.com).
Q You get all the ingredients locally?
A When I got here, very little was grown on the islands for restaurants. It was plantation agriculture—sugar, pineapple, beef. That began to change as plantations closed and more land became available for small farmers. The growth of Hawaiian cuisine has really dovetailed with the decline of sugar on the islands.
Q A must-try dish?
A Poke. Traditionally, it’s chunks of raw fish seasoned with kukui nut and seaweed. There are as many pokes as chefs who make it.
Q Where do you like to go out to eat?
A Star Noodle is a cool Asian place in Lahaina on Maui (808-667-5400, starnoodle.com). And they do a great local pork at 12th Ave Grill in Honolulu (808-732-9469, 12thavegrill.com).
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Photography by Charla Photography
This article was first published in January 2012. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.