Wednesday, July 8, 2015

A Lucky Belly Connection

Lucky Belly in Chinatown - Honolulu, Hawaii

 It's a theme I have been giving attention to in my life. It's one of my favorite things in the world, and maybe even THE most important thing in my world. When I was a portrait photographer, I began to see the beauty and the purpose in connecting with other people. I learned that capturing a good photograph happens by making a connection to the subject and capturing that moment.
I heard mothers tell me that if there were a fire in their home the two things they would grab on the way out would be their hard drive and the photos I took of their children.
That is a pretty beautiful connection.

When I began to make mixed media art and furnishings,  I saw it again. And I learned that
 it is way more purposeful to work at something that I am connected to because it attracts people who will love and appreciate it and find their own connection to something that I have created.
And that's a really cool connection too.

When I started to photograph and write about food I didn't expect to find that same connection with a subject I could EAT after photographing it, but guess what?
 I remembered how much connection there is that happens around food.

We all have endless memories centered around meals and family gatherings. The connections that happen between teaching children to eat, meals with girlfriends, date nights, cooking at home for someone, weddings, funerals, sad days, or happy days alone.
Connecting with someone who feeds you, or someone you have fed, or someone you share a meal with, holds much of the magical stuff of life: the connection we crave and seek and discover and share.
 The connection we find over food and drink and adventure.

Sometimes the desire to fly away and experience these things in a far away place is incredibly strong, and sometimes when that happens, a whole new world opens up and the experience is life changing. Sometimes that same connection can happen at the kitchen table, or at that cool little place down the street over a drink and something great to eat.

I am beyond lucky to live in Hawaii, a place where people save money their whole lives in order to come visit. I am fortunate to be able to work with food in a place that is bursting with new and creative places to savor those connections and I am lucky enough to be right in the middle of Chinatown, where there is a literal buzz on the streets with all of the new and exciting places that have come to the neighborhood.

I opened up my photography studio in Chinatown, right across from the historic Hawaii Theatre in 2005. At that time, much of the neighborhood's shops were covered in papered windows, empty and waiting for the area's revitalization to be realized.
Over the years, the neighborhood has blossomed with fresh new places to eat and drink, blending in with the places that have been around for decades and standing arm and arm with the ever present crazy side of Chinatown.  

Chinatown has always been the seedier side of Downtown. 
And honestly, this is why we love it. It's on the edge, but just enough to make it unpretentious, artsy, and a mecca for creative culture
Since the 1800's when sailors first began to use the harbor for shipping  and docking large vessels, which also meant the arrival of sailors and harbor workers to the area, offering migrant plantation workers the opportunity to settle in the area and open up shops and bars, Chinatown has had a rich history and made way for it's colorful inhabitants today.

And as for connection, the business owners in the area have an almost familial connection, and for  the people that visit these merchants, it is easy to feel the connection to them and their product. 

I recently sat down with Dusty Grable, co-owner of Lucky Belly, located on Hotel Street and was not surprised that our conversation centered around this very thing. The connection that happens through food and drink
Lucky Belly

 Dusty opened Lucky Belly nearly three years ago, along with co-owners Jesse Cruz and Mary Tess Calad, in the heart of Chinatown and has become one of my favorite spots for lunch, dinner and of course cocktails

Lucky Belly is a spectacular combination of Asian influenced dishes with a definite local flare and is riddled with both Jesse and Dusty's determination to do things in their own style. The result is a comfortable, modern-rustic place, that is putting out some seriously sexy food, centered around the concept of hospitality found by sharing a meal. 
The Lucky Bowl

Among their amazing appetizers, salads, special plates and their signature ramen, are my favorites and the items I order over and over again: 
the amazing Pork Belly Bao, 
their seriously sexy Shrimp Gyoza with edamame avocado puree and ponzu, 
the best Beet and Spicy Greens salad anywhere 
and of course, their giant Lucky Bowl.    
Beet and Spicy Greens Salad with goat cheese, candied pumpkin seeds and pomegranate dressing

A new menu item - Scallop Risotto in a cone sushi shell
Although Dusty is a certified sommaleir, and their sake selection is amazing, I can never order anything to drink except The Aviation - a cocktail made with gin, elderberry flower and citrus, OR their smokey Old Fashioned where they smoke a piece of kiawe under the glass before pouring in the cocktail to give it an amazing smokey flavor. 
But if for some reason you need a non-alcoholic beverage, the Chinatown Swizzle will make you feel like you've got the real deal in your hand. It's made with galangal, kaffir lime, lemongrass, drinking vinegar and coconut juice.  
The Aviation

The Chinatown Swizzle
And to make things even sweeter, for our late night needs there is the Lucky Belly Window. A little walk up window on the street where only on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 10pm-2am you can grab one of three $5 plates to sop up any late night booze after carousing at the many bars and clubs in Chinatown. The menu changes weekly and is actually something we plan our schedules around.

The moral of the story? 
Chinatown, with all of it's whackiness, is home to places like this; where great food is taken seriously, but not too seriously and where the most important factor is connecting to the place, the food and the people you are with. Take it from all of us, who's bellies are lucky on a regular basis, Lucky Belly needs to be your new favorite spot and Chinatown needs to be on your list of places to visit on Oahu.

Are you a believer in connection? 
What are some of your memories that center around food and drink?
Cheers to places like Lucky Belly and blogs like this where we can share in a meal, a cocktail and an experience!
I love to hear from you!

Monday, July 6, 2015

Hawaiian Shochu Company or Why We Love The Magic Funk Factor

The Koji Room at Hawaiian Shochu Company

I have learned something in my experiences as a dickwolfer, and even just as an eater and a drinker. And it is this:
The Funk Factor is where the magic is at.
It is present in all food and beverages that have some sort of fermentation alchemy going on.
 Think miso, cheese, shoyu, wine, beer, kombucha....
The fermentation process is a funky one.
Beautiful in it's delicate balance of foul and fantastic. A little on the edge, risky almost.
 Left a little too long and fermentation becomes rot, but carefully tended with intention and you've got the alchemy of turning something unimpressive into something golden.

al . che . my
1. the medieval forerunner of chemistry, based on the supposed transformation of matter. It was concerned particularly with attempts to convert base metals into gold or to find a universal elixir.  
2. a seemingly magical process of transformation, creation or combination.

And this brings me to the coolness, precision and magic happening at the 
Hawaiian Shochu Company.
Tucked into the sleepy back roads of Haleiwa on the 
North Shore of Oahu, a tour of The Hawaiian Shochu Company is a really great addition to your North Shore experience. Most people are familiar with Sake, but Shochu has been having a surge in popularity not only in Japan, but in the U.S. as well, and Oahu is home to the United States' only shochu distillery.  
Shochu is a Japanese distilled spirit, while Sake is a brewed beverage. If you are curious about this fascinating process, a trip to Hawaiian Shochu Company is a must on your list of things not to be missed when on Oahu.

Hawaiian Shochu Company was one of only two Shochu distilleries in the United States until recently, when a Washington state distillery closed its doors, making Hawaiian Shochu Company the country's only shochu distillery.
Namihana Shochu

Namihana is the name of Hawaiian Shochu Company's shochu. It is created using traditional techniques of "Kurose Brew Masters" of Kagoshima, Japan. Years ago, Ken Hirata served as an apprentice under Master Manzen at Manzen Shuzo Co. in Kagoshima, Japan, later choosing Hawaii as the place to set up his own distillery based on Hawaii's weather, which is similar to Kagoshima's fall season when sweet potatoes are harvested. Hawaii offers a year round growing season in rich volcanic soil for the many varieties of sweet potatoes used in Namihana Shochu. Even the Name "Namihana" sounds like a blend of Hawaiian and Japanese: Nami - meaning waves, and Hana - meaning flowers.

Although Sweet potatoes are key in producing this Shochu, the real magic ingredient is KOJI-rice. And this is where the magic happens: when Koda Farms heirloom varietal rice is steamed in a wooden steamer called a KOSHIKI, and then introduced with koji (culture), the magic funk begins to do it's thing. This process is done by hand and closely watched as it does it's magic for 48 hours. Ken and his wife, Yumiko carefully tend to the fermentation of the Koji rice like a winemaker tends to his grapes, until they have reached the right balance of funk.   
Kametsubo fermentation pots

Next the koji rice is mixed with steamed sweet potatoes and then goes into century-old ceramic vats called KAMETSUBO, which occupy a corner of the distillery, where the fermentation process continues for a total of about two weeks. After that, the mash is heated, distilled and then aged 4-6 months before it is ready for bottling.

 This process is only done twice a year and yields a batch of only 6,000 bottles of shochu. This is one of the things that makes Hawaiian Shochu Company so special. Every step of the process is done by hand in the traditional way and when you have one of their bottles in hand, you know it is from a small batch made with a lot of love. The other thing that makes it special is the team of two that make it all happen. It is a treat to be guided through the process by Ken, who has such a love for the spirit, the techniques and the land from which it is produced. He happily explains each step and answers as many questions as you can come up with, while his wife Yumiko places labels on bottles and handles business across the room.
Ken & Yumiko Hirata

Of course, there is a sample involved in a tour of the distillery. I'm no shochu expert, but I can tell you this: there is a smooth, rich flavor in Namihana Shochu. Served simply over ice or crafted into a cocktail, shochu is a great addition to your arsenal.  

If you're looking for something you can't find anywhere else in the islands OR the U.S. this is a fun and informative experience, complete with a sample of Namihana shochu!
You can schedule your tour or purchase Namihana Shochu 
by appointment only by calling
 The Hawaiian Shochu Company.