Book Review: Mini-Review
Reviewed by Sandy Szwarc, Fri., Feb. 2, 2001
The Hali'imaile General Store Cookbook:
Home Cooking From Mauiby Beverly Gannon with Bonnie Friedman photographs by Laurie Smith
Ten Speed Press, 240 pp., $35
The scenery of Hawaii has gone through a dazzling transformation over the past decade and a Texas gal is behind it all. No, she didn't wave a magic wand over the landscape. Hawaii remains a tropical Eden, rimmed by miles of ivory beaches and crystal blue waters, and dotted with towering volcanos. She helped give birth to the country's hot new food scene: Hawaiian regional cuisine.
Hers is a love story. Gannon followed the love of her life from Dallas to Maui in the 1980s and her beloved catering business blossomed in this garden paradise. Her heartfelt cooking found a home at the Hali'imaile General Store, a historic company store in the middle of a thousand-acre pineapple plantation on the slopes of Mount Haleakala. There, she envisioned setting up headquarters for her catering business with a simple specialty takeout deli counter, but her fans had other ideas. Soon hordes of customers were jamming their way inside wanting to be fed, and the general store evolved into one of Hawaii's most lauded restaurants. With her husband and oldest daughter now managing the business and running the bar, and her second daughter (now one of the island's top pastry chefs) creating the desserts, the restaurant has grown into a family affair.
You're probably wondering, "What will Texans find appealing about Hawaiian cooking?" If you haven't visited Hawaii recently, you may still think Hawaiian food means digging into sticky poi or digging an imu in your backyard to roast a luau pig. Generations of American tourists were served ignoble aberrations of the local cuisine to the accompaniment of ukulele tunes, then returned home to put pineapple in everything and label it Hawaiian. (Did your mom try to pass off on you and your siblings a gag-inducing "Hawaiian" casserole of canned pineapple, bottled sweet and sour sauce, frozen vegetables, and ham? Tacky cookbook recipes like these left a bad taste in many mouths for Hawaiian food.)
In 1991, Gannon and 11 other visionary chefs saw the need to revolutionize the island's restaurant fare. They collaborated with local farmers and dedicated themselves to promoting the diversity of Hawaii's indigenous bounty and build upon its culinary traditions. They set out to use their professional training and personal artistic talents to prepare creative and sophisticated dishes for their contemporary upscale restaurants. Their new Hawaiian Regional Cuisine quickly took the nation by storm.
Fans love its inventiveness, explosions of flavor, and healthful lightness from fresh ingredients unencumbered by heavy sauces. Gannon and her colleagues have great local raw materials to work with in the colorful abundance of fresh fruits, vegetables, and seafoods found on the islands, and the eclectic cultural legacies that live on in Hawaiian home cooking. When you remember how many cultures have left their mark on Hawaii's history, it's easy to understand how it developed such a rich culinary mosaic. The early Polynesian settlers were followed by Captain Cook in the 18th century who set into motion a series of cultural infusions over the subsequent millennia that included Japanese, French, Chinese, Southeast Asian, Filipino, Portuguese, and Korean. Thanks to Gannon, Texan can now be added to the collusion.
It may be a stretch for uninitiated taste buds to imagine Gannon's imaginative Asian-Hawaiian-Texans fusion dishes. But one bite and you'll exclaim "Ono!" (Hawaiian for "delicious.") Gannon's little Texas twists give a vague familiarity to her exotic tropical recipes. Kalua pork enchiladas with chile verde, paniolo ribs with Hali'imaile barbecue sauce, and salmon tacos with avocado salsa sound right at home, don't they?
Gannon believes in feeding people great food and lots of it. She thinks it's a woman thing to want guests at her table to be completely satisfied at all costs. So, when her patrons begged and pleaded for her recipes, aiming to please, she compiled the best restaurant classics along with favorites from her own home into this beautiful new cookbook.
There's a bounty of simple recipes that reflect the early days of the restaurant and catering -- turn to those fresh salads, soups, pastas, and grilled recipes when your time and resources are stretched. When you want to make something really special to blow your guests out of the water, there's an abundance of masterpieces to turn to. (Hint: Start out your dinner party with her sashimi napoleon appetizers and your guests will be on their feet in applause, if they haven't already swooned to the floor in utter ecstasy.) Gannon's friendly narrative and the way she divides even her elaborate dishes into easy subrecipes make them a cinch to make. You could streamline them even further by making just one or two of the components, but every morsel will be worth your effort.
Granted, each Hawaiian eats more Spam than folks on the mainland, but you Spam-loving Austinites won't find a Spam recipe in the bunch. What you will find are such things as a seafood martini with wasabi-ginger cocktail sauce; crunchy macadamia nut chicken over tropical fruit paella; spicy coconut lobster and shrimp over soba noodles; and banana-caramel custard cake.
Although this book basks in the seasonal fresh produce, fish, and meats found on Maui, you'll be able to make all of her recipes using ingredients handy right here. Don't worry, for instance, that you'll need locally procured Opakapaka, Shutome, or Uku fish because she explains that any snapper or swordfish will work. Gannon remembers her roots and knows just what tidbits of advice you'll need to pull off her wondrous dishes. The only difficulty you'll have with this cookbook is deciding what to make first.
Sandy Szwarc, CCP, is a food editor and writer and author of Real New Mexico Chile: An Insider's Guide to Cooking With Chile.