Celebrity chef Roger Mooking, host of the Cooking Channel’s Man Fire Food series, recently visited Hawaii to spotlight inventive ways to cook with fire.
Island traditions, such as construction of a Hawaiian imu (underground oven), and local comfort food favorites ranging from huli-huli chicken to imu-steamed laulau are featured in two episodes, the first of which, "Smoke and Steam," airs today (9:30 p.m. East Coast time, 3:30 p.m. Hawaii time.)
Both episodes are set on Oahu. In the first, Mooking attends two community gatherings laden with local foods. At Papahana Kuaola, local chef Mark “Gooch” Noguchi (Pili Hawaii/Taste) teaches Mooking how to prepare a traditional Hawaiian imu (pictured, below).
How to build an imu? Dig a pit and fill the base area it with kindling. Some roasters opt for kiawe (mesquite wood). Place baseball-sized stones atop the wood and then start the fire. The fire is usually maintained for hours, or at least until the stones are extremely hot. When the fire is snuffed out, the hot stones are evenly spread along the pit’s floor. Next, the floor is covered with layers of ti leaves or grass to prevent the burning of the food. The wrapped food is then spread out atop the layers. It's topped with a few more layers of leaves/grass. Finally, the oven is sealed with a less-porous covering, such as banana leaves. The imu roasting process is called kalua, which translates as "to cook in an underground oven."
Also, at Oahu’s popular Saturday morning farmers market at Kapiolani Community College Farmer’s Market, Roger Mooking meets Scott Shibuya (Guava Smoked), who smokes pork, chicken, and turkey tails with guava and kiawe woods, in a unique smoker he built out of an Air Force cargo container, airplane food cart, and a computer fan.
In the second episode, "Feasts Over Fire in Hawaii," Mooking visits a family-run restaurant Koala Moa, famous for its huli huli chicken. Roger and owner Chris Shimabukuro cook 140 seasoned chickens secured in metal baskets that slowly spin and move across the trailer filled with hot coals. Then, at MAO Organic Farms in Waianae, Roger meets local chef Robert McGee who roasts half a cow over a custom-built metal grill (pictured, above). Various cuts of beef, hamburgers, and sausages are cooked on adjustable grates over metal drawers filled with kiawe wood.
The Hawaii Visitors & Convention Bureau assisted the man Food Fire show in getting to Oahu as part of its efforts to share Hawaii’s unique culinary story with potential visitors. For more information about the show, click here.
Photos: Hawaii Visitors & Convention Bureau