Local Hawaiian cuisine is making a mark on an international scale as plenty of photos and videos of poke, shave ice, spam musubis and plate lunches flood social media timelines.
Local chef Roy Yamaguchi, founder of the restaurant Roy’s and owner of over 30 restaurants, is part of the movement to spread aloha worldwide and says foods like poke and shave ice are associated with food in Hawai‘i.
“I think Hawai‘i has always been kind of mystical to a lot of people throughout the world. It’s a place for people to come and enjoy themselves,” Yamaguchi said.
This global culinary movement started with the emerging popularity of Hawai‘i regional, boasting chefs like Alan Wong, Peter Merriman, Sam Choy and Yamaguchi. This, along with the eight-year success of the Hawai‘i Food and Wine Festival, attracts over 100 local and international chefs to the state annually.
Yamaguchi was born and raised in Japan but spent time in Hawai‘i during the summers, when he stayed with his relatives on O‘ahu and Maui. Some of his favorite foods from childhood were poi, saimin and chicken hekka. His international travels inspired him to add flares to the foundation of his cooking. Flavors from his childhood have also influenced him.
“The flavors of my grandfather’s and my father’s cooking have really resonated in my mind. This is the basis of my cooking,” Yamaguchi said.
Chefs from other countries come to Hawai‘i to enjoy and learn more about local culture and food, as well as the bounty of ingredients it uses. Yamaguchi says these chefs are often inspired and influenced by the unique culinary traditions and bring these Hawaiian recipes they learned back to their homes to share in their communities on the mainland or overseas.
“The people of Hawai‘i are food lovers and lovers of their tradition. We’re really happy that we can try and bring that to other parts of the world for people to see,” Yamaguchi said.
Food can bring people together and showcase island-style cuisine while demonstrating the spirit of aloha.