Poke, STRAIGHT FROM HAWAII

Chefs are fus­ing chopped fish dish with other culi­nary tra­di­tions to pro­duce de­li­cious mash-ups

The Province - - LIVEIT - ARLEN RE­DEKOP

He came for a throw-down armed with knives, Hawai­ian sea­weed, Hawai­ian lava salt and Hawai­ian fish.

Chef Tom Muro­moto flew in from Maui re­cently for a poke (po-kay) rum­ble with chef Michael Win­ning of Beach Bay Café. He had heard poke is all the rage in Van­cou­ver.

Poke restau­rants are pop­ping up like corn in Van­cou­ver — Poke Guy, West­coast Poke, Pa­cific Poke, Poke Time, Pokker­ito, Is­lands Café (White Rock) all spe­cial­ize in poke — and other restau­rants have jumped aboard with at least one poke dish on the menu.

Of­ten they’re poke bowls, with rice as the base.

You’d think as a Hawai­ian, Muro­moto would own poke, be the Grand Poohbah of this long-lived Hawai­ian dish and have loud opin­ions on what it is and should be.

That might be so with a French chef talk­ing of cas­soulet or an Ital­ian chef with def­i­nite rules about Neapoli­tan pizza, but Muro­moto, the ex­ec­u­tive chef at Ka’ana­pali Beach Ho­tel, is pretty laid back, Is­land style.

He ap­proves of what’s hap­pen­ing to poke, which is pretty much ev­ery­thing you can throw at it.

Hawai­ians are, thanks to plan­ta­tion era, like their pop­u­lar lunch, a mixed plate. They are all about fus­ing cuisines. Mod­ern Hawai­ian cui­sine is about lo­cal in­gre­di­ents and throw­ing Ja­panese, Por­tuguese, Chi­nese, Filipino, Poly­ne­sian, In­dian and Korean culi­nary tra­di­tions at it. You want to tam­per with their sim­ple poke? Go ahead.

“Poke ba­si­cally means chunks. It orig­i­nated with fish­er­men who had small pieces of fish left; they didn’t want to waste it.” — CHEF TOM MURO­MOTO

“Poke’s been for­ever in Hawaii. You just start with fresh flavours from the ocean. And now we’re us­ing all kinds of dif­fer­ent flavours and sauces. Even su­per­mar­kets are start­ing to ex­pand on it and sell­ing dif­fer­ent va­ri­eties of poke,” Muro­moto said in an in­ter­view.

“I’m fas­ci­nated with food in Van­cou­ver and I want to be in­flu­enced. It’s poke from Hawaii meets poke from Van­cou­ver.

“Poke ba­si­cally means chunks. It’s the way you cut the fish. I’ve al­ways used cubes,” he says. “It orig­i­nated with fish­er­men who had small pieces of fish left; they didn’t want to waste it so they’d make a poke for a snack. It’s now pre­pared for fine din­ing, fast food, for sal­ads and it’s even cooked. There’s a wide range of prepa­ra­tions.”

Win­ning has a sim­i­lar amal­ga­mated back­ground. He’s been a pri­vate chef to sev­eral bil­lion­aire types over the past 15 years and they’ve taken him to 88 coun­tries.

“I trav­elled like a bil­lion­aire would,” he says. He’s lived in 17 cities and de­vel­oped a cook­ing style through travel os­mo­sis. In Lima, Peru, he learned about ce­viche and in Maui, where he lived for a time, he got to know poke. “For me, it’s a nat­u­ral evo­lu­tion,” says Win­ning.

Win­ning uses flash-frozen seafoods. “It doesn’t de­tract from flavour; the freez­ing is so mod­ern, so amaz­ing, it pre­serves the in­tegrity of the prod­uct. Sashimi grade fish would all have been flash frozen,” he says.

Muro­moto says there are some tra­di­tions to mak­ing poke. “Hawai­ians use ocean prod­ucts for the salt flavour. Ogo (the red Hawai­ian sea­weed he packed for the poke throw­down) has a salty, ocean flavour. Poke com­monly has gin­ger, gar­lic, soy sauce and se­same oil. I brought some lava salt be­cause it has some of that charred flavour. I’m sprin­kling it as gar­nish.” Roasted kukui nut (can­dlenut) is an­other old-school in­gre­di­ent in poke. More re­cently, green onions, chili pep­pers and soy sauce are com­monly used. Be­fore re­frig­er­a­tion, salt nicely pre­served the fish and Hawaii cer­tainly pro­duces a lot of in­ter­est­ing salts.

As far as throw­downs go, it was a friendly match, free of com­bat and easy­go­ing, Hawai­ian-style; they cooked side by side in the open kitchen, each mak­ing a poke dish and a cou­ple of canapés to feed the crowd. Muro­moto made a spicy ahi poke with mayo, lava salt, sea­soned ogo. I can see why he took the trou­ble to travel with ogo and lava salt. They pro­vided tex­ture and brought a bit of the briny ocean to the plate.

Win­ning made his poke with wild B.C. salmon, roasted and sweet gin­ger, se­same, cilantro, lemon and tamari. Two house-made potato chips added crisp con­trast. And that’s the poke he has put on the Beach Bay menu.

They then filled our tum­mies to the brim. Muro­moto made braised short ribs on bao buns, Kona kam­pachi (white firm-tex­tured fish) with po­hole (fid­dle­head) fern tartare; Win­ning whipped up gin­ger cumin or­ange-glazed pork ten­der­loin with seared sea scal­lop and tomato apri­cot rel­ish and grilled oc­to­pus with tomato shrimp chipo­tle.

Win­ning’s Hawai­ian In­fu­sion cock­tail (pis­ta­chio in­fused vodka, grape­fruit juice, lime cor­dial, An­cho Reyes Chili liqueur and gin­ger) and Co­conut Hiwa Porter beer from Maui Brew­ing Co. along with Okana­gan wines com­pleted the Maui meets Van­cou­ver ex­pe­ri­ence.

Chef Tom Muro­moto of Ka’ana­pali Beach Ho­tel in Maui makes poke, a chopped sushi salad, at Lis­tel Ho­tel.

PHO­TOS: ARLEN RE­DEKOP/POST­MEDIA NEWS

Poke, a Hawai­ian chopped sushi salad, is mak­ing big in­roads in Van­cou­ver with restau­rants pop­ping up all over.

Chef Tom Muro­moto of Ka’ana­pali Beach Ho­tel in Maui, makes poke, a chopped sushi salad at The Lis­tel Ho­tel in Van­cou­ver.

THE DIRTY APRON COOK­BOOK

Fresh flavours from the ocean are the key to poke, says chef Tom Muro­moto of Ka’ana­pali Beach Ho­tel in Maui, Hawaii.

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