You can’t buy Hawaiian Shochu … but you’ll taste it at Something New

Something New is a food fest with a twist: Nine of Honolulu’s craziest chefs were paired with local ingredients and challenged to create something new. Savory chefs got sweet ingredients. Pastry chefs got savory. One got a whole cow. Another got awa. Ed Morita, the Off the Wall Craft pastry chef who wrote the blog below, got Hawaiian Shochu.

Our only request? Go crazy, and keep it delicious. Join us to taste the results next Wednesday from 6-8:30 p.m. at M Nightclub at Restaurant Row. Tickets are at frolicsomethingnew.eventbrite.com.

Photo by Ed MoritaI admit to being a little envious when I heard what ingredients the other chefs at Frolic’s Something New event were paired with. I have no idea what I would do with an entire steer, but I still want one.

Still, shochu gives me myriad possible directions for my dish, which is why I leaped at the opportunity to visit Ken Hirata’s Hawaiian Shochu distillery in Haleiwa. I had one major question: “How far can I take this ingredient?”

Photo by Ed Morita  Photo by Ed MoritaWhatever I created, I wanted to be respectful of Hirata’s craft, which it is very evident he loves.

Hirata makes two runs of shochu a year – one in the spring and one in the fall. Each yields approximately 600 bottles, and while most distillers cut their shochu to 25 to 28 percent alcohol, Hirata bottles at 30 percent.

Add to this the locally grown sweet potatoes that he uses, and it is easy to see why Hirata doesn’t need retailers to sell his shochu. Even though he sells to only a few restaurants and aficionados who hear about him and stop by, every batch of Hawaiian Shochu has sold out. In fact, a group of tourists arrived while I was there to pick up bottles that they had ordered months prior.

Photo by Ed Morita  Photo by Ed MoritaTo say that making shochu is a labor of love is an understatement. The ingredient that makes shochu distinct from other clear distilled spirits is koji, a mold that Hirata and his wife cultivate. The koji is sprinkled on steamed rice that must be tended to every three to four hours for three days.

Photo by Ed Morita  Photo by Ed MoritaThe koji rice is added to large pots with a mash of Okinawan sweet potatoes, water and yeast. During fermentation, starches in the rice and sweet potato turn into sugars, which the yeast feeds on to create alcohol. Hirata distills the shochu and ages it in a tank, yielding the clear liquor that remarkably retains much of the aroma and flavor of the sweet potato.

Photo by Ed Morita  Photo by Ed Morita

After seeing how much work goes into making Hawaiian Shochu, I asked Hirata how much liberty I could take with it. I explained that I wanted to push the limits of his shochu while highlighting the flavor and keeping true to what comes out of the still.

Photo by Ed Morita  Photo by Ed Morita

The shochu that my Off The Wall Craft co-workers and I tasted was cask strength, straight from the vat with an alcohol content of 40 percent. It had an earthy aroma of sweet potato skin that gave way to caramel notes. The flavor mirrored the nose, starting with sweet potatoes, giving way to alcohol and finishing again with sweet potato. Hirata’s shochu is unfiltered, so sipped over ice, it has a creamy mouth feel that makes it even smoother.

I explained to Hirata that to really take my dish “off the wall,” I was going to make a cocktail with his shochu and then pair my dessert(s) to the cocktail. Hirata looked dumbfounded when I said that I planned to barrel-age some of his shochu to turn it into a whiskey, and flavor some with strawberries, limoncello style.

Photo by Ed Morita

From left to right: my strawberry-cello, original Hawaiian Shochu, barrel-aged shochu.

After weeks of tinkering, the question now is what dessert(s) am I going to make to go with the shochu cocktails?

Sticky Buns web

To highlight the flavor and aroma of sweet potatoes, I’m creating a variation of my bacon sticky bun with Okinawan sweet potato instead of kabocha squash, topped with a spiked honey syrup made with the barrel-aged shochu. As for what I have in store for the strawberry-cello? That will be a surprise.

See you at the M on March 25!

Something New
Wednesday, March 25 from 6 to 8:30p
M Nightclub @ Restaurant Row
Tickets: $75 online including all food and two drinks

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The Bank of Hawaii MyBankoh Rewards card is the official card of the Something New event. To learn more about the card visit boh.com/mybankohrewards. At the event, show your Bank of Hawaii MyBankoh Rewards Credit card at the door to receive special access to the MyBankoh Rewards Lounge and an exclusive tasting, featuring Hawaiian Shochu Company shochu and an appetizer pairing.

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A chef’s view: Soft openings

busy-restaurantDisclaimer: The following represents my views only and should in no way reflect upon or be interpreted as the opinion of any past, present or future employers.

As unbelievable as it is to me, I have gone through two restaurant soft openings in 16 months — Highway Inn Kakaako, and now Off The Wall Craft.

During many conversations over the past few days, it has become clear to me that the soft opening is a restaurant practice that many diners do not understand.

A soft opening occurs before the official opening and serves two purposes, both of which involve receiving feedback.

Menu development

Although a soft opening does offer a preview of the restaurant’s menu, chefs are really looking for feedback on the food. For the most part, this is the first time they are presenting a menu concept to people outside the restaurant. As such, they are attempting to gauge how dishes will be received by the public.

At Off The Wall Craft, we spread out our soft opening over several events, the first being a media day. The test group consisted of magazine editors, food writers, bloggers, social media influencers, public relations professionals, photographers and chefs.

Aside from the buzz this created, we asked for and received a great amount of feedback on the menu. Overall, the feedback was positive, but there were a few items that we completely scrapped and re-conceptualized from the bottom up.

After tweaking the menu slightly, we next invited family and friends to taste the food. The media group predominantly represented the foodie demographic. The people we invited for Friends & Family night represented a wider cross-section of the local food culture.

Stress test

The second part of a soft opening that many people often don’t grasp is the stress test. This is a training tool to evaluate employees and see where service procedures, both in the kitchen and the dining room, need to be adjusted.

Put simply and honestly, if you are looking for good service, DO NOT go to a soft opening, because the restaurant is deliberately set up to fail.

Photo by Ed MoritaIt may sound cruel, but employees are often sent out with minimal instruction to see how they react in a stressful situation. This reveals their strengths and weaknesses, and determines in what areas they need to be trained.

I have often seen reviews from people who attended a soft opening saying that the restaurant ran out of food. Once again, this is intentional. Because the menu is completely new, chefs do not have the benefit of past data. Personal experience can help them guess what could be popular, but this still speculation.

Without past services to rely on for forecasting, the best option from a food cost standpoint is to prep conservatively, knowing that if you run out, then you run out. After being open for a few weeks, the chef will have a firmer grasp of what the popular items are and can adjust accordingly.

Thank you, come again

You may view this post as me making excuses for the shortcomings of restaurants. My intention is merely to inform and ask for understanding. If you are fortunate enough to attend a soft opening, then that means the restaurant wants your feedback, so please do not hesitate to share your experience with them. However, writing premature public reviews about any business while they are still getting organized ends up hurting the business more than helping it, so remember to review responsibly, after a business has officially opened.

There are a lot of moving parts involved in opening a restaurant, and no one wants to provide bad service. Remember that, especially during a soft opening, employees are still new. Systems are still being learned and in many cases, still being implemented.

It is easy to pass judgment of the failures of others. Instead, bet on them to succeed. Give a brand-new business the benefit of the doubt and enable them to give you the best food and service possible.

— Ed Morita is the pastry chef at Off The Wall Craft Desserts & Kitchen — which officially opens Feb. 14

Course Correction 4: The next step

EdI never imagined a year ago that I would be where I am. I clearly can recall opening Highway Inn Kaka‘ako, but now it’s time for me to leave Highway Inn to pursue new endeavors, so I’m in the process of opening another restaurant.

When I embarked on my journey back to the kitchen, I developed what I call my “Ohshet Program.” Essentially, whenever I experienced something that made me uncomfortable enough to say, “Ohshet,” I would run away from it. Because of this flight program, I’ve passed on many great opportunities.

Recently, I’ve learned to change the way I react. I now recognize that when something I’m doing is scaring me a little, it’s worth doing. And my program is definitely firing like crazy.

kitchen013I love the atmosphere and people who are part of the Highway Inn ohana, and while there, I was able to create some waves. I will always be grateful to Monica Toguchi for taking a chance on me after my accident, when no one else would. Now, however, I’ll be leaving the relative safety of an established restaurant and stake my reputation on something I built. An amazing opportunity is before me, and I’m taking it.

Even as I write this, the same feelings of, “Am I good enough?” cause me to question my self worth. But looking back at my experiences at Highway Inn remind me to push forward.

krug 2The things I have in my life now were incomprehensible a year ago, so as the new year approaches, I wonder what exactly 2015 has in store for me? Yes the risk is great, however, nothing worth doing is ever easy. As for my new adventure, more info to come.

 
 

 

Our Top 5: Pumpkin desserts

Despite being unofficially referred to as, “Turkey Day,” one thing that’s just as integral to Thanksgiving dinner is the ubiquitous pumpkin pie.

About a month ago, someone asked me for recommendations on where to get the best pumpkin pie, but I honestly didn’t have an answer, since I usually bake my own. This prompted my search for the best pumpkin desserts in town, and here is my Top 5 list.

No. 5: Anna Miller's pumpkin pie

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No doubt Anna Miller's pumpkin pie ($10.60) belonged on this list, however, it made it just barely.

I've had a long love-hate relationship with Anna Miller's pies. Overall, the fillings are great. The pumpkin pie, for instance, is light and creamy; it's the sweetest filling of the pumpkin treats on my list, yet not overpowering. But my issue is with Anna Miller's pie crust. It's not of the flaky variety normally associated with pie. Instead it's crumbly, which would be okay if it was consistent. I've had Anna Miller's pies, for example, where the crust was so crumbly it fell apart. But of the pies on this list, it's the only one baked in an oven, which provides bottom heat and ensures that the crust is cooked through and golden brown on the bottom.

Anna Miller's
98-115 Kaonohi St.
808-487-2421
www.annamillersrestaurant.com

Want more of Our Top 5

Here’s our full roundup of Our Top 5 picks

Party pics: 2014 EuroCinema Awards

It was a big night of cinema at the 2014 EuroCinema Awards, held Saturday night at the Moana Surfrider. The gala event celebrated its fifth anniversary with the “Imitation Game” taking top honors for Best Film, Morten Tyldum for Best Director, and Benedict Cumberbatch winning Best Actor for his portrayal of English mathematician and World War II codebreaker, Alan Turing.

But the biggest star of the night was Annabelle Roberts, who had her wish granted by Make-A-Wish Hawaii to attend a red carpet event. Roberts made her grand entrance amid cheers and camera flashes, and even joined “Maleficent” Prince Phillip, Brenton Thwaites on stage to accept his Rising Star award. Here’s a look at the festivities:

2014 EuroCinema Awards

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Photo by Ed Morita