Off The Wall intentions

I’ve been putting this off for longer than I should. Despite months of planning, hard work and sheer determination to succeed, nothing can prepare you for the unexpected.

OTWC BannerAmidst questions from friends, colleagues and media, I realize that I can’t quietly walk away and move on with my life. This is why I am officially announcing that Off The Wall Craft and Off The Wall in Aiea have permanently closed.

The purpose of this post is not to explain why the restaurants closed, because that story involves several people whose privacy I wish to respect. I can only give my perspective, which is why I would rather talk about what was intended for OTW Craft.

When I first thought up the #DessertFirst vs. #FoodFirst concept of OTW Craft, I knew that it was a novelty. It would get some quick attention and then peter out as people moved on to the next new thing. It would take something big to bring about a #DessertFirst revolution.

To achieve this, from the beginning OTW Craft was intended to go through a series of evolutions.

Phase One: Launch

At the time of OTW Craft’s unexpected closing, we were well into phase one. The #DessertFirst concept and menu were getting local attention, and we were starting to get requests from out-of-town media.

I didn’t want to just have a dessert menu. There are lots of great pastry chefs in town who make amazing desserts. I really wanted to push the boundaries of what desserts were.

One idea that I had was pairing cookies with cocktails. I had an image in my mind of a cocktail glass with a cookie on the rim. When Matt Gorodinsky, formerly of Bevy, joined us as bar manager, he suggested horchata as a base. Soon we had a growing list: Rumchata with butterscotch brownie, PB&J with strawberry horchata spiked with kaffir-infused vodka that tasted amazingly like Fruit Loops milk, a peanut butter horchata with a chocolate-coconut macaroon. The possibilities were endless and a week later, I added an adult milk and cookies flight to our dessert menu.

We were also in talks to host beer dinners with major breweries including Sierra Nevada and Deschutes, which is when I planned to roll out a series of beer desserts.

You see, #DessertFirst blatantly markets to women. It is a given in the industry that if you can attract women, men will come. However, I didn’t want to just cater to women. I wanted dishes that would get men to come back.

To do this, we were building an extensive craft beer list, which at the time of closing included 22 beers. With the addition of taps, the number would have exceeded 30.

Beer List

BeeramisuI planned an entire menu of desserts featuring beer as the main ingredient. My “Beer Flight” would have flights of beers and desserts that were made with the corresponding beers. The first dessert I developed for this was the “Beeramisu.”

Signature dishes quickly stood out on OTW Craft’s #FoodFirst menu, the most popular being the Oxtail Poutine, Ahi Cupcake and surprisingly, the Ozoni Pizza. We often discussed changing the pizza, but people kept ordering it, so it stayed.

OTWCSignatureThings were falling into place, and we were poised to move into phase two.

Phase Two: The not-sushi bar

We got frequent comments about the size of the desserts, and how the presentation was similar to that of sushi. This was not by accident.

Desserts

Phase two was going to bring in a dessert counter. Way before #DessertFirst was even a glimmer in my eye, I had a vision of a sushi counter where instead of raw fish, there would be platters of mousse terrines, flans, tarts and cakes. The shelves on the back wall would be filled with trays of chocolate confections, pralines and jars of cookies.

In a counter-top convection oven, we would bake individual cakes to order and batches of cookies that would send irresistible aromas wafting through the dining room.

Throughout my career, virtually every kitchen I worked in treated the dessert service area as an afterthought. Hotlines were often immaculate and set up for maximum efficiency, while pastry staff were relegated to the corner, far from essential equipment like ovens and ranges.

OTW Craft’s dessert counter was to be the antithesis of that. My pastry staff would be up front, while savory cooks remained in the back. The visuals of live dessert-making combined with the smells of fresh baked goods would make it very difficult for customers not to start their meal with dessert.

Moving the pastry staff to the front would free up kitchen space. Plans were in the works for a cold station from which raw items like oysters, sashimi and ceviche would be served along with salads and sandwiches.

AsparagusThe biggest menu addition was going to be an omakase menu from the dessert counter. It was truly going to blur the lines of sweet and savory, and would feature cocktail pairings with hot and cold items. The menu would have included:

• Warm asparagus crunch with candied bacon (inspired by bacon-wrapped asparagus)
• Green tea ice cream that diners would taste with wasabi, umeshu and soy sauce
• Warm pistachio cake made with bacon fat and duck confit
• “Foieahi,” an ahi tartar with apples and foie gras mousse
• Nori-wrapped vanilla panna cotta topped with salted caramel cremeaux and uni
• Pork belly “rafute” with peanut-miso glaze
• Chevre cheesecake with pine nuts and port wine roasted figs

Every dish would come with a story from my culinary life that was surprising, illuminating or quirky, which is why dessert omakase would have been limited to the six seats at the counter.

Phase Three: Dessert lounge

Side RoomIt became apparent very early that something needed to be done with the side room. It got occasional use for private parties, however most of the time it was a magnet for surplus goods, equipment and employee belongings.

In phase three, after the restaurant had some time to make some money, we planned to build a dessert station in the side room and turn it into a lounge. The dessert counter would become a sushi counter. The new lounge would service desserts for the entire restaurant while offering a place for after-dinner drinks and desserts.

I do believe that the #DessertFirst concept still is marketable, and I do plan to revisit it at some point in the future.

What’s Next?

Cathartic is a word that comes to mind as I close out this post.

I found out about the closing at 7:30 on a Wednesday morning. I went straight into action mode. My primary goal was to find jobs for my employees. I called chefs and managers that I knew and trusted. They came through and I had jobs lined up for many of my employees within a few hours.

The thing that I regret most was not being able to see how my own food philosophies would have changed. I had started to build a food culture around OTW Craft, and it was no coincidence that the colleagues that I reached out to for jobs for my employees had kitchen cultures similar to what I was building in my own.

PupukeaI often dislike the word “sustainability.” It’s a buzz word that gets thrown around far too often by people who have no clue what it really means.

What I wanted to do at OTW Craft was to educate my staff on where our food comes from. I took them to visit farms like Pupukea Gardens and the Namihana Hawaiian shochu distillery.

My favorite excursion was to Makaha Mangoes. OTW Craft’s chef Andy wanted to do a lamb dish for an upcoming benefit called Dazzle.

Knowing that Makaha Mangoes kept sheep to clear excess fruit that falls to the ground, I called Mark Suiso and asked if we could have one. He agreed, the only stipulation being that we had to help wrangle our lamb.

My staff and I caught the lamb and slaughtered it in the Suisos’ backyard. This was not fun and games. I wanted to make clear that this animal was being sacrificed so that we could feed and nourish people, so I made it a point to the hold the lamb until I felt its last breath.

Looking back on the closing, I realize how frantic I was in attempting to take care of the staff. Then Mark “Gooch” Noguchi asked, “What about you?”

I hadn’t thought about me or even taken the time to mourn, because yes, OTW Craft was dead. I didn’t want to accept it.

What motivated me to finally write this all down was watching the movie “Elizabethtown” on television. I had seen it many times. But there was a line that resonated with me for the first time, as if a cannon had gone off.

“You have five minutes to wallow in the delicious misery: Enjoy it, discard it … and proceed.”

Now is not the time to dwell on the past, nor is it time to fear the unknown. As for the answer to the question of “What’s next,” I am spending some time with Gooch at Lunchbox while I regroup and explore some opportunities.

With this post, I put that chapter behind me. I now take those lessons and move forward in my evolution, my career and my life.

‘Entourage’ grows up into a worthy big-screen ride

entourageI’ve never been a fan of “Entourage.” Early in the series I found the characters insipid and annoying. Vincent Chase, played by Adrian Grenier, was the worst one of them all.

Vince’s aloofness to his success and “everything will work out fine” attitude was even more annoying when things always did work out fine. Things always came easy for him and his simpleminded cronies, who were only too happy to tag along for the sex, parties and other benefits of Vince’s success.

I was ready, and dare I say eager, to hate “Entourage”… but that was not the case.

Ten years later, the show has aged surprisingly well. The characters have matured some (as much as four guys can mature in series creator Doug Ellin’s version of Hollywood) and now have their own successes outside of Vince’s shadow. The most notable is a slimmed-down Turtle, played by Jerry Ferrara, who has become the money man of the group after launching his own tequila brand.

entourage-billy-bob-thornton-haley-joel-osment-600x399-600x399Jeremy Piven is brilliant reprising his role as Ari Gold, now the head of the studio producing Vince’s latest big-budget movie.

When the movie goes over budget, Ari is forced into a deal with Texas investor Billy Bob Thorton and his gun-toting son, played by a nearly unrecognizable Haley Joel Osment. Osment’s character is a former fan who now despises Vince for having the looks, success and life that he can never have. They threaten to scuttle the film before it is even released.

Hyde-Entourage-posterVince’s past aloofness is gone now. He feels the pressure of not only carrying a film as its star, but answering to the studio as its director.

But there is no doubt at any point that Vince and the guys will once again come out on top.

Despite the predictability of the plot, I found myself rooting for these characters, none more than the show’s perpetual “Charlie Brown and the football” character, Vince’s brother Drama, who has become very aware of his position within the group. On the brink of his greatest achievement, Drama acknowledges that he always talked about success, but he never actually saw himself succeeding at anything. He never gave up on becoming a successful actor outside of the shadow of his more successful brother. It took eight seasons and a movie, but things are finally starting to look up for Drama.

All the shenanigans and cameos that made “Entourage” popular during its original HBO run are still there. That makes this a must-see for fans of the show, but you need not have watched the series to enjoy these Hollywood hijinks.

Limited screenings are being held tonight at venues across Oahu. The movie’s official release date is tomorrow, June 3.

HIFF Spring Showcase: ‘Midnight Diner’

midnight dinerEven if you haven’t seen the Japanese television series upon which “Midnight Diner” is based, there is a strange familiarity that draws you into this film, currently screening at the Hawaii International Film Festival’s Spring Showcase.

Halfway through, I realized that the familiarity I was sensing was “Cheers,” a character-centric show that revolves around a favorite venue. In the movie’s case it’s a back alley hole-in-the-wall that opens from midnight until 7 in the morning. That is where any similarities to “Cheers” ends, but it is fun trying to discern who the Norm figure is.

Many of the actors from the original series, which got its start as a Japanese manga by Yaro Abe titled “Shinya Shokudo,” make appearances in the film.

midnight diner 2Present throughout is the enigmatic restaurant owner known only as “the Master,” played by Kaoru Kobayashi. Although he is the central figure, Kobayashi serves more as a unifying thread who strings together vignettes about the characters who frequent his late-night eatery. The characters are flawed, which makes them relatable, and it becomes apparent very early that “Midnight Diner” does not refer to the venue, but to the characters. 

Like American movies that ground themselves in reality by referencing 9/11, so too does this film when two characters, Kenzo and Akemi, deal with the aftermath of the 2011 tsunami that devastated the Tohoku region.

Keeping with the theme of the film, each chapter has a food-related title like “Grated squash on rice” and “Neapolitan.” In each, characters seek advice from the Master, who comforts them with dishes like Italian pasta served on scrambled eggs or curry stew. The Master never tells them what to do. Each character unwittingly finds his or her own solution, usually through the comfort of the food and the relationships they have created with other midnight diners.

“Midnight Diner” will have one final showing at HIFF on Sunday, April 19 at 4:15 p.m. at Dole Cannery.

Are we Mauna Kea?

We Are Mauna KeaSince yesterday, my social media feeds have been inundated with “We Are Mauna Kea” posts, which have left me conflicted. First of all, any movement that identifies itself with a catchphrase has a limited digital shelf life and is forgotten about once the next buzz-worthy hashtag comes along.

I am all for science and technology. I use it in some form or another every day, and if you are reading this now, you probably do, too.

At the same time, I am Hawaiian. I am proud of my island heritage and very much enjoy unplugging from my digital leash to connect with my native culture. I have yet to find anything more reinvigorating than spending a day knee-deep in a lo‘i.

There is a fair bit of irony in how people are using technology to protest the advancement of science in the name of cultural identity. As a result, several prominent celebrities have entered the fray including Jason Momoa, Nichole Scherzinger, and Ian Somerhalder.

What they are doing has proven to be very effective. It has raised awareness of the issue, and has given a local story a worldwide audience. I can’t help but wonder if this may prove to be counterproductive and turn an issue that raises valid concerns into an internet meme. Part of me even questions if the words “We Are Mauna Kea” written across Nichole Scherzinger’s chest is culturally insensitive.

PrimeIt is interesting that the protests involve the building of a new observatory. I came across a thought-provoking opinion piece by Bronson Kaahui yesterday. I don’t agree with everything he wrote, however, he makes a good point in reminding us that it was our Polynesian ancestors’ application of astronomy that enabled them to explore the Pacific Ocean and brought them to Hawaii. As Hawaiians, the study of the stars is part of our island heritage, and for humanity as a whole, looking to the skies reminds us that more is possible.

As of this post, I’m leaning in the direction that the Thirty Meter Telescope planned for Mauna Kea could be a good thing in the long term, so long as measures are taken to be culturally respectful to Mauna Kea, Hawaii and the Hawaiian people. Right now, the goal of the protests is to stop the TMT from being built in the name of protecting the ‘aina, but when does protecting the ‘aina cross the line into stifling the advancement of science? By not building the TMT, what discoveries will we lose out on?

I definitely agree that Hawaii does not need any more golf courses. The purpose of the TMT, on the other hand, is the pursuit of knowledge, and I believe that that puts it in alignment with the explorational spirit of our seafaring ancestors.

It’s good that people are passionate. But an all-or-nothing stance is and will always be counterproductive. When it comes to all or nothing, we all lose.

Cookbook: Mushroom Soup

383245_10150507656308554_659775386_nI’ve been a longtime connoisseur of cookbooks.

Given my chosen field, it’s pretty much a necessity to know what other chefs are doing and to keep up to date with current food trends.

Based on what I have seen in the countless cookbooks I have read, there are two possible directions one can take when writing a cookbook. You can either go really technical, which would target fellow industry workers and foodies, or cater to the home cook.

As much as I love to geek out on the technical aspects of food, I’ve found that books for home cooks tend to be more fun, which is the direction we’ve decided to go with Off The Wall Craft’s first cookbook. Mushroom Soup

We wanted to make sure that there was no ambiguity as to what kind of cookbook people were about to buy, which is why we are calling it, “…Then Add Cream Of Mushroom Soup.”

As the title suggests, every recipe centers around the ubiquitous soup that virtually everyone has had at some point during their childhood.

The first entry in the book is obviously Off The Wall’s mushroom soup recipe. This is then used as the base of every recipe that follows. Should you choose not to make and store several gallons of cream of mushroom soup like we do, you can easily use your favorite store-bought soup in a can in any of the recipes, including Chef Andy Mitani’s Lazy Luau Dip or Curried Hummus, and yes, it is the secret ingredient in my malasada recipe.

Some of my favorite cookbooks are thick volumes that consist of mostly of amazing food photography. I knew I wanted this book to have great food porn, so I brought in former Hawai‘i Food & Wine Festival photographer Darryl Watanabe to shoot the amazing photos that make up more than half the book. Food Logo This cookbook would not have been possible without the help of Watermark Publishing’s Dawn Sakamoto Paiva, who also served as the book’s editor. Off The Wall’s Mushroom Soup will join Watermark’s growing collection of cookbooks that focus on single ingredients like riceMaui lavender, beer, and coffee to name a few.

All of us at Off The Wall Craft are really excited about this project and Paiva is confident that this new cookbook will be the “biggest seller of the year.”

You would be able to pre-order your copy now if this entire story were not made up.

Happy April Fools Day!

 

You can read and share more of my April Fools Day shennanigans below:

Who Wants A POG Fruit?

Kitchen Tips: Avoid Unwhisking

Hawaii Food and Wine Heads To The Target Isle

What Bakers Don’t Want You To Know