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If Hawaii got ‘Chopped’

Kahuku Sea Asparagus Ahi Poke – seasoned with Shoyu, Mirin, Sesame Oil and Togarashi

Currently, one of my favorite Food Network programs is Chopped, an obvious spinoff of the Iron Chef, with its reality-based competition format, pitting together top chefs under the gun of time, utilizing unforeseen “secret” ingredients to present their best work for scrutiny amongst a panel of celebrity judges who spare no mercy, leaving no detail unturned.

What I actually like better about Chopped over Iron Chef is that there’s an entire new set of secret ingredients for each course, vs. one secret theme ingredient for every course on IC. Both surely a challenge in their own right with the given amount of time. However there seems so much more opportunity for throwing curve balls at the competing chefs with the game play on Chopped. Especially being that each basket contains multiple ingredients, where some of which purposely don’t pair well together.

Pomai’s Mango Bruschetta

Having recently done a review on Okara, the soybean solids byproduct of filtering out soymilk in the Tofu-making process, I thought, “Hmmm, Okara would be a PERFECT Chopped ingredient!” Where as you fans of the show are well aware of, the producers try their best to find the most unusual, exotic ingredients to put into them baskets.

In a recently-aired Chopped episode, they did a snout-to-tail whole hog theme throughout the course. Where for the appetizer, their mystery basket focused on an entire pig’s head, from snout, to ears, to tongue ‘n cheeks. Ooh, them succulent cheeks! Then for the main entree, their basket included the three main pig’s organs, including the heart, liver and kidneys. How Offal! lol Finally, for dessert, it was the pigs tails. No, not the pork butt, but tail. lol Pigs tails for dessert? Now THAT I had to see! Needless to say, the final two chefs somehow figured it out.

Chicken Balut (balot) for sale at the Honolulu Filipino Fiesta

Well imagine or fantasize if you will, a Chopped Hawaii-themed episode, with the three to five ingredients (typically four) picked for each basket of the three-course meal being of something exotic, unusual and/or typically found in and around Hawaii, thanks to our unique and diverse cultural melting pot.

Let’s start with my suggestion of ingredients for a Hawaii-themed Chopped episode:

Appetizer basket
• Dry Opelu & Akule
• Poi.. nah, just kidding! That would be too easy!
Hamakua Shimeji Mushrooms
• Moloka’i Sweet Potato
• Kona Coffee (100% ground)

Entree basket
Kahuku Sea Asparagus
Kulana Blood Sausage
Kula Persimmons

Dessert basket
• Kalo (Hawaiian taro) root & leaves, precooked
• Maui Onion
• Hawaiian Cacao Nibs

Yup, you read correct, OPIHI for dessert, my friends. Ha-ha! Now THAT would be somethin’ I’d really have to see!

I actually found it more difficult than expected to come up with that list, as thinking from a producer’s point of view, you’d want ingredients that each competitor will hopefully have an entirely different plan of action. For example, hopefully everyone won’t make a patty out of the okara, but perhaps use it as a breading for the sausage or combined with the persimmons as a sauce thickener. Ya’ know? I was also looking for both complimentary AND conflicting flavor and texture profiles, which is quite obvious.

The Hawaiian Chef – Poi Battered Fish with Local Tomatoes, Sea Asparagus, Mandarin Oranges and Hawaiian Chef Dressing.

Now the challenge is to take them mystery baskets of exotic Hawaii ingredients and turn them into a GREAT dish, which will be judged on creativity, presentation, and taste with minimal time to plan and execute. Keep in mind also, those are the main ingredients, however the chefs also have access to a full pantry of basics, including flour, sugar, milk, eggs, and on and on to build the dish on.

That said, to tell you the truth, with the baskets of ingredients I came up with, even given ample time to think it out, I’m still clueless. Especially for the dessert, where not only are Opihi in the basket, but you want the chefs to combine that somehow with Cacao nibs, which are chocolate and make it all work out? Impossible! Or is it?

Well, I for one am not even going to try at the moment, as I’m completely stumped. Which is why I envy and respect those chefs on the show for the dishes they put out with such ingredients in that short amount of time. I wouldn’t put it past them to come up with a ‘Hawaiian Cacao & Opihi Flan’ dessert within 20 minutes, they’re that talented and amazing!

Perhaps you readers can help me think of ways to prepare the dish for each course using the ingredients in the baskets presented here. Not only that, but let’s also hear your own suggestions of ingredients for a special Hawaii-themed Chopped!

If interested, copy/paste the following and fill-in the blanks in your comment...

My suggestion of ingredients for a Hawaii-themed Chopped episode are:

Appetizer basket

Entree basket

Dessert basket

Kamuela Tomato Salad with Li Hing Mui Ume Vinaigrette presented by Chef Alan Wong

This could get very interesting and fun!

P.S. Here I am currently weighing in @ 176.4 lbs. – 5’9″ height, self-taken shot, with my blue baby FJ; squinting due to the bright sun…

The weight may go, but the partially greying “fade” stays. I’m confident to be able to reach 169 lbs. by December 31st. That, and I’ll be happy. :-)


17 thoughts on “If Hawaii got ‘Chopped’

  • October 25, 2012 at 8:33 pm


    You should read or purchase “Culinary Artistry” by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page; ISBN-13 978-0-471-28785-8; published John Wiley & Sons, Inc., $25.95, Winner of James Beard Award.

    I have the book or bible of sorts as they through 426 pages detail all food groups, meats, poultry, fish, shellfish, produce, spices, herbs, oils, condiments, ethnic origin cooking and 4 growing seasons what successfully pairs with each other as a primary or secondary in a recipe.

    • October 25, 2012 at 11:07 pm


      Sounds like a MUST-READ for any foodie, let alone professional chef or cook. I searched for a digital version on Google Play (Android) and iTunes Books (iPhone), to no avail. There’s some used hard copies on Amazon for much cheaper.

      I remember reading a class textbook on “Kitchen Science Basics” (I forget the specific title) that was part of the Maui Community College Culinary Arts program, which was VERY enlightening. I need to dig that one up as well.

      • October 26, 2012 at 10:50 am


        You can order “Culinary Artistry” at Barnes & Noble Books $17.68 on line or it might be in stock at B&N Ala Moana.

        “Culinary Artistry” is in stock and $19.76 at Jessica’s Biscuit, Inc. (one of the largest cookbook stores): http://www.ecookbooks.com/

        You can also go to Andrew Dornenburg, Karen Page web page and read about “Culinary Artistry”:

  • October 26, 2012 at 12:20 am

    Pomai, the Korean food serial on tv showed they use pine needles and other sort of strange (to us)ingredients in cooking. Many were from the wild.

    • October 26, 2012 at 5:47 am


      Pine Needles, eh? Sounds like it would taste “woodsy”, with a predominantly minty, menthol-laced kick to it. Rosemary, Garlic and Pine-crusted Rack of Lamb, anyone?. Oooh!

      Ever tried Warabi Salad? Excellent! Warabi are Fiddle Ferns… another forest green you’d probably pass right by while hiking up a trail, never thinking it was edible.

  • October 26, 2012 at 6:57 am

    Really? Opihi? Alright…

    Appetizer: Gado-Gado with grilled mushrooms and boiled sweet potato, with a peanut-coffee dressing. (reconstituting the dry opelu and akule in a soy sauce/ water mix and using it in place of shrimp paste)

    Entree: Bibimbap; sea asparagus sauteed with garlic, fried and crumbled blood sausage, quick-pickled persimmons and cucumber, and fried egg served with chili-vinegar paste thicked with okara

    Dessert: Taro ice cream topped with salted caramel sauce (made with finely chopped caramelized onion) accompanied by opihi dusted with cacao nibs and raw sugar

    • October 26, 2012 at 8:45 pm


      Whoah, whoah, wait a minute. Now you’re getting ALL ethnic on us? Holy smokes! Gado-Gado? Bibimbap? Sheesh, good thing this is the internet, otherwise without a handy-dandy Google search box at hand, we’d all be completely LOST! LOL!

      Well, at least I already knew what Bibimbap is. But wow, your take on Gado-Gado sounds FANTASTIC! And made using Akule and Opelu as substitute for shrimp paste; no less rehydrated with shoyu-water? Then you throw the full bomb slider ball with “Pickled Persimmons” (licks lips)? OMG! Slammin’ it home with a fried egg, which is what I think would TOTALLY tie it all together. Sunnyside-up and runny of course. BRIL-LI-ANT!!!!

      As for your take on an Opihi-based dessert (scary, right?), straight-up Opihi dusted with Cacao nibs and raw sugar doesn’t have me convinced nor confident on paper, yet I ain’t knockin’ it ’til I try it!

      I was thinking of completely isolating the Opihi in its shell, on a bed of thoroughly caramelized, sweet Maui Onions, with the latter thoroughly black peppered to mask the “fishy flavor” of the Opihi. This, as an accent to an even sweeter dessert made with the taro root and leaves infused with sweetened coconut milk. Somehow, someway magically making them both compliment each other when eaten one after the other on the same plate. Of which I’d simply name “Sweet Tahitian Opihi”.

      Now, Poi Ice Cream? Again on paper, GENIUS!!!

      Overall, WOW Liz, your whole game plan using those ingredients sounds admittedly madly ONOLICIOUS! AAA++++++

  • October 26, 2012 at 7:59 pm

    We have a freezer with many 8oz bags of opihi.(that is how we pack them) My son tells me he will not go out for more until mom and I hit them harder. LOL. So ono, but so precious. Particularly the yellow foot. Mom can get mean if you are between her and a yellow.

    • October 27, 2012 at 6:46 am

      Pat says, “We have a freezer with many 8oz bags of opihi.(that is how we pack them).”

      Ummmm, where was it on Kauai you live now? LOL!

  • October 27, 2012 at 9:41 pm

    Great. This is just what we need for a Saturday night. Or any time for that matter. Stay safe everyone. Head to higher ground if you need to. My mother experienced both the 1946 and 1960 Hilo Tsunami, and she’ll tell you first-hand how catastrophic it is in the aftermath. Take this and every Tsunami warning VERY SERIOUSLY.

  • October 28, 2012 at 6:59 pm

    You handsome portagee boy… Vovo like you meet her grandaughter maria. lol Joking, good job man.


  • October 28, 2012 at 7:05 pm

    Oh.. nad on the Tsunami thing. I live in hilo. I was on the bench or picnic table in the garage when the sirens went off. I am prior military and I went back in that mode of a few a seconds. Then I relized what it might be and turn on the tv. Chilling stuff. I’m glad it was what it was and not worse

    • October 28, 2012 at 9:12 pm


      You being currently enrolled in a college culinary program, I was hoping you’d have a plan of action for the ingredients given in this post to share. If not that, a list of your own suggested ‘Chopped’ ingredients. Let’s hear it Mr. “Handsome” Souza!

      • October 29, 2012 at 6:42 pm

        Very good suggestion. The hard part is that I have been away from Hawaii for so long I just forgot the basics. Sounds odd but I have to re-train myself on flavors. It’s coming back quickly, kind of like riding a bike but I need to bring it to a higher level. I did recuit a few people from the local farmer’s market to provide me with some product. More news to come but it is starting to fall into place and its feeling positive. I order my plates platewear from one of the locals and it will be ready in a few weeks. Will start killing it in a few weeks one way or another and practicing. Petty officer Souza out..

        • October 30, 2012 at 4:52 am

          Petty Officer Souza,

          What is your “platewear”? Or are you referring to Dinnerware?

          Sounds like you left Hawaii at a very young age. Which you may have noticed a majority of readers who comment on this blog are Hawaii expats “jonesing” for a taste of the islands and their childhood memories, living it vicariously through sites like this.

          • October 30, 2012 at 7:03 pm

            Sir you are correct. I think I used the wrong vernacular. I know I did because I just looked it up. I just want to go in a different direction. Not to dis anyone. Local food is great and I do enjoy it. Somewhat less expensive and for the most part good. I would like to go the way of the Alan Wong’s and the rest of pacific 12. Hard to achive but worth trying. At the same time I know I need to understand the basics.

  • October 29, 2012 at 5:53 am

    Here’s a new list, all about Macadamia Nuts:

    My next suggestion of ingredients for a Hawaii-themed Chopped episode are:

    Appetizer basket
    Aburage (deep-fried tofu pockets)
    Lup Cheong
    Hurricane Popcorn
    SPAM Macadamia Nuts (Hamakua Plantations)

    Entree basket
    • Kualoa Ranch free range Ribeye Steak
    Iwamoto Hama Natto (from Paia, Maui)
    • Aloun Farms Kabocha Pumpkin
    Macadamia Nut Chocolate (Hawaiian Host)

    Dessert basket
    Maebo One-Ton Chips (from the Big Island)
    Roselani’s Macadamia Nut Ice Cream (Maui)
    Kauai Kulolo
    • Kona Brewing Company “Castaway” IPA


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