100 And Counting
Viewers keep tuning in to the TV show Cooking Hawaiian Style, which aired its 100th episode this week. And that’s delicious news for host Lanai Tabura and his many special guests, who willingly share their favorite local-style recipes and the stories behind them.
Lanai Tabura, host of Cooking Hawaiian Style, knows a lot about food. Ask him about any dish and he’ll offer up some kind of fun fact or trace back its lineage.
“Where do you think sushi originates from?” he muses one afternoon.
If you guessed Japan, you’d be wrong. In fact, the dish traces its roots back to Southeast Asia.
“Chinese would take fish and ferment it in rice in barrels, and one day someone took the fish out and there was still fermented rice on it,” he says. “When you ferment rice it turns vinegary. They ate the rice and the fish, and that’s how the vinegar rice came to be.”
And, he continues, shrimp tempura also doesn’t originate from Japan, but instead got its start with the Portuguese, who introduced plantation workers to cooking with oil and batter.
Stories like this abound in Tabura’s arsenal, and it’s all part of his goal to share the stories of what makes Hawai‘i’s culture special. It’s what he does on TV show Cooking Hawaiian Style with the help of some of the islands’ famous faces, who share with viewers their favorite recipes from back in the day.
“Cooking Hawaiian Style was really put together to preserve plantation-style food,” he says. “What your grandmother, what your mother, cooked. What you grew up eating.
“While the goal is to share how these foods came to Hawai‘i, it’s really about how food brings people together.”
Cooking Hawaiian Style celebrated its 100th episode Aug. 13 and featured big-name guests Eli-Mac, Sheldon Simeon and BJ Penn (find his recipe on page 43).
Reaching this milestone is quite a feat, to hear Tabura tell it. Season nine is airing right now, and the team — comprised of Tabura, producers Dawn Kaniaupio and Frank Abraham, and director Ruben Carrillo — will get back to work this fall for season 10, which will air at the end of 2018.
“I don’t think any of us thought we would get to 100,” he says.
The concept started with a simple vision to expand on the website cookinghawaiianstyle.com, which at the time was an aggregator of local recipes owned by Abraham. Tabura partnered with Abraham, a local boy who made his home in LA, and the two decided to launch a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to shoot pilot episodes centered around local-style recipes.
Early shows featured the likes of Augie T, Radasha Ho‘ohuli and Kimi Werner, all of whom shared favorite fare from when they were growing up.
“We put it on the website and YouTube, and they got like 100,000 hits,” Tabura says.
From there, word spread about the show and Tabura’s involvement. While growing Cooking Hawaiian Style, he also had a hand in a number of food-related shows like Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations, Man vs. Food, Bravo’s Top Chef, and Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, and also won season four of The Great Food Truck Race with brother Adam and friend Shawn Felipe.
Cooking Hawaiian Style, meanwhile, started partnerships with the likes of Hawaiian Airlines and MidWeek.
“Everything just kind of snowballed,” Tabura says.
In fact, things are continuing their upward trajectory. Coming up for Tabura are guest speaker gigs with Airbnb, Apple and Facebook, and he just returned from hosting a Poke 101 workshop with Pinterest in San Francisco. He’s also been host for popup events along the West Coast, and plans are in the works to turn that into a TV show, as well.
“When your intent is to educate people about aloha through food, only good things can happen to you,” he says.
Sharing in these ways comes naturally for Tabura, who has compiled an impressive knowledge base when it comes to the foods locals love. And, he says, it’s all thanks to the numerous conversations he’s had with people he runs into every day.
“With the older generation, you gather all these stories and it’s pretty amazing,” he says. “I feel like I have so much more to learn.
“Hawaiians never really wrote anything down,” Tabura continues. “Everything was storytelling, and that’s what I’m trying to capture and share, those stories.”
He recalls a recent conversation with an older gentlemen, who stopped him at Rainbow Drive-In to fill Tabura in on some back-in-the-day poke his grandfather used to make. The kupuna relayed that his grandpa used to take him to Waimānalo, where there used to be a lot of lobster, and his family would make lobster-uni poke.
Tabura, for his part, verified the story and paid a visit to Waiāhole Poi Factory, where he spoke with his friend’s grandmother, who shared a similar story about homemade lobster-uni poke made with Hawaiian salt.
It’s narratives like these that Tabura wants to share with the world, and through Cooking Hawaiian Style, he’s making it happen.
The goal for the show now is to get it on more networks and continue spreading the word.
“We’re touching so many people,” Tabura adds. “I have no doubt that the show is going to get bigger and better.”
For more information, visit cookinghawaiianstyle.com.
Cooking Hawaiian Style host Lanai Tabura watches guests whip up some pretty tasty concoctions on the show, but, as he readily admits, nothing beats the menus at his all-time favorite comfort-food joints:
• Ethel’s Grill
• Foodland Farms at Ala Moana
• Jane’s Fountain
• The old Liliha Bakery
• Waikīkī Yokocho
‘A Closet-case Foodie’
Lanai Tabura grew up cooking for his brothers. His mom, a single parent, worked full time to provide for the family, and the role of meal-preparer fell on the him as the eldest.
“I started cooking at a young age,” Tabura recalls. “But I wasn’t cooking anything fancy, and I still don’t cook anything fancy.”
He remembers making simple dishes like Spam and rice and package ramen, and upping his culinary creative game once he hit high school.
“I started making poke and stuff like that,” he says.
When Tabura moved to Honolulu, his food adventures continued to grow.
“I was always a closet-case foodie,” he says. “Before the whole foodie concept was popular, before social media, I was always the guy that my friends would call to ask where I ate yesterday.”
At the time, he was half of the Lanai and Augie radio duo and would share his culinary escapades with listeners.
From there, his involvement with all things food and cooking snowballed into what has been a prolific year. He won an Emmy alongside Andrew Tran for their TV show Ramen Yokocho, and celebrates the 100th episode of Cooking Hawaiian Style.
“It’s been pretty amazing,” he says. “There’s so much competition, too. There are so many cooking shows.”