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West // West Oahu Coverstory
Christina O’Connor

Local Food Is The Star Of New Eatery

One of the most recent restaurant additions to the local food movement can be found at Ko Olina at Monkeypod Kitchen by Merriman.

It opened its doors in January and celebrated its grand opening last month. The restaurant is the latest culinary contribution by noted chef Peter Merriman, who is one of the 12 founding chefs of the Hawaii Regional Cuisine Movement in the 1990s.

Merriman, who also owns a string of restaurants on the neighbor islands, describes Monkeypod’s cuisine as “locally inspired, unpretentious, fun, high-quality food.”

Embracing Merriman’s passion for local food, Monkeypod gathers many of its ingredients from island sources. Its menu features dishes that include fresh island fish, Big Island beef, and kiawe oven-cooked pizza. Monkeypod also gets much of its produce from local farms, including lettuce from Aloun Farms and Kaneshiro Farms, kale and other greens from MA’O Farms and Hamakua mushrooms.

Plus, the restaurant strives to bring handcrafted items “We make everything from scratch,” Merriman explained.

He opened the first Monkeypod Kitchen in Wailea on Maui a couple of years ago with restaurateur Bill Terry, who co-owns both locations with Merriman.

“I really like fun, unpretentious dining experiences. And I knew Bill from working with him on different projects, and realized that he shared the same vision that I did,” Merriman said.

“Plus,” he added, “we love to drink beer.”

Fellow beer enthusiasts are sure to find what they’re looking for at Monkeypod Kitchen, which has 36 handcrafted beers from around the world.

Originally from Pittsburgh, Merriman trained under noted chefs and worked in restaurants across the country and throughout Europe before making his way to the Islands. While working as the executive chef at Mauna Lani Resort in the 1980s, Merriman began to develop a relationship with the farmers whom he worked with by going directly to the farms to collect ingredients. In 1991, Merriman joined with a group of other local chefs, including Sam Choy, Alan Wong and Roy Yamaguchi, to create the Hawaii Regional Cuisine Movement. Merriman was the founding president.

“The premise of the group … was to act as a liaison between the agricultural and the culinary communities,” Merriman explained. “The other thing was to spread the word about cuisine in Hawaii to the rest of the world.”

The group aimed to utilize local foods while showcasing Hawaii’s flavors and influences.

The restaurant’s namesake – the monkeypod tree – is a recognizable one here in the Islands.

“The monkeypod is not an indigenous tree. It comes from Africa, but it does extremely well here,” Merriman said. “It is good for the environment that surrounds it, and the wood from the monkeypod can be used to handcraft various products. (The name) seemed to fit our story in a lot of different ways.”

Monkeypod Kitchen plans to introduce a number of new menu dishes this month. Diners can look forward to meal selections that include a Hau’ula Tomato Salad, Arugula and Pear Pizza, Kahuku Cornbread and Spicy Seared Shrimp.

Monkeypod Kitchen is open from 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily.

For more information, visit monkeypodkitchen.com.

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