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Food & Dining // Table Talk
Jo McGarry

Food: What’s Cooking With Chef Siu? Rice

If you want to get an idea of the kind of enthusiasm that drives chef Russell Siu, ask him about his recent trip to Sacramento and the Hinode Rice Harvest Festival.

“It was incredible,” he says of the trip that included tours of rice fields and a ride on a giant harvester.

“There are more than 1,000 acres of rice fields in Sacramento,” says Siu. “I really had no idea how big it was before I went.”

California is the largest producer of short grain and medium grain rice in the United States, with rural Butte, Sutter and Yuba counties producing more than 95 percent of the total 2 million tons harvested annually.

As guest celebrity chef during Hinode’s annual festival, Siu appeared on Good Day Sacramento, a morning TV show, toured paddy fields, took part in the harvest, cooked dinner at Hinode and shared his recipe for Crispy Fried Onigiri with Spicy Ahi with the thousands who came out to the festival.

“A lot of the people had never had something like crispy rice,” says Siu, “and they really seemed to like it.”

A longtime fan of Hinode rice, Siu says the opportunity to visit the fields during harvest time last October was one he couldn’t pass up.

“The quality of the rice is so high,” he says, “and the fact that it’s an American-grown product – it’s really a good thing for our restaurants.”

While white or brown rice accompany most dishes on Siu’s Kakaako Kitchen menu, he is a big fan of black rice, using it in special menus there as well as at 3660 On the Rise. In its 21st year in business, 3660 has established a finer dining menu that’s loved by a faithful dining crowd, while at Kakaako, despite customer attempts to keep the menu unchanged, Siu and his team have been introducing new dishes.

“We’ve been giving our chef, David Yamamoto, an opportunity to do some new things at Kakaako,” says Siu. Yamamoto’s new dishes are proving instant hits. A fried pork chop with Portuguese sausage stuffing is one example, and Hong Kong stuffed chicken thighs with lup cheong and sticky rice another. You’ll even find a twist on the local loco moco on the new menu.

“At first I thought kalua pig with brown gravy – nah,” says Siu, laughing. “But it’s really, really good!”

From Picnic on the Lanai – a monthly dinner where guests eat family style and share platters of food that include Chinese, Japanese, French and barbecue themes – to a private dining experience where, on Monday nights, guests can reserve a table for 12 (bring a 13th guest for free) to enjoy a five-course set menu for just $35 per person, there’s a lot going on at the popular Kakaako restaurant.

“Our theme at Kakaako this year is to eat, drink and be merry,” says Siu.

And, of course, eat lots of rice.

Happy eating!

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