Calling All Home Cooks; A Toast To Bob

We are a humble group of home cooks in Hawaii, always ready to praise the efforts of those who put their best food forward, while quietly honing our skills at home.

I know this because whenever I’m asked to help judge a local food contest, I’m astounded at the level of creativity and skill demonstrated by enthusiastic cooks with no formal training. Expect the best of them to be out in force during the next few weeks, as Kahala Resort issues a challenge to home chefs to create a chocolate mousse with Hawaiian flair.

In its monthlong celebration of Julia Child, Kahala is offering an unprecedented bounty of food and wine events, but it’s the recipe contest that perhaps most touches on what Julia Child meant to America. Her inimitable style and ability to reach home cooks eager to improve their skills made Child one of the most popular figures of her era and a timeless example of an indomitable culinary spirit.


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Hoku's executive chef Wayne Hirabayashi will be judging the chocolate mousse contest for amateur cooks at The Kahala. Jo McGarry photos

The Kahala is looking for a recipe based on Child’s famous chocolate mousse, dressed up with a little aloha spirit. Hawaiian products need not be the main ingredients – let’s face it, it’s hard enough to get chocolate mousse to behave in the best of times – but a hint of mango, Kona coffee, Ka’u orange or Maui lavender will go a long way to bringing a Hawaii touch to this French Chef classic. Details can be found at Deadline for recipe entries is Aug. 31. Winners will enjoy dinner for two at Hoku’s …

Much has been written about one of Hawaii’s best-loved restaurateurs, Bob Longhi, who died July 30 at the age of 79. Over the years, I was privileged to enjoy many lunches and dinners with Bob, and always looked forward to his phone calls when he arrived on Oahu.

“Hey,” he’d yell into the phone, “why don’t you come over and have dinner?”

I never said no, because dinner with Bob Longhi was an adventure. He always said he wanted people in his restaurants to have a good time, and he led by example. Dinner with Bob was part theater, part philosophical discussion and always filled with love, laughter and with platters of fabulous food. He ate family style before it became trendy, and made sure that everybody tried and tasted everything on the table.

“I just like food that tastes good,” he’d say when people asked him about the success of his restaurants.

Once I asked him to describe his culinary style, and he answered, “Oh, people are always asking me that. This guy asked me once, ‘Are you Northern Italian or Southern Italian?’ and I said, ‘We’re Connecticut Italian,'” and then he roared his famous, life-affirming laugh.

With a French/Italian background, Bob learned to cook in college when his wife bought him a gourmet cookbook, and he began catering food and wine parties for fellow students at Cornell.

“I always thought I could do better than most restaurants, and I was sick of the phony baloney I saw in other places,” he once told me.

Bob loved life, appreciated that it was short, and took every opportunity to eat and drink with friends and family, embracing all with outstretched arms.

And he loved Hawaii. One of my favorite Longhi-isms came one afternoon when a tourist dining at the restaurant asked him, “How can you say you have a great restaurant when you’re in the middle of nowhere?”

Bob looked at him and laughed.

“Hey buddy,” he replied, “you got that wrong. I’m in the middle of everywhere.”

I have a feeling that’s where he’ll stay. Cheers, Bob!