The Aloha State of Mind

Posted on July 30, 2018

Chef She’s Coastal Culture Trippin’ : Hawaii 2018

 

Our intrepid leader, Chef Sheila Lucero, is always seeking out fresh ideas for the table and diving into the local culture of coastal communities across the globe. From Japan to New England to the Great Northwest, her adventures have led her to some beautiful places. And while we can’t all go with her, lucky for us she always comes back with some inspired dishes to share.

Her most recent sojourn was to Paradise of the Pacific, the Hawaiian Islands. Famous around the globe for its picturesque landscape, white sandy beaches, and laid-back lifestyle, Hawaii also boasts one of the most vibrant food scenes in the world. It’s singular fusion of Native Hawaiian with European, American, and Asian cuisine makes for an incredibly unique—and tasty—tradition. Not to mention they have fresh seafood right at their fingertips!

On her trip, Chef She got the chance to meet with local fishermen, visit seafood markets, and dine at some of the state’s most renowned restaurants. She discovered some exciting new dishes as well as a widespread dedication to sustainability. For her, it truly was a paradise.

“I’ve always loved Hawaii. It’s such a beautiful place, the people are wonderful, and the food is out of this world. They have a cooking style that has always resonated with me—when they prepare seafood, they don’t manipulate it too much, they let it do its thing. Fresh catches taste so good on their own and don’t need to be overworked. Maybe you add some hearts of palm, sea salt, or ponzu—that’s all you need. The best seafood, in my mind, is also the simplest.”

First stop—the famous Honolulu Fish Auction. Sheila got a special behind-the-scenes look at how this incredible market works. It’s one of the largest in the world and, just like Jax, prioritizes sustainability. Fishermen pull up to the pier and unload their daily catch right into the market, where everything is laid out from largest to smallest and auctioned off to the highest bidder. How the fish was caught is just as important as size and quality, with sustainably-caught fish fetching a higher price.“The focus on sustainability was really awesome. It’s not just about season and overfishing—but also about how you’re catching these fish. Some gear will destroy reefs and other marine animal populations. The Honolulu Market was so cool because everyone—from the fishermen to the auctioneers to the bidders—was focused on the story behind each catch. We’ve always upheld those values at Jax, and it was great to see it in action on such a large scale.”

Next on the itinerary—eat some fish! Sheila had a bucket list of restaurants she’s always wanted to check out. At the very top was an old-school fish house on Maui’s North Shore called Mama’s. This catch-of-the-day style restaurant has been a bastion of some of Hawaii’s best cooking since the 1970s. People come from far and wide just to dine here—according to Open Table, it’s the second most popular restaurant in the world!

“Mama’s was amazing. It’s right on the beach on Maui’s North Shore, the menu changes every day, and it’s so delicious. I had a fish I’ve never had before called Moelua that I’d love to try to get for Jax. And the coolest part was, on their fresh catch board they also listed the name of the fisherman who caught it, as well as where, how deep, and what kind of rig they used. Right there with the Honolulu Auction, the story behind the catch carried a lot of meaning to both the chefs and the guests.”

Now that she’s back home, She will introduce her guests to some of the fish and flavors from her trip. And while Jax was founded from day one on a platform of sustainability and has always supported like-minded fishermen and purveyors, she hopes to create an even stronger, more sustainable food culture, one dish at a time.

“Our country has an incredible food system. Here in Colorado, about as far from the coasts as you can get, we have the opportunity to serve jet-fresh seafood, 24 hours after it was caught, and we get to support these sustainably-minded fishermen, without whom a lot of the fish we enjoy today would be in danger of disappearing forever. It’s an amazing time to be a chef, as well as a diner or a purveyor.”