By Diane Haynes Woodburn
As I write this, the rest of our annual food issue is on its way to the printer, its pages bursting with flavor, enticing new eateries, inspired recipes, and seductive mixology. It’s my kind of issue.
So you’d think this column would be easy to write — but here I am at the computer, a blank page staring back at me with sullen indifference. Brriinnnng! Rescued by the bell! “Mom?” The voice on the other end of the phone is pitiful and congested. “Do you have any soup?” That seals the deal. “I’ll make a pot of chicken soup,” I promise my son. Instantly, I’m happy. I go to the refrigerator and find a plump chicken that will do nicely. Carrots, celery, onions . . . yep, got it. Soon all the ingredients are simmering in the pot, and I can get back to writing.
Or not. I’ve forgotten what a slovenly cook I am. Eyeing the debris that covers my counters, floors, and even the dogs (who seem to have bits of carrot in their fur), I tie the apron on once again and wipe away the evidence. “Now I’ll write,” I say, surveying the clean kitchen. But just as I open my computer, the aroma of chicken soup wafts down the hall and into my office. For a moment, I’m in my own mother’s kitchen. Wouldn’t it be nice to have fresh bread with that soup? Minutes later I’m elbow-deep in flour, humming, then feeling a momentary pang of guilt over how much fun I’m having while MNKO’s editors are hunting for typos.
Cooking for people you care about is a sweet pleasure. Granted, chicken soup and peasant bread are no match for the artistry you’ll find in these pages. But their basic, honest goodness, redolent with the promise to warm and nurture the soul, represents everything that I hold dear. Do chefs get to feel like this all the time, I wonder?
I think of the many chefs we’ve honored in these pages over the years, and answer my own question: Yes, I’m sure that many of them do. And none, I’m convinced, have offered more aloha than our ‘Aipono Icon honorees, the owners and staff of Nā Hoaloha ‘Ekolu (whose Hawaiian name translates as “the three friends”).
This is only the third time in ‘Aipono’s fifteen-year history that we’ve given an Icon award, and we couldn’t feel more privileged to do so. Thirty years ago, those three friends — Michael Moore, Robert Aguiar and Tim Moore — thought they could offer a more authentic lū‘au experience, one that honored the culture and embraced the spirit of aloha. They called it Old Lahaina Lū‘au. Today their company, Nā Hoaloha ‘Ekoku, also includes Aloha Mixed Plate, Leoda’s Pie Shop, and Star Noodle.
It’s not just their award-winning food that makes Nā Hoaloha ‘Ekolu extraordinary. It is their corporate philosophy of giving back. Over the past thirty years, they have nurtured our community and the world beyond, while instilling in their employees the joy and rewards of volunteerism. Their endeavors have provided hundreds of thousands of dollars to more than sixty-five nonprofits, including programs that feed the homeless in San Francisco and New York, and provided sustenance to children at a Laotian orphanage.
The soup is done. I pour it into a container, pull the hot bread from the oven and add it to my son’s care package, smiling at the thought of how much this small offering will be appreciated. Imagine the joy that thirty years of giving has brought to Nā Hoaloha ‘Ekolu and the communities they have served.
Listening to the news these days, I sometimes wonder whether charity and compassion have become passé. But poring over the pages of this, our annual food issue, convinces me that the spirit of aloha it is alive and well on Maui — accessible to all of us, even if the gift is as humble as chicken soup.