A pot of water boils on the stove, ready to blanch a live Kona lobster. Into the pot it goes and Chef orders, “Cook it for five minutes, just long enough to separate the meat from the shell. If you cook it too long, the meat will be too dry and crumbly. You want it to hold together in the wrapper.” After the lobster is cool enough to handle, Tylun assigns senior editor Rita Goldman the task of removing the meat from the shell and mincing it for the potstickers. “I don’t think I’m the right person for this job,” she mutters, holding the ten-inch chef knife in an attitude somewhere between healthy respect and barely controlled panic. Tylun grins. “You know, newbies in my kitchen don’t need to be good,” he says. “They just need to get better.”
Then he says, “We’ll use traditional flavoring for the potstickers’ lobster filling: ginger, garlic, sesame oil.” He seasons the minced lobster, then has Diane and Cathy fill mandoo wrappers with the mix. “I like mandoo wrappers because [they’re] thicker and chewier than wonton wrappers,” he explains.
The soaked rice is ready to make into congee. Tylun places it in a pot, adds one-and-a-half times that amount of water, and brings it to a boil. “We’ll serve this rice with the party-rock beef,” Chef says. “It’s different from regular rice” — and not just because it’s infused with bamboo powder that gives it a jade-green tint. “You don’t have to wash it. If you do, the pigment will go down the drain.”
Diane and Cathy have been busily butterflying the shrimps; now they fill the slender crustaceans with Michael’s herb butter and place them inside a sheet of cedar that has soaked in MauiWine chardonnay. “Two shrimps to a wrapper . . . yin/yang. That’s how I like to lay the shrimp in the cedar because it cooks more evenly,” Tylun says. John gets the Boy Scout duty of tying square knots around each bundle with a single blade of blanched green onion. “It’s a two-man job,” Tylun says as he holds the cedar wraps in place.
Per Chef’s instructions, Michael juliennes ginger, minces chung choy (preserved salted turnip), and cuts the lup cheong (sweet Chinese sausage), then piles his handiwork onto the moi that Tylun has laid side by side in a glass dish. Juices collect under the fish as deep, earthy turnip, ginger and lup cheong flavors drip and meld into a heavenly sauce. “In ancient Hawai‘i,” Tylun says, “this fish was harvested for royalty. It’s off-limits four months of the year to ensure sustainability. This preparation is my dad’s all-time favorite and we always made it for special occasions.” Diane and I nod; this is our favorite dish at Kō Restaurant.
“Every time I see this dish go out the door, I think of my dad.” As Tylun says this, I think of the Chinese word xiao. I learned about it reading Di Zi Gui, Guide to a Happy Life. A foundation of Chinese culture for 5,000 years, xiao means to be dutiful to one’s parents with affection, and to understand the relationship of grandparents, parents and self. The ideogram’s top portion means “elder,” while the bottom means “son.” Combined, it conveys the concept that the two generations are one. Tylun lives by these words as he shares his beliefs about his work, family and the community. “I know where I came from. I know my roots. And I know who took me there.”