Hawai‘i Herald Columnist
I sampled the cuisine of Chef Ed Kenney for the first time about 12 years ago, just after he had opened his first restaurant, Town, at Wai‘alae and 9th avenues in the heart of Kaimukï. The occasion was a wine dinner for about a dozen diners. Chef Kenney had graciously allowed us to bring in our own bottles of wine.
I first sampled his platter of mixed and unique frites, the French word for batter-coated fried items at that event. However, unlike the usual calamari fare, Chef’s frite platter featured fried long beans, thinly sliced cauliflower and lemon — the lemon with the peel. The acidity of the lemon, along with the slight bitterness of the pith, cut through the fried batter and refreshed my palate between bites. It’s one of my favorite food memories.
Fast forward to this past Oct. 5, when we again had a chance to sample Chef Kenney’s unique local cuisine at the annual Good Table fundraiser, a benefit for Lanakila Meals on Wheels.
Chef Ed Kenney
If you frequented Waikïkï in the 1960s and 1970s, you may have seen Chef Kenney’s parents — the late Ed Kenney Jr. and Beverly Noa, who passed just about a week ago — performing at either the Royal Hawaiian Hotel or the Halekulani. Thankfully, Chef Kenney took a different path in his life.
His formal training began at the University of Hawai‘i Community College System’s Culinary Institute of the Pacific and took off with his opening of Town in 2005, then Kaimuki Superette in 2014, Mud Hen Water in 2015, and Mahina & Sun’s in Waikïkï just last year. Chef Kenney recently kicked off the second season of hosting PBS’ colorful “Family Ingredients” series celebrating the cultural roots and stories behind Hawai‘i’s food culture.
Long after chefs Alan Wong and Roy Yamaguchi made Hawai‘i Regional Cuisine a household term, but well before the latest generation of local chefs such as Andrew Le, Chris Kajioka and Mark Noguchi made their mark on the 50th’s culinary scene, Chef Kenney was already at work, quietly forging his own identity, beginning with Town. His mantra, “Local first, organic whenever possible, with Aloha always,” emphasizes not just a commitment to purchase local products, be it Ma‘o Farms produce, Pono Pork or Kualoa Ranch oysters, but a commitment to highlighting traditional ingredients not usually seen on restaurant menus, such as pa‘i‘ai (freshly pounded taro root) and ‘ulu (breadfruit). Kenney is also the only chef in the 50th who follows the recommendations of the Monterey Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Program, which emphasizes the use of sustainable and safe seafood. He’s one of only a handful of chefs who cures his own charcuterie.
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