Congratulations to Chef Robert Irvine and his crew for pulling off an amazing Hawaiian luau in just eight hours. The Dinner: Impossible – Late for the Luau – Hawaii episode was fantastic and I’m about ready to leave the house to go find some Hawaiian food.
Chef Irvine did an amazing job cooking the kalua pig in the imu, making 150 laulau, poke, squid luau, and a bunch of other dishes. Even the contemporary dishes like the Sweet Potato Risotto and Hearts of Palm Salad looked so ono! Everything looked great and the guests at Kona Village Resort obviously loved it! Big mahalo to local Chef Sam Choy for helping Chef Irvine along the way. Sam is an amazing chef and truly one of the pioneers of Hawaii cooking.
It was clear to me from the start that Chef Irvine was genuinely happy to be in Hawaii and on the Big Island. Even though he didn’t care for poi, he did have some great things to say about his time in Hawaii last November. My Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau (HVCB) PR team at McNeil Wilson asked Chef Irvine a few questions about his time in the islands. Here’s a bit of a “behind the scenes” look into tonight’s episode:
Chef Irvine: I actually had a day to unwind in Hawaii bewfore I received the challenge, which is rare for me on Dinner: Impossible. I played some golf, had a nice dinner and awoke to meet my fate. When I heard the challenge, with the beautiful Hawaiian seacape behind me, I had my usual moment of mental panic, wondering if I would have food available, equipment, a kitchen or any of the things I would need to put dinner on the table. Then it was off to the races.
When you were told you would have to put on an authentic Hawaiian luau in only eight hours, what were you feeling?
Chef Irvine: I felt immediately that there was a three hundred pound gorilla… or swine… in the room, because I knew instinctively that I was going to have to face off against Kalua Pig. I have dealt with Kalua Pig once or twice before in my career and I knew right away that in order to do it properly, I should have started at least three hours earlier. And you don’t get a second chance; once you dig it out of the ground, if it’s not properly cooked, you’ve nowhere to go… excpet maybe to just swim off into the ocean. I immediately felt better, though, once I saw Sam Choy’s smiling face.
What was the most challenging aspect of this mission?
Chef Irvine: Physically, it was very demanding dealing with the digging and the manipulation of the Kalua Pig. I’m still in pretty good shape, but I’d hate to have to go through that regimen every day. Also, I’m very intense in cooking situations, especially on these challenges, and I had to work to overcome my natural tendencies a bit to happily coexist with my native kitchen helpers, who were working on Hawaiian time.
What was the most valuable lesson/ tip that guest chef Sam Choy gave you?
Chef Irvine: First, let me say that Sam is a national treasure, not just a treasure of the Hawaiian Islands. I love him to death. The number one lesson he taught me that day was to respect the fantastic, fresh native ingredients, some of which had just been pulled out of the ocean hours before we started, and to respect the traditions of how the foods are usually prepared. I was going to be serving my food later that day to folks who grew up going to luaus, so if I tried to get fancy or mess about with their expectations, I was going to get caught out.
Describe some of the produce/ items you used in creating your menu. What were the most unique or unusual products that you had to use?
Chef Irvine: Luau leaves and Ti leaves, I had never encountered before. Learning how to tie up a lau-lau was an adventure, especially when I found out I’d be responsible for getting hundreds of them in the ground before we could cover the pig. I’d seen and tasted poi that had been comercially made before, but I’d never seen it made fresh- I credit my sous chef David for doing a great job on the poi. Even some of the foods I was familar with, like Ahi tuna, we used in new and creative ways… new to me anyway. I had never made poke before and I was able to learn from the master, Sam Choy. Now I’m hooked on Hawaiian cuisine.
What was the most memorable part of filming this episode for you?
Chef Irvine: I love the beauty and atmosphere of the islands. I learned things about the traditions that have grown up here for hundreds of years. For instance, at the end of the challenge, we served up the cheeks of the pig and the poi we had made to Sam, the King of the Feast. Very simple, but filled with meaning. I played golf with the Hawaiian sea spray coming in from the ocean, I went out on an outrigger canoe with a great local family who virtually adopted us for the afternoon.. and we beat the challenge. I think it was one of the best episodes we’ve ever done on the show!
Big mahalo to my MWC colleagues Merrissa and Rhegan for ensuring this production went as smoothly as possible. To all that tuned in, I hope you enjoyed the show!!