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Focus on Agriculture

January 16, 2012

Farmer-Chef Relationships Highlight Local Foods on Hawaii

By Mindy Reef

What does a farmer do when he or she needs an idea for a rarely used cut of beef?  They ask a creative local chef, of course.

Relationships between chefs and farmers are increasingly becoming a way to bring attention to local food production, which can clearly be seen in Hawaii. With a growing concern among Hawaiians about locally-sourced food – it’s estimated that up to 90 percent of Hawaii’s food is imported, leaving the islands vulnerable in the event of any disruption in the food chain – putting the spotlight on local production is becoming more and more important.

An example of a successful chef-farmer relationship can be seen with Chef Mark “Gooch” Noguchi of He’eia Kea Pier General Store and Deli on Oahu and two of his farmer-suppliers, Michelle Galimba of Kuahiwi Ranch on the Big Island and Shin Ho of Ho Farms on Oahu. Galimba and Ho are both second-generation farmers. Galimba’s family has 1,800 mother cows on 10,000 acres of pasture while Ho’s family farm has 50 acres of grape and cherry tomatoes, Japanese cucumbers, long beans, string beans, lima beans and eggplant. Noguchi’s featured product during a cooking demonstration at the American Farm Bureau’s 93rd Annual Meeting in Honolulu, was Kuahiwi beef belly with eggplant puree, tomato and long squash, incorporated foods from both farms.

The beef belly portion of the recipe refers to a cut called short plate, which is found between the brisket and the short ribs on a beef cow. According to Galimba, the short plate normally gets ground into hamburger. But when she recently offered the cut to Noguchi, he took on the challenge of finding something else to do with it.

“A friend of mine says, ‘Food is more natural when born out of necessity,’” Noguchi said at the cooking event.  And transglutaminase, known as TG or meat glue, came to the rescue. Noguchi trimmed the fat from the short plate and created a cube with meat glue, then cooked  it in olive oil to create the dish.

According to Galimba, one of the biggest challenges for her farm is finishing and processing cattle for consumers on the mainland. The expense of feeding cattle grains that aren’t available locally wasn’t economically viable, so until recently, her family had always sent their cattle to the mainland to be finished.

“That’s the stark economics of it,” said Galimba. “It costs less to ship the cattle to the grain than the grain to the cattle. The consumers weren’t that interested in the specifics of how cattle were raised.”

Mindy Reef is the marketing and public relations specialist at the Indiana Farm Bureau Federation.