Hillary Eaton

Originally appeared on VICE

This Vodka is Made With Deep Ocean Water

The ocean is endless in its bounty: a plethora of delicious fish, crustaceans, and mollusks; Maldon sea salt; The Deadliest Catch; tales of half-naked half-fish ladies, mythological sea gods, and sunken treasure.

And now, even vodka.

Nestled along the western-facing slopes of Maui’s Haleakala volcano in the rich agricultural region of Kula, Hawaiian Sea Spirits Distillery and Organic Farm is doing something the world of spirits has never seen before: taking deep ocean water and turning it into premium booze.

The Smiths—a third-generation Hawaiian family—began experimenting with ocean water as a more eco-conscious, sustainable ingredient for vodka that was still unique in both taste and process. In 2005, the Smiths settled on using one of Maui’s largest life forces—the ocean that surrounds it—to create a vodka that pays homage to the nature of the island. Their self-proclaimed “family affair and true labor of love” combines sustainably harvested, organic sugar cane with mineral-rich seawater, which is sourced from 3,000 feet below the coast of Kona on the nearby Big Island.

Of course, there are all sorts of strange things from which vodka can be distilled, including rice and even quinoa. But it’s the seawater—along with distilled sugarcane, which is more typical in rum than vodka—that lends Ocean vodka its refined, subtle taste and solidifies it as one of the most innovative takes in modern vodka-making.

To get a better understanding of the process behind this one-of-a-kind vodka, I sat down with Hawaiian Sea Spirits’ master distiller, Bill Scott, to talk shop.

Originally appeared on MUNCHIES

This Sommelier Is Turning Wine-Speak into Comics

When it comes to restaurant lingo, nothing is more perplexing than somm-speak.

While overhearing an expediter yell at a line cook in the middle of service can sound foreign to the uninitiated, the world of “soigne” has nothing on the strange, poetic language that sommeliers—and, consequently, wine writers—have adopted when talking about wine.

Because descriptions like “loamy forest floor” can sound ridiculous to casual wine drinkers, MaryseChevriere—sommelier at Dominique Crenn’s Petit Crenn in San Francisco—decided to channel foofy wine slang into art. The result: Fresh Cut Garden Hose, an Instagram account that contains a series of cartoons inspired by the strangest of somm-speak.

Originally appeared on MUNCHIES

How Hawaii’s Culinary Revolution Conquered the Luau

Historically speaking, a traditional luau is a far cry from the whole production you see today: Tourists in Tommy Bahama shirts getting wasted on piña coladas and feasting on bastardized, uninspired renditions of “Hawaiian food” while fire dancers spit flames. With origins in Hawaiian religious practices, luaus were originally referred to as ‘aha’aina, meaning “to gather for a meal.” They were held to celebrate things like victories at war, your baby surviving its first year, and other such occasions. These meals would involve raw fish, taro, and pig cooked in an underground oven known as an imu, all eaten by hand on the floor.

The feasts were meant to honor the gods and celebrate unity, but oddly enough they were segregated affairs. This was dictated by a law called Ai’Kapu from the Kapu law code—a universal system that directed people’s lives on every level, from lifestyle to politics, religion, and even acceptable roles for each gender. According to the law, women and commoners weren’t allowed to partake in delicacies such as pork, reef fish, and most bananas. That law remained in effect until King Kamehameha II decreed that the women of his court could eat with him during the feast, making all the celebratory food available to everyone, no matter their social stature or gender.

Following the equalization of sexes, the ‘ahaaina became known instead as a lū‘au—a name taken from a popular dish of chicken or squid cooked in coconut milk and taro leaves. Imagine that: a feast to celebrate community—in which food played such an important role they named the party after a dish—that also brought about social and gender equality. Pretty sick.

Fast-forward to today, and when it comes to tourist traps, there’s nothing quite as wonderfully inauthentic as a big Hawaiian hotel luau. From faux regional cocktails to lackluster, Westernized takes on island cuisine, the luau has served for decades as a sort of stationary Disneyland ride for tourists who want to come and experience an authentic Hawaiian feast. And when it comes to the food, commercial luau cuisine is one that has never been more stagnant—embodying the stereotypical worst of Hawaii’s cuisine.

Dane Nakama, Hawaiʻi Food & Wine Festival [5]

For native Hawaiians, the luau has changed, too. It’s now something more of a potluck held among family and friends in someone’s backyard or a local park, celebrating high school graduations or birthdays. And yet commercial luaus have remained more or less the same over the past 30 years: peddling toned-down versions of traditional dishes, a sort of Hawaiian-Asian fusion.

Why is it so hard to find inspired authentic Hawaiian food at a luau? Chef Alan Wong, one of the chefs credited with the creation of the Hawaiian regional cuisine movement, points to tourism and hotels’ tendency to play it safe. That isn’t surprising, considering the more than 8.4 million visitors Hawaii received in 2014.

“The hotels who put on the luaus know their audience,” says Wong. “You will see dishes like salads and cold preparations and things that aren’t Hawaiian, because they think they aren’t going to like it otherwise. But I think the public and tourists really do want to go deeper; they’re more accepting now and more open. The problem is, people don’t know what Hawaiian food is. You know what cracks me up?  When you put a slice of pineapple on something, you can always call it Hawaiian. People put a slice of pineapple on a burger and they call it the Hawaiian burger. Hawaiian pizza. Cracks me up. Pineapple isn’t even originally from here.”

Dane Nakama, Hawaiʻi Food & Wine Festival [3]

At the end of the day, these kitschy affairs have very little to do with old Hawaiian cuisine. “Today’s luau that you might find in a hotel is definitely not a luau that you would have found 100 years ago,” Wong tells me. Those luaus have little to do with modern Hawaiian cuisine, as well.

That is, until now. With the help of some of the biggest names in the Hawaiian food scene, such as Roy Yamaguchi, Wong, and the state’s newest crop of young cooks, Hawaiian chefs are beginning to take on the culinary shortcomings of luau cuisine by creating something new and uniquely Hawaiian: the urban luau.

Photos by Dane Nakama, Hawaiʻi Food & Wine Festival.

“I think it’s really important to be having these type of luaus, which are modern and in an urban environment,” chef Yamaguchi tells me. He recently threw just such an event with Alan Wong and Denise Yamaguchi for Hawaii’s nonprofit Food & Wine Festival. “It’s tradition meeting the future and the modernization of Hawaii. I really want the rest of Hawaii to see what we can offer from an urban luau setting, where new ideas can come out.”

With a focus on Hawaiian produce, fish, and meat, as well as relying on local farmers, the urban luau interprets traditional flavors and ingredients while reflecting the modern cuisine of Hawaii. That may sound like a no-brainer, but considering that between 85 and 90 percent of the food in Hawaii is imported from the mainland, it’s actually revolutionary.

Dane Nakama, Hawaiʻi Food & Wine Festival [6]

Top Chef alum Lee Anne Wong, the mastermind behind Hale Ohuna and KoKo Head Café, refers to the urban luau as a reinvention of traditional Hawaiian dishes. “It has the ingredients and original flavor profile, just presented in a new and exciting manner,” she says. “What you see now also are these chefs working side by side with local fishermen, ranchers, farmers, and producers to showcase Hawaii’s unique products, building more sustainable businesses and practices. While this is commonplace on the mainland (the farm-to-table concept), it takes on a whole new meaning when you operate a business on a rock in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, and it is not only born out of the desire to support local economy but also out of necessity. We are returning to our roots, and combining modern techniques and technology to create a new style of aloha with our cuisine.”

Dane Nakama, Hawaiʻi Food & Wine Festival [2]

Sheldon Simeon, the chef at Migrant restaurant in Wailea, believes this new phase of Hawaiian cuisine is the result of the many phases Hawaiian food has gone through, in all its multicultural complexity. “What I do think has changed is the understanding of what exactly Hawaiian cuisine is—Hawaii is a crazy hodgepodge of flavors, all shaped by its history of settlers and immigrants.”

Like Simeon, chef Chris Kajioka of Hawaii’s highly anticipated CK restaurant thinks that the Hawaiian cuisine of the past has served as inspiration for the contemporary food movement. “I think the new generation of chefs is looking further back to ancient traditions and seeing what relevance they can play to now.”

Dane Nakama, Hawaiʻi Food & Wine Festival [7]

Because of that, the luau has finally been able to enter the modern world. Confronting the stagnant cuisine of a commercial luau—one of the last remaining relics of a time when Hawaii had little to offer in terms of a food scene—signifies the seriousness, vitality, and sheer magnitude of this latest food revolution.

And it will continue to spread—from LA’s growing poke obsession to the influx of Hawaiian restaurants in New York and San Francisco, and beyond.

Originally appeared on MUNCHIES

Eat These Flowers Off The Side Of The Road

Last fall, I was driving down a secluded canyon road in Malibu, California, when I spotted a vine full of lily pad-shaped leaves and the occasional orange flower crawling over a fallen tree just next to the road.

After stopping and getting out to inspect a little further, I saw this tree that was covered in what I thought was nasturtium, an edible vine of peppery leaves and bright flowers. And even better, since it was nearly winter, the vines had begun to die down for the season and only the saddest of its leaves, little shriveled flowers, and seed pods remained partially withered on the plant.

To be sure, I grabbed a leaf and a flower and put them in my mouth. When I wasn’t dead five hours later, I began counting down the days until summer.

Nasturtium is the lazy forager’s dream plant. If you’re looking for it, you can find it growing all over the West Coast: on the roadside, near river banks, and maybe even in your neighbor’s garden.

Beginning to bloom in late spring and early summer, nasturtium’s brightly colored orange, yellow, or red flowers (depending on the varietal) and circular, velvety leaves, are the marker of the start of Los Angeles’s summer and begin appearing on menus shortly thereafter. With a peppery, clean vegetal taste—something between watercress and arugula—nasturtium is a versatile plant whose leaves, flowers, and seed pods can be eaten raw, cooked, and prepared every other way in between.

Originally appeared on MUNCHIES

Wild Ginger Is the Designer Imposter of the Rhizome World

We’ve already tackled the delicious whorls known as fiddleheads, and the seasonal crack-like allium known as ramps (a.k.a. wild leeks). In the final installment of our spring foraging series, we’ve once again asked Steve Stacey—forager and director of the Local CFC, a community food center in Stratford, Ontario—for his thoughts on finding wild ginger, a rhizome that tastes and smells like the regular stuff but bears no relation to it.

Whether you’re searching for a local foraged version of this rhizome for your favorite ginger-based sex acts or want to up your forager ante by hunting down some of this buried treasure, here’s everything you need to know about finding, harvesting, and cooking up some wild ginger of your own.

Originally appeared on MUNCHIES

The Best Ramps Will Blow Your Head Off

Last week, we spoke with Steve Stacey, forager and director of the Local CFC—a community food center in Stratford, Ontario—who gave us some tips on foraging one of the finest alien tentacles known to man: the fiddlehead.

Stacey’s advice was so delicious that we checked back in with him for his thoughts on harvesting the lovely, potent, and much sought-after wild leek. Variously known as ramps, these short-lived alliums are basically the seasonal chef’s wet dream.

Originally appeared on MUNCHIES

José Andrés Wants the World to Cook with Sunlight and Biofuel

When planning their menus, designing their kitchens, and choosing their vendors, ethical chefs have to ask themselves: Is it OK to serve bluefin tuna? Do I want to support the local economy by only buying from small, local suppliers? What about using my restaurant concept torehabilitate juvenile delinquents?

But while most of us are familiar with people examining the ethics of controversial foods like foie gras, your stove can be just as problematic. Alternative energy sources in the kitchen are one of the latest and most exciting intersections of technology and food, helping people to combat the use of unclean cooking methods, to go green and conserve gas and electricity, and to provide a much-needed resource to communities in need.

To get a better look at these new technologies and their ability to change the way cook, we caught up with José Andrés, one of the chefs at the forefront of the alternative energy, clean-cooking source movement.

Originally appeared on MUNCHIES

How It Feels to Cook at Coachella and Serve a Bunch of Wasted Kids

When you think of the Coachella music festival, the first thing that comes to mind is a bunch of fair-weather bohemians wearing flower crowns and getting fucked up in a dustbowl, while somewhere Drake is making out with Madonna. But the festival’s newest push is to expand its culinary offerings by bringing in top chefs and restaurants. We decided to see what really happens when you take people that care about food and people that care about glow-stick dancing to Pete Tong and put them together in the same place. To get a firsthand look, we hit up our man Alvin Cailin, chef and owner of LA’s Eggslut and Ramen Champ, to talk about what it’s like to serve a bunch of drunk kids.

Originally appeared on MUNCHIES

I Lied My Way Into the Upper Echelons of the Restaurant Industry

Welcome back to Restaurant Confessionals, where we talk to the unheard voices of the restaurant industry from both the front-of-house (FOH) and back-of-house (BOH) about what really goes on behind the scenes at your favorite establishments. 

I was a line cook from age 15 to 22, working for free when I was still in high school. Was I a great cook? No. But could I hack it in any kitchen? Yeah, I think I could have been a line cook anywhere.

I came to New York and I had a job all lined up: I was suppose to go work for a chef who was running a four-star New York Times, three-star Michelin restaurant—Christian Delouvrier from Lespinasse at the St. Regis Hotel. He asked me to come help him open a restaurant in the Meatpacking District, right when it was really starting to pop; I was going to be his right-hand guy, and I was so excited. And then the restaurant never opened.

READ MORE: Restaurant Confessionals

I had moved to New York without any other job prospects, and I didn’t know what I was going to do. I started looking at line cook jobs, but they were only paying minimum wage, which was about $7 per hour around then. It would barely cover my rent.

So, I had to find a waitstaff job—something I’d never done before. I called everyone I knew and lied my way through interviews for different waitstaff jobs. The first job I ended up getting was at Oceana, a three-star New York Times fine-dining restaurant in Midtown: suit and tie, big wine list—you know the kind. I managed to lie my way into a job as a back waiter there—a waiter’s assistant. 

And I was just not good at it—at all. I didn’t know how to move in a dining room, didn’t know how to carry a tray, didn’t know how to put down wine glasses, didn’t know how to set a table. I didn’t know how to crumb a table, how to speak eloquently about wine—all those little things that you need to know as a fine-dining waiter. I was just absolutely terrible.

The front-of-house manager quickly came to realize that I was faking it and demoted me. I started out as a back waiter—which is basically the number two in the dining room—and then they had me do bus boy stuff.  Well, I didn’t really do that very well either, so then I got demoted to running food. And I didn’t do that very well either, so then I got demoted again to polishing glasses. From back waiter to glass polisher, all in the span of two or three weeks. Frankly, they were being very generous. They just didn’t give up on me—I don’t know why.

One night, I was bringing up this big oval tray with probably 30 or 40 glasses on it. I was behind someone, so I said, “Behind!” But I didn’t say it loud enough, so the guy popped up and I dropped all the glasses. And these were nice glasses: They probably cost $15-20 each, so you’re looking at $700-1,000 in broken glasses. The manager just went, “Yeah, this isn’t working out.” And I was like, “I understand.” So, I got let go.

After that, I was fired from a bunch of front-of-house positions. It’s like not being able to play baseball and starting in the major leagues. I got let go from my first seven jobs because I just lied my way in. Like, “Oh, you’ve worked at that restaurant?” And they’d just take it like that—I’m convincing. What did I say? Anything to get a job.

I picked things up along the way. After a while, I went from switching jobs every week to every month, and now I’m at three or four years per spot. Growing pains. I ended up as a manager for a Danny Meyer restaurant, and I learned all about hospitality and his philosophies about taking care of the employee so they can take care of the guest. I worked there for two years before I went to help open a small restaurant that ended up not being very successful. After that, I worked as a floor manager at a Mario Batali restaurant. (I always wanted to work at one of his joints because he’s got great restaurants and is a great operator.) Then a friend of mine recommended me for a Japanese joint—we doubled the revenue between years four and seven—and now I’m the general manager at a thriving LA spot.

My job is to find and fix problems all the time—and there’s always problems. They might be big or small: two guys getting in a fight at a bar; someone’s drunk and doesn’t want to pay their bill; an employee showed up drunk; something’s over- or undercooked. Everyone always thinks it’s just a business and you’ve got to make money and that’s all we’re concerned about. But my primary concern when someone comes my restaurant is that they enjoy themselves and have such a great time that they’re going to tell all their friends and they have no choice but to come back.

I’d say anything I could to get a job, so when I’m interviewing people here I know they’re thinking the same thing. And I understand it! So, I try and ask them questions about how they would handle certain situations. What’s your knowledge base? You say you have good wine knowledge? I would not describe my wine knowledge as “good,” but I bet it’s better than your “good.” You can tell kind of quickly when you’re talking to someone if they have it or not.

The best waiters never started out as waiters. I believe in promoting people from one position to another, because something as simple as carrying a tray of glasses is very valuable. How do you carry a glass? Is it clean? How many can you carry with two hands? That’s where we start—polishing glassware and silverware.

Thomas Keller talks about how his mom use to clean bathrooms. You’ll see him at the French Laundry, sweeping the floor. He owns the restaurant and is one of the most important chefs in America, but he still cleans.

Same thing here. I want our staff to have that attention to detail. A lot of people who come in here are a little bit younger, and they start at the bottom. After doing that for a while, you realize, I know how to carry a tray and I know how to polish glassware and I know what’s clean and not clean. And then you get to become a back waiter, and you have to learn to set up a table. And then you become a food runner and you learn what the food is—and then you become a waiter.

The best waiters in my restaurant all started out as back waiters—all of them. They aren’t going to disrespect their back waiters because they use to be one of them.