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Hilo Chef Wants Thoughtful Hawaiʻi Food Education for Next Generation

Andrew Richard Hara
Naʻau Hilo

Chef Brian Hirata was tenured and leading the culinary program at Hilo Community College when he left two years ago. Now, Hirata is devoting himself to the Naʻau project in Hilo, which links cherished traditional foods to environmental stewardship.

Naʻau is translated as bowels, mind, heart, or gut instinct — Hirata wants a new generation of chefs to feel connected to the particular plants and animals of Hawaiʻi.

"I want to introduce them to coveted local ingredients, endemic ingredients. I grew up in a family that hunted and fished and farmed," Hirata said. "From a young age, I learned how to smoke meat, make sausage from the things we shot. I learned how to dive at a very young age."

Brian Hirata interviewing with HPR's Noe Tanigawa.
Noe Tanigawa
Brian Hirata interviewing with HPR's Noe Tanigawa.

He said he grew up hunting in Pohakuloa, which is now a military training area.

"Over the last close to four decades now, I've seen the degradation that has occurred there. It was lush, it was green, it had seasons. There's nothing there now," Hirata told Hawaiʻi Public Radio. "The māmane trees barely grow. There's hardly any grass. It's basically just a dust flat now. It's unrecognizable from before," Hirata told Hawaiʻi Public Radio.

The U.S. Army is seeking to renew its lease of 23,000 acres of state-owned land on Hawaiʻi Island. Pohakuloa Training Area encompasses nearly 110,000 acres, the largest military installation in the Pacific region.

Hirata's ultimate goal? To educate young chefs and pass on Hawaiʻi and Native Hawaiian food culture.

"After we die, after my generation dies, and the next generation doesn't know or care of these ingredients, then we're done," he said. "It doesn't take a scientist to realize that that's where we're headed. If no one knows of these ingredients, it's going to be lost."

Hirata will be offering dinners in Honolulu and Waimea this fall. The first is a dinner in Honolulu at Paʻi with Chef Kevin Lee on Sept. 5.

This interview aired on The Aloha Friday Conversation on Aug. 27, 2021.

Noe Tanigawa covered art, culture and ideas for two decades at Hawaiʻi Public Radio.
Sophia McCullough is a digital news producer. Contact her at news@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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