Must-see food TV: ‘Family Ingredients’ raises the local-production bar

Ed Kenney demonstrating his tamago kake gohan technique.

Ed Kenney demonstrating his tamago kake gohan technique.

Last night Alan Wong’s Pineapple Room hosted a preview screening of the new TV series pilot Family Ingredients, which airs on PBS Hawaii  this Thursday, May 23, at 9pm (repeats May 30 at 10pm).  You don’t want to miss it. The show is the concept of executive producer Heather Giugni, who tapped charismatic Ed Kenney, chef-owner of Town, to host the show. Behind the camera, she put together a talented team—director Ty Sanga (his short film Stones screened at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival’s Native Showcase), producer/researcher Dan Nakasone, and cameraman Todd Fink (the website does not identify the editor, but whomever it is did a phenomenal job). The result is an informative, engaging, polished show that has potential to be picked up nationally. It may be the best local TV production ever.

The premise: Ed Kenney tracks a local family’s favorite dishes to its roots. For the pilot the family is that of Alan Wong (his mother is from Japan, where Wong was born), the dishes are the elemental tamago kake gohan (egg and rice) and  miso soup. The show sets the local stage with a visit to the Kukaniloko birthing stones, Hawaii Plantation Village and a look at old-school bento and the workers’ tradition of sharing  (“This is Hawai‘i’s story. That’s why we got the two scoops and mac salad,” says Wong.), Wong’s personal history (he grew up on Wahiawa), and two venerable farms where his mother shopped back in the day (Honda Tofu, est. 1917; Peterson’s Upland Farm, est. 1910).

Then off the crew goes to Japan—following tamago kake gohan and miso soup to their sources. The journey takes them to places such as Sukiyabashi Jiro (of Jiro Dreams of Sushi fame) to learn about the intricacies of rice, 253-year-old Tamahide (the restaurant that claims to be the inventor of comfort-food favorite oyako donburi), and farms that raise 12-pound chickens and leek-size green onions. We learn about rich regional farming and food traditions.

They wind things up at the farm of Tadaaki Hachisu and his American wife, cookbook author Nancy Singleton Hachisu, where everyone has the perfect bowl of tamago kake gohan, Tadaaki demonstrating how to whisk the egg into warm rice until it’s almost fluffy. Kenney and Wong are both witty naturals, making the cultural and culinary journey entertaining and educational.

After the screening, attendees were served the ingredients to make their own tamago kake gohan. We each got a bowl of warm rice, a Peterson egg, shoyu, and chopsticks. Servers came round with house-made tsukemono. It may have been the simplest thing ever served at the Pineapple Room, but it is one of the most delicious I’ve tasted there.

Kenney and Wong chatted with guests, both revealing that the 10-day shooting trip in Japan involved a few late nights. Wong stopped by our table and then asked if we wanted to try something—he got a glass of beer and smeared with a wood spatula (the kind that comes with tiny cups of ice cream) of three different kinds of miso on the rim. “Is this something you learned in Japan?” I asked. “No it’s my own thing,” revealed Wong—created on one of those nights. Gives new meaning to the name “miso and ale.” You take a lick of miso and let the cold beer wash over the fermented saltiness—a Japanese version of salt and a margarita.

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