Fall is here, the time of year when we all think about the harvest — at least on Thanksgiving. I personally like to eat with the seasons throughout the year. I’ve always looked forward to autumn, when the mushrooms and squash come in, apples, parsnips, celery root — all the fall flavors. In Hawaii, that will be different, I’m sure.
Typically on the mainland, in spring it’s mint, peas and lamb. I get really excited about that. We get calls from the farmers that the fava beans are in. Then summer rolls around and it’s corn on the cob, basil, watermelon and fresh tomatoes. But here in Hawaii, the fresh fruit and vegetable season runs year-round and there’s always tons and tons of fish! Ono, opakapaka, mahi mahi. It’s the freshest I’ve had anywhere I’ve lived. I love to say, by the way, “It was swimming this morning. It’s literally been out of the water for two hours.”
We are very fortunate with the tropical fruit found in Hawaii. The papayas so ripe, the air smells sweet around them. There’s an abundance of local mushrooms. Even the tomatoes are insane! You open a box and smell that green, rich, almost-can-taste-it aroma.
I’m just getting started here as executive chef for Four Seasons Resorts Lāna’i — Four Seasons Resort Lāna’i at Manele Bay and Four Seasons Resort Lāna’i, The Lodge at Koele — and my goal is to really incorporate local and regional flavors into the classic cuisine.
I think it’s important to support local farmers and the community; to keep that sense of community and know where the food comes from; to know your farmer. We have fishermen who’ll show up at the door and unzip a bag with a four-foot-long ahi. All the kitchen chefs will run in and say, “What will we do tonight, Chef?” More and more people want to know where their food comes from. Guests will ask us: is this from Chile? Is it local? It’s nice to be able to answer confidently because I’ve visited the farm and I’ve seen how the vegetables are grown.
With my daughter, Sophia (two), and son, Carter (five), it’s been very interesting. My hope for them is that they will enjoy food and treat it with the same respect I have. I have been passionate about cooking since I was seven, when I held my first spatula and stirred a 40-gallon batch of clam chowder at my mother’s restaurant. I loved everything about the kitchen, from washing dishes to peeling potatoes. My grandfather would take me all over the San Francisco Bay Area to find a cheese store or homemade hotdogs, or we’d drive an hour to find the best shrimp salad on dark rye in Sausalito. In my family, we will drive to ends of the earth for good food.
With my children, I made all of their baby food. I pureed carrots and pears and broccoli, and beans. They loved it and ate everything. Now that my son is five, he’s got a lot more opinions about what he eats. We have a rule in our house that we call the “No Thank You Bite.” You may choose not to eat something on your plate, but only after you’ve taken a bite to taste it. Once you’ve tried it, you may say “No, thank you.” We avoid a lot of dinnertime battles with this strategy, and because we serve a variety of foods to the kids, it’s more likely than not by the end of the meal, they’ve eaten most of what’s been served.
One of their current favorites is broccoli nuggets. You put broccoli in the food processor with Panko breadcrumbs, cheddar cheese and egg yolks. Then shape it like a pancake or nugget and bake it in the oven at about 400 degrees for about four to five minutes on each side — very healthy and tasty. My kids are also into rice bowls. I add chicken bullion to the rice for flavor, then layer on chicken breast with Teriyaki sauce or soy. The kids like different flavors, but can’t take too much spice. We’ll add sautéed veggies, then mix it all together and serve on top of the rice. Use brown rice; that way, they get grains and plenty of protein. They also enjoy dipping sauces, so we’ll often offer a few different choices with whatever we’re serving, grilled meats or fresh-cut vegetables.
Being a chef, I sometimes find it challenging to maintain healthy eating habits for myself. I rarely have the time to sit down to a healthy meal while I’m working. And I’m surrounded by some of the best food in the world, so it’s tempting not to indulge now and again. But my philosophy with the kids is to have a more structured regimen. Start with a variety of healthy foods at breakfast, lunch and dinner. Offer small fruit or cheese snacks between meals; add a good night’s sleep. You have happy kids when you do that!
I also think it’s important to show them that food is fun. We cook together a lot. We love to make pancakes or cookies. Their favorite is chocolate chip. When cooking with kids, you have to set yourself up for success. They always want to scoop or pour. We set them up with their own containers and let them play along side me at the counter. They want to lick the beaters, eat chocolate chips out of the bag, flip the pancakes. You have to let them have their independence while stressing the rules of kitchen safety.
Another thing I do is prepare healthy food in large batches in advance, then preserve or freeze. In the summer months, I make lots of roasted tomato or green tomato salsa and soups. In winter, it’s Bolognese sauce and black bean soup. All my wife has to do is thaw and go in any direction with it. It’s quick, ready-to-eat, real food. You can also buy bulk looking for value: like a pork shoulder or 20 pounds of hamburger. Break it down into smaller portions and there is always something quick to pull from the freezer. This way, I can spend more time with the family. In our short time on Lāna’i, that means fishing and quiet beach time at the tide pools for the kids.
If you’re on the road with the family and want to eat healthfully, just look at what’s available to you: lots of dry cereal, whole fruit, yogurt. Offer your kids healthy options. Go to the store ahead of time and get grapes, granola bars, packets of applesauce. That way you’re not confined to fast-food chains.
I really love preparing food people want to eat and I love to share my passion for food with those around me. The most popular question I get asked is, how do you get everything ready at the same time? It takes experience. It’s like a dance. You dance around the kitchen until it all comes together at the same time.
As Executive Chef of Four Seasons Resorts Lāna’i, Chef Kevin Erving oversees all culinary operations at Four Seasons Resort Lāna’i at Manele Bay and Four Seasons Resort Lāna’i, The Lodge at Koele. An active supporter of local, organic farming and sustainable ingredients, Chef Kevin brings a new approach to the culinary scene on Lāna’i with his farm-to-table expertise. He lives in Lāna’i City with his wife Jennifer and two young children, Carter and Sophia. When not in the kitchen, he enjoys playing the guitar and outdoor recreation.
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