Nancy Piianaia / Nancy Piianaia of Waimea died last week after a long illness. A pioneer of Hawaii’s buy-local and cook-local philosophy, she will be sorely missed in the Islands’ food communities.
About 10 years ago she invited me to join her in starting a Slow Food chapter in Hawaii. She got things rolling and put together our first event, a cheese tasting at Lyle Fujioka’s at Market City. Since then Slow Food in Hawaii has grown into a network with five chapters–KCC, Oahu, Hawaii Island, Maui and Kauai.
Growing up in Massachusetts with a mom whose favorite cookbook was Peg Bracken’s I Hate to Cook Cookbook, Nan discovered the culinary arts despite her mother’s countervailing influence. She found her way to the East-West Center and while there, she was impressed by the flavors of the east–curries, jook, bean sauces, miso and the like. After that initial exposure to Asia, she went on to become an exchange student in Japan and developed a passion for the country, its people and its food.
When Nan was more than 40 years old, she went back to school, attending the California Culinary Academy. Her internship was at the unofficial home of Slow Food in the U.S.–Chez Panisse in Berkeley. This innovative spot was one of first to recycle, buy local and organic, compost–all the things locavores now support.
In Waimea, Nan was well known for her cooking and hospitality as well as for her culinary and historical knowledge. She held keiki cooking classes and promoted local products whenever possible. She was a writer, cooking teacher and inveterate traveler. As the haole daughter-in-law of Ann Piianaia, she learned the culinary ways of fussy (bless ’em) Chinese popo. Ann showed Nan how to ferret out the best Chinatown noodles and where to find the freshest ‘ahi.
A memorial celebration of Nancy’s life will be held February 28 at Kahua Ranch on Highway 250 on the Big Island. Service will start at 11am, heavy pupu reception from noon until 2pm.