Mark Noguchi serves sane portions at He‘eia Pier.
Image: wanda a. adams

Six celebrated chefs, an author and a comic on how to enjoy slim-fully local food

New year, new pounds.

They go together like fat-, salt- and carb-heavy rice and gravy, saimin and char siu–a problem for lovers of Hawaii local food. So how do you eat healthily and still enjoy the flavors and the textures you crave?

We asked people who taste for a living: chefs, a cookbook author and one rather famous, and formerly rotund, comedian, Frank De Lima.

The chefs said build flavors with acid, heat and spices or fresh herbs–ginger and garlic, wasabi and nioi (Hawaiian chili), Thai basil and yuzuor Korean chili powder.

When eating in restaurants, “Be selective,” said Chai Chaowasaree, former co-host of TV’s Two Skinny Chefs, who also owns Chai’s Island Bistro. “I love roast pork, but I don’t eat the skin, where the fat is.”

In Chinese restaurants, said De Lima, order cold ginger-garlic chicken, eat only the breast, no skin, with steamed vegetables. Or try a whole steamed fish.

“The plate lunch, well, sorry,” said Alan Wong, “two scoops rice is out, and the mac salad is way, way out da door, too.” Choose green salad, “And don’t lose it on the dressing,” adds Wong.

And what about portion size? Chef Mark Noguchi, of the Heeia Kea Pier General Store & Deli, notes that the plate lunch didn’t always weigh two pounds. “We never used to eat like that…The supersized two scoops rice you get now is not the two scoops I remember.” At first, Noguchi’s open-air, pier fishing spot was criticized for its smaller portions. His direction to staff doesn’t include lectures on moderation, but rather, talk about local fish and produce and where his food comes from. “Pretty soon, they’re saying ‘Oh, dat’s so-and-so’s boat. I know him!’”

“You gotta make ‘em ‘ono. But not too ‘ono or you goin’ keep eating,” De Lima cautioned, speaking from experience. Faced with out-of-control diabetes and hypertension coupled with a love of after-show indulgence, De Lima once weighed 320 pounds, even though he exercised five days a week.

One day, a friend said, “Frank, to burn off what you ate today, you’d have to swim all the way around the Island chain.” De Lima lost 100 pounds in four years and has kept it off. He still eats out twice a week, but it’s an early dinner.

Otherwise, he prepares his own portion-sized meals and packs them with him, eating every 1.5 to 2 hours. If he’s caught short, he hits Zippy’s for a boiled egg, skim milk and dry wheat toast.

Another famous “biggest loser” is chef Sam Choy, 80 pounds lighter after bariatric surgery, weight he’s also kept off. His wife, Carol, explained his success–choose fresh and local. Eat early. You cannot burn calories if you “eat till you sleep.”

George Mavrothalassitis (aka Chef Mavro) isn’t “local,” but, off duty, he loves mom-and-pop ethnic restaurants, and one of his favorite ingredients is that much-maligned, medium-grain white rice. “I have fought all my life to get an excess of fat off my plate. I use rice in place of cream, butter, egg yolk, flour,” Mavrothalassitis said. He teases out the starch by “melting” the rice in great volumes of liquid. This adds body to sauces without masking other flavors.

What about such lunchwagon favorites as the Southern foods championed by caterer Kevin Tate of Kevin’s Two Boots? Tate makes roux–the browned flour that characterizes many Cajun and Creole dishes–without oil. And an occasional steak is a good source of protein; trim fat, get a steak-only plate and make it a couple of meals with vegetables.

Carol Devenot, author of Island Light Cuisine, is an advocate of cooking at home, where you can control ingredients and portions.

Chaowasaree said that he is concerned about sodium, given Hawaii’s high degree of hypertension. “Eat in a truly Asian style, not the local Asian style,” which relies too much on salt, fat and sugar, he advised. Patronize restaurants that pile on the herbs and aromatics, that sear meats or fish tataki–or yaki-style (no tempura), that put vinegar-chili mixtures on the table (not shoyu), that use rice- or vegetable-based noodles and wrappers and house-made broths.

Substitutions Without Deprivation:

For white rice and noodles, sub whole grains (brown rice, quinoa, barley, oat groats, wheat). De Lima likes shirataki yam “pebbles,” such as Miracle Noodle Rice Pearls.

For saimin, De Lima uses shirataki or tofu noodles, Hondash brand broth and skinless, boneless chicken breast or 97 percent fat-free ham, fried egg-white strips and green onions. Good for chicken long rice, too.

For red meats, substitute fish, skin-free chicken, turkey, tofu, tempeh, textured vegetable protein.

Instead of butter and hydrogenated oils, use extra-virgin coconut oil (Tate’s favorite), extra-virgin olive, avocado and nut oils. Or, suggests Devenot, sautée in water, broth or sherry.

Replace shoyu with citrus and herb marinades. Devenot employs Bragg’s Liquid Aminos. Delima makes teri sauce from low-sodium shoyu, Splenda, water, ginger and garlic. Noguchi serves up guava chicken: The sweet-sour taste, he says, is just the thing to perk up local palates.

Instead of salt, Wong recommends cold-pressed Hanaoka Farms passion fruit juice from Hilo. Also calamansi (Filipino lime). Tate likes lemon-pepper and Kirkland No-Salt Organic seasonings).

Sugar: Less is more. Splenda, agave or brown rice syrups. Tate likes evaporated sugar cane juice.

Gravy: Omit! Or, like Chef Mavro, make a lowfat shellfish or fishbone broth flavored with vegetables, herbs, and…see [].

Potatoes: Go color. Okinawan sweet potatoes, yams, taro; bake “fries” on an oil-sprayed pan.

Roux: Brown flour dry in a medium-high nonstick pan, stirring constantly. “It’s tedious, but it works,” Tate said. “You get that smoky flavor.”