5Qs with SF’s Anthony Yang

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Brunch and pop-ups.

Talk about the two culinary buzz words of this century.

Add “San Francisco-based chef” to the entire phrase and you’ve got the morning event of the year, happening this weekend.

San Francisco-based chef Anthony Yang, formerly of Per Se and Michael Mina, will headline “Ante Meridian” on Oahu this weekend, presenting a four-course prixe fixe brunch menu highlighting a mix of seasonal local ingredients and San Francisco flair.

Here’s a peek at the menu: Kona coffee-flavored granola on local organic yogurt with taro-date jam, macadamia nut brioche bread pudding with brown butter roasted pineapple and vanilla creme fraiche, and black truffle waffles.

Yes, I said black truffle waffles.

Yang started hosting pop-up brunch events for his coworkers and friends more than a year ago. Since then, they’ve become so popular, they take place twice a month and often sells out within hours of releasing the menu. (He’s even started a dinner pop-up called, of course, “Post Meridian.”)

I got a chance to chat with Yang to find out more about this weekend’s events — which are, by the way, not sold out. Yet.

1. So you’ve worked for a couple of big names — and now you’re doing these pop-ups. What’s the appeal?

The appeal is my approach to brunch. Brunch is never really the focus for a restaurant, especially ones that are open for dinner. If it is the main focus of a restaurant, I feel like most people are doing the same things. Pancakes that are too sweet, Belgian waffles that are dense and chewy, twelve different types of omelettes etc. I try to refine my take on brunch a little more. Also, for the pop-ups, the fact that you buy a ticket before hand has a lot of appeal to people. After you buy the ticket online, you don’t have to wait in line like every other person waiting for a table for brunch on a weekend. The convenience of just showing up, not having to bring cash and split the bill with your group of friends, and letting us do all the work is what appeals to most people, I would say. And the Black Truffle Waffles!

2. Are you surprised with how popular your pop-up events have gotten?

It’s taken a lot of time and work to build this “brand” that people are beginning to familiarize themselves with. There were some really slow days at first like any business, but I’ve tried to create something that is a little different and approachable to everybody. So not really.

3. Why did you want to become a chef? Who inspired you along the way?

Working in the industry runs in the family, I guess. My parents worked in Chinese restaurants all my life as a kid and eventually bought a small, fast food Chinese place that I worked in growing up. After high school I applied to culinary school at the local community college and went from there. Ive been inspired by so many people along the way. David Breeden, the chef de cuisine of The French Laundry is a huge inspiration. Chris Kajioka from Vintage Cave really inspired me to just go for it. Ron Siegel showed me that you can be a great chef and a nice guy at the same time.

4. How did you come to do a pop-up in Hawaii and what are you most excited about?

Chris Kajioka, Mark Noguchi and Hank Adaniya came to San Francisco a few months back to do a pop-up to represent Hawaii and I helped them with the event. I started thinking how cool it would be to do my pop-up in Hawaii. The goal was to just make enough money to cover my trip. Thanks to Chris, Mark, Hank, and Amanda from UMU, we made it happen after a few brain storming sessions. I’m most excited about eating at all the great restaurants that I keep hearing about and hanging out with good friends.

5.What are you planning to do — and where you planning to eat — while you’re in town?

Nick Erker, who is coming with me to help cook used to live and work on Oahu at Chef Mavro and with Andrew (Le) at The Pig and the Lady. And I’m leaving the planning up to him. He says were going straight to Ethel’s Grill from the airport for lunch. I’ve heard only great things about The Pig and the Lady and I know Andrew from culinary school. I hear Chris Kajioka is doing a pop-up and hopefully we’ll be able to go to that. Eastern Paradise is like my kind of soul food, so were definitely going to get some dumplings and jia jiang mien.

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ANTE MERIDIAN 808 BRUNCH POP-UP
When: Saturday, July 12 (10 a.m. and 1 p.m.) and Sunday, July 13 (10 a.m.)
Where: 2970 E. Manoa Road Honolulu, HI 96822
Cost: $45/person, tickets can be purchased on Eventbrite.

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I do everything #LikeAGirl

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Since when did being a girl become an insult?

It’s the question at the center of a new ad campaign by Always — yes, the maker of maxi pads — to empower women and think differently about the way we view ourselves.

Here’s the ad.

Then meet the director.

I’ve watched it several times — tearing up #LikeAGirl every time.

See, I can totally relate. I grew up playing basketball with my guy friends, never aware that these was a gender difference. I could shoot three-pointers, I could nail hook shots, and I could box out like the best of them.

But as I got older, I began to realize that while I may not have seen gender, others did.

I can’t tell you how many times I’d be sitting in the lineup at a surf break and guys would treat me, you know, like a girl. As I’d paddle for a wave, guys who didn’t know me would encourage me, saying, “Paddle harder! You can do it!” as if I had just paddled out for the first time in my life. Or they would take one look at me and think, “Oh, she’s just a girl,” and try to out-paddle me for a wave.

It’s more than annoying, it’s insulting — and not just to me, either.

We live in a world where doing anything #LikeAGirl is bad. It means you’re weak or frivolous or pathetic. (It’s like when people say, “Man up,” like being a man means you’re tough. What would, “Woman up,” mean then…?)

The thing is, I can only do things #LikeAGirl. I run like a girl, I eat like a girl, I cook like a girl, I hike like a girl. Because I am a girl. When did that become a bad thing?

In the ad, adolescent girls, older women, boys and men were asked to demonstrate what it meant to “run like a girl” or “throw like a girl.” And it was heartbreaking to watch women my age respond with negative stereotypes.

But the powerful moment came when girls ages 10 and under answered the same question: they ran as fast as they could, they hit as hard as they could, they didn’t think any differently about the “like a girl” part at all.

“A lot of the girls pre-puberty were completely uninhibited by their identity as a girl,” said Lauren Greenfield, filmmaker and director of the #LikeAGirl video.

So where did we go astray?

It’s so incredibly sad to me that many of us have had our confidence and self-worth eroded at such a young age — and how that lack of self-esteem has tortured us our entire lives. We might not pursue our dreams or start to second-guess our abilities. We might not have tried as hard, we might have expected to fail, we might have felt like our potential was limited.

The worse part is that we might have started to believe our value comes in gender stereotypes, that we have to be, act and look a certain way in order to be valued as a girl or woman — as a human.

It’s so destructive and pointless. Why create artificial barriers to stop people from being their best selves? What would the world gain by that?

Watch the video. Think about it. Then do something — #LikeAGirl.

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Your favorite happy hours on O‘ahu

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Last night I met a girlfriend for pau hana drinks at Bevy, a fairly new neighborhood bar in Kaka‘ako. It’s got a solid happy hour menu, with a new selection of tapas, that we had wanted to check out. Items like house-made goat cheese creme on smoked beets with candied pecans. Or cod-and-caper croquettes served with a sweet chili aioli. Or the popular oysters on a half shell (above) with a papaya salsa and ponzu sauce. (And for $1 each, no less!)

It got me thinking about happy hours.

Anyone who has worked in Hawai‘i knows how much we love our pau hana. We love discounted pūpū and drinks — especially if they’re as delicious as the tidbits we feasted on at Bevy.

But what makes a good happy hour?

I say the following:

1. Great drinks. You can’t have a happy hour with lame, watered-down cocktails and a very limited offering of beers. (Unless you’re Shirokiya and you’re serving cold beers for $1.) We want good, solid drinks at a decent price. I’m not going to pay $8 for a colorful cocktail, even if it comes with a sprig of rosemary.

2. Tasty bites — and size doesn’t really matter. I want to say I appreciate the huge portions some bars dole out, even at happy hour. But I don’t care that much about the quantity as long as the food is crazy-good and reasonably priced. I’ll eat a small plate of food if the dish is absolutely delectable — and the price is right.

3. Fun, lively atmosphere. I might be in the minority when I say this, but I like a happy hour to be fun and lively — not dark or drab or dreary. I don’t need to sit in a cave and eat food I can’t see. If I’ve been sitting in a quiet office for the past eight hours, the last thing I want to do is be in a quiet space after work. I want laughter, I want conversation, I want to swear and dance and toss my head backward in a contagious fit of laughter. Period.

4. Parking. OK, maybe this my 39-year-old self coming out. But I hate having to circle neighborhoods for parking or walk several blocks in heels. I’m just too old for that. Give me valet.

I like places like Brasserie Du Vin in Chinatown, located closed to a cheap municipal parking lot. It boasts a robust happy hour menu like baked Brie, beef sliders topped with caramelized onions and a share-able cheese-and-charcuerie platter. Or Shokudo Japanese Restaurant & Bar near Ala Moana Center, with its late-night menu of contemporary Japanese dishes like unagi rice and sukiyaki bibimbap and sukiyaki kim chee pizza. Or Holoholo Bar & Grill in Mo‘ili‘ili with its take on bar classics like a Hawaiian version of poutine and deep-fried pork ribs.

So, according to that criteria, where are your favorite spots for happy hour?

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5 Qs with ‘Iron Chef’ Cat Cora

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I wondered if my interview was ever going to happen.

Not because Cat Cora, acclaimed chef and restaurateur best known as the first female Iron Chef on the Food Network’s “Iron Chef America,” doesn’t do interviews.

It’s because I didn’t think she would ever have the time to fit me in.

Not only does she run seven restaurants, develop multiple product lines, host TV shows, does charity work, and write cookbooks, she’s also a wife and mother to four boys.

“I’ve never been a static person,” she says. “I workout every day of the week, love to explore new places and things and get restless easily. I feel like if I just did restaurants, I wouldn’t feel fulfilled. Don’t get me wrong, one restaurant is plenty for work — let alone seven. It’s important to me that I’m constantly growing into the person I am supposed to be and for me, that means expanding beyond restaurants. Maybe I’m crazy!”

I got to chat with Cora, who will be one of the dozens of talented chefs participating in this year’s Hawai‘i Food & Wine Festival held on Aug. 29 to Sept. 7, about her crazy-busy life.

1. You cook, you write, you run a nonprofit, you even have a shoe line. How difficult is it juggling all of these different ventures?

Well, it certainly made my life much busier, and I won’t say it’s easy. But I enjoy being busy. I think you have to work hard and you have to play hard. I guess I just had more time for play!

2. I’m sure you get asked about business ventures all the time. Anything you’ve turned down? How do you decide on what opportunities to take?

I have definitely had to turn things down. Opportunities come up all the time and I have to weigh them all carefully. I ask myself if the opportunity is going to take me away from my family, is it going to conflict too heavily with my other projects or personal life. Sometimes you just bite the bullet and say yes, and other times you have to be reasonable and turn the opportunity down.

3. What has been the most rewarding part of the nonprofit you co-founded, Chefs for Humanity?

There is nothing like visiting a country like Haiti, a place that has been completely devastated by a natural disaster, and being able to bring joy and smiles to the faces of the people there. It is the greatest feeling in the world. Paradoxically, the greatest challenge is traveling to these places and seeing the destruction and suffering. It is a heart-wrenching experience.

4. What does it take to be successful at restaurants?

Being a successful restauranteur isn’t easy. People’s tastes and preferences are constantly changing. You have to pay attention to the changing food trends and really keep up with what ingredients or dishes are becoming popular. I think it’s fun, but I definitely wouldn’t say it’s easy … I definitely have a lot of balls in the air. To be successful in this industry, you have to be willing to work a lot, though, so I don’t think there is anything wrong with being busy, especially when my work takes me to beautiful locations like Hawai‘i! I have a fantastic team to help keep things running smoothly. I always joke and say, ‘It takes a village,’ but the reality is, without a strong team, that juggling can get pretty difficult.

5. What are you most looking forward to at this year’s festival?

Other than being invited to cook in such a beautiful place? Well, I have always been a huge proponent for blending cultures. I learned to cook by mixing my Greek heritage with my Southern upbringing, to create a delicious and unexpected fusion of cultures and flavors. I’m excited to bring my style to Hawai‘i and to use ingredients that I don’t utilize that often in California. I have some really great dishes lined up and I think people are going to like what they are eating!

To see Cora or any of the the other chefs participating in this year’s Hawai‘i Food & Wine Festival, buy your tickets here.

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Why I don’t hike as much anymore

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There was a time when, just about every weekend, I was lost in the mountains somewhere.

And most often, I’d be alone.

I’d hike everywhere, with friends, with hiking groups, alone. We’d drive to the other side of the island just to get a different summit view. We’d cross private properties, jump fences and made our own trails at times.

I used to climb the tracks at Koko Crater when there was a tree growing in the middle of the bridge. And more often than not, I was the only at the top.

But that all changed.

It seems with this GoPro-Instagram-Facebook culture, hiking has become the “it” thing to do. Everyone wants to post that cool summit photo on her social media platform — and the more dangerous, the better.

I got tired of waiting for people — many of whom weren’t in condition — struggling up the tracks at Koko Head or stopping every few minutes to snap photos at Olomana. I just want to be outside, feel the air in my face, listen to the quiet. I don’t need to hear a 20-minute FaceTime conversation about the latest drama at work.

Don’t get me wrong: I still love to hike. But once I got Sunny about six years ago, I started looking for trails that were dog-friendly — and, of course, that limited me to only a few. At first, it was an adjustment. I liked wandering in forests, clinging to trees, crawling along narrow trails, breathing in that moment you reach the summit. But I realized I wasn’t missing the crowds and sharing that experience with people who don’t seem to get it.

A couple of weeks ago, I decided to brave the late-morning crowd — that never existed before — at Koko Head to get in a quick workout. I was horrified to see nearly 100 military personnel with heavy packs, along with the dozens of other people, climbing the stairs. It was slow-going up and even slower going down. One guy sprained his ankle, another woman looked like she had heatstroke, and a few couples completely stopped in the middle of the trail and sat down, blocking the way up.

I’m conflicted. On the one hand, I love that people are getting outdoors and being active. I do. But I wonder about their safety — and the safety of others. I was nearly run down by a guy plugged into earbuds who decided he wanted sprint to the bottom of the tracks regardless of the people still climbing up.

I realize this is a contentious topic — and it’s no wonder Civil Beat is hosting a #CivilCafe on hiking today at Fresh Cafe. (RSVP for the event here.) It’s something we should probably start talking about now before anything really bad happens.

In the meantime, I’m going to walk my dogs to the top of Makapu‘u. And if I wanna wear my sturdy Merrell Moabs for purely nostalgic reasons, I will.

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