A Breadfruit Lunch with Chef Olelo Pa‘a
…By Fern Gavelek…
Olelo pa‘a Faith Ogawa respects and loves the land through the preparation and celebration of food. The private chef and food educator, who prepares meals for Fortune 500 executives and celebrities, will participate in the Breadfruit Festival–Ho’oulu ka ‘Ulu, September 24, at the Amy BH Greenwell Ethnobotanical Garden.
As an expert culinary presenter, Olelo pa’a will demonstrate how to use and prepare the not-so common fruit, ulu (breadfruit)—one which she feels should be cultivated more to help feed our island. The Waikoloa Village resident will also help judge the festival’s breadfruit recipe contest.
To show all the wonderful ways to enjoy breadfruit—and share her personal spiritual feelings about growing and using food in Hawai‘i—Olelo pa‘a recently prepared a spectacular, multi-course lunch for Ke Ola magazine Co-Publisher Barbara Garcia and this writer.
“After I invited you folks for lunch and asked your preferences, I meditated on what to make, thinking about how to use the breadfruit, and what you might like,” mused Olelo pa‘a, who grew up on an O‘ahu sugar plantation. “I plan my menus but I also go with the flow and may change things when it’s time to get busy.”
Similar to other cooks in the kitchen, Olelo pa‘a says she talks to the food and asks aloud, “What am I going to do with you?”
“To me, breadfruit is a gift to us from the land; it is a connection to the land, which I respect and recognize,” she emphasizes. “When I receive food, I pay attention and honor it by using it to the best of my ability.”
Believing that everything, animate and inanimate, is energy, Olelo pa‘a confides she talks to the land everyday. “I ask, ‘How can I be of service to you?’ I say, ‘Thank you, I love you, Hawai‘i.’ The land is telling me to share the mana‘o (belief) that we are all stewards of the land and we’re here to mālama (care for) it.”
She believes we each need to take 100 percent responsibility and let go, and in doing so, “what is right and perfect unfolds.” She shares, “I cleanse myself of any negative energy or memories I may have with the land where the food is grown. This allows me to be inspired, working with the purpose of the food.”
Olelo pa‘a adds that often we can walk around doing tasks unconsciously and miss the opportunity to do things consciously. She likes to go outside in her yard, look at her surroundings, listen to the wind and feel the energy it offers.
“The more we pay attention to nature, the more nature shares with us,” the culinary guru continues. “You have to be in the moment and let go to go with the flow. The more I do things that way, the more things become effortless and joyful.”
Olelo pa’a’s love and enjoyment of preparing and serving food was evident during our lunch, which starred breadfruit and a host of local ingredients. When cooking, the chef goes to great effort to always use as much locally grown ingredients as possible. “Sure it tastes better and it’s fresh, so better for you, but it’s the right thing to do,” she says. With each dish she placed before us, she talked about how each component made the dish just right.
First up was a fresh lobster and yellow tomato gazpacho garnished with ogo (an edible red seaweed) relish and served with a chunky guacamole and deep-fried ‘ulu (breadfruit) chips. When she served this beautiful course, she stated, “I’m discovering ‘ulu tastes good with fat (like that in the guacamole’s avocado), but it can also be used in recipes with less fat.”
She also shared the details about every ingredient she used, peppering the conversation with anecdotes about food producers, “The lobster is from Keahole’s Kona Cold Lobsters, they are such honest and hard-working folks.”
Salads were served next, using boiled breadfruit. First, a dish with fresh green beans and a Creamy Soy Dressing, followed by ‘ulu salad topped with poached salmon. “Breadfruit can be used like a potato, or starch, in making refreshing salads,” she said, smiling with delight at the variety of delicious combinations.
The next course featured tender, shredded grass-fed beef in a delicious broth with chunks of boiled ‘ulu. It was spectacular! The golden sweet flavor of the ‘ulu came through the fragrant broth, which was garnished with slices of red tomatoes. “Isn’t the grass-fed beef wonderful?” she asked us as we savored every drop of the flavorful liquid.
While taking a whole roasted ripe breadfruit out of the oven to prepare our dessert, Olelo pa’a said she has always liked breadfruit, which can easily be used as both a vegetable or a fruit
For dessert, she scooped out the “meat” of the whole breadfruit, similar to a squash. She served it warm with ice cream and a flaming, orange flambé sauce perfectly flavored with award-winning Koloa rum. I brought some of the roasted breadfruit home and repeated the dish, heating it up in the microwave and tweaking the sauce with lilikoi juice, instead of orange. Used this way, breadfruit acts like banana.
Olelo pa‘a recently became a champion for breadfruit after meeting Dr. Diane Ragone of the Breadfruit Institute at Kaua‘i’s National Tropical Botanical Garden. The institute promotes the conservation and use of breadfruit for food and reforestation, manages the world’s largest collection of breadfruit and is engaged in a global hunger initiative for food security.
The chef used two kinds of breadfruit for our lunch, but said Dr. Ragone has collected more than 200 varieties and “there are
After reading an article by Dr. Ragone, Olelo pa’a asked her how to get some breadfruit when she couldn’t find it here. She wanted to use breadfruit to prepare food for a North America media trip produced by the Hawai‘i Visitor’s Bureau. “Dr. Ragone and I became friends and I felt her passion for her mission to end starvation and hunger with breadfruit,” she said.
This spring, Dr. Ragone invited Olelo pa‘a to Kaua‘i to do an educational video on how to cook with breadfruit. At press time, the video is still in production.
“Breadfruit is one of the world’s highest-yielding food plants,” says Olelo pa’a. “Dr. Ragone and another colleague have identified productive and nutritious varieties.“
The versatility of breadfruit is one of its attributes, she says, and by showing others how to use it, she hopes to change the perception that it is an unknown food. “I want to encourage its use and help make people feel comfortable using it.”
Olelo pa’a says she feels “grateful and honored” that she works with food and can tell the story of how to use it. “I think working with food has opened doors for me on all levels: professionally, personally and spiritually,” she muses.
“Having lunch prepared by Chef Olelo pa’a was not only a wonderful experience in breadfruit tasting, it was also a heart-warming experience, observing her connection to the ‘aina (land),” said Barbara. “I never knew breadfruit could be prepared so many different ways and taste so good.”
When asked why she felt it was important to cook for us, Chef explains, “Part of it is honoring you and your time and Ke Ola’s effort. I want you to feel the essence and the best way is to taste, see and feel the transformation of the food. It’s like your mom’s cooking, you can feel the love.”
And we did. For the land, for the food, for each other and for the Creator of all, we were surrounded by love.
National Breadfruit Institute: www.breadfruit.org
Chef Olelo pa’a: www.glowhawaii.com
Contact writer Fern Gavelek at email@example.com.
‘Ulu Green Bean Salad by Chef Olelo pa’a
4 – 6 servings
1lb. peeled and large cubed, cooked, immature breadfruit
8 oz. green beans; blanched
1 cup fresh, blanched corn kernels
2 hard-boiled and shredded eggs
(I use farm raised eggs from Hawai‘i Island)
Creamy Soy Dressing:
1 cup mayonnaise
1 tsp. soy sauce
1 1/4 tsp. mirin wine
1/4 tsp. fresh lemon juice
Mix dressing ingredients in a bowl. Place breadfruit and vegetables on a platter and serve dressing on the side or place on the beans and top with the shredded boiled eggs. For a lighter version, squeeze our locally-grown lemon and drizzle olive oil on the salad with a sprinkle of sea salt. Enjoy.