A Heavenly Take on Hamakua Mushrooms

Columns Ono, You Know

March 1, 2015

Story By: Alana Folen | Photos by: Lawrence Tabudlo

Neither fruit, vegetable nor plant, mushrooms are a delicious type of fungus. Please, don’t be put off by that “fungus among us” notion though, because mushrooms deserve all the attention, for obvious reasons. The health benefits of this fungus are substantial, as they’re packed with antioxidants and vitamins.

I always have been obsessed with mushrooms, everything from Japanese shiitake and enoki to Italian porcini, as well as the popular portabella mushroom.

But, of course, as an island girl, I’ll always be partial — and faithful — to the local Hamakua mushroom from the Big Island. In a class all its own, Hamakua mushroom transforms from baby spores into blooming fungi. The Hamakua mushroom is clean and simple, and an ingredient in which chefs find so much potential.

This week, I stopped by the following OYK eateries to whet my palate with something special. What I was met with were spectacular edible art forms. Though neither dish is the same as the other, both restaurants showcase Hamakua mushrooms in ways that obviously prove to be immaculate.


Chef de cuisine Jon Matsubara is the mastermind behind Japengo, a sophisticatedly modern establishment in Hyatt Regency Waikiki Beach Resort and Spa, honored for its Hawaii regional cuisine. Open daily from 6 to 10 p.m., Japengo is the destination of choice for both kamaaina and visitors. With 15 years of experience, Matsubara utilizes locally grown products such as Hamakua mushrooms to his advantage.

Earlier this year, Japengo released a new menu, but the must-have, off-the-menu option is Ultimate Loco “Foie Gras” Moco. A dish inspired by Japanese tastes, Ultimate Loco “Foie Gras” Moco ($65) tops the “A list” of all loco mocos, though only available by request. Here’s the breakdown: 6-ounce Hawaii Ranchers filet mignon sous vide cooked to your liking, topped with half of a Kona lobster tail, foie gras and a quail egg on a bed of Japanese rice that’s cooked with toasted bonito flakes and Hamakua Alii King mushrooms roasted in butter, garlic and shallots. Lastly, chef adds Italian black truffle and Madeira sauce in place of the usual brown gravy. Trust me, you’ve never met a loco moco quite like it.

“We try to keep the integrity of the mushroom by cutting the crown in half and dicing the stem into pieces. Hamakua Alii King mushrooms, also known as abalone mushrooms, complement the dish. I really like the coloring and chewy texture it has,” states Matsubara. “In terms of quality, Hamakua mushrooms are the best. Because they’re so fresh, the clean flavor is apparent.”

Chef explains that Hamakua mushrooms’ spores are cultured in the dark at a regulated temperature prior to being shipped to Oahu.

“Hamakua mushrooms are delivered to Japengo daily. On average, we go through about 60 to 70 pounds of mushrooms a week.”

And for a further taste of Japengo — Hamakua mushrooms included — Matsubara recommends the four-course Tasting Menu ($70), where a smaller version of Ultimate Loco “Foie Gras” Moco is the main dish.

Hyatt Regency Waikiki Beach Resort and Spa
2424 Kalakaua Ave.

Chef Chai

When celebrity chef Chai Chaowasaree’s name is attached to a dish of any kind, you know it’s going to be good. His restaurant, fittingly named Chef Chai, located at Pacifica Honolulu on Kapiolani Boulevard, is the pinnacle spot for sophisticated flavors and creative edibles, which charm patrons nightly. Chaowasaree’s culinary foundation is one that’s based on quality ingredients and absolute freshness — natural aromatic herbs, coconut milk and olive oil are a few of his favorite flavor enhancers — and promoting local produce is imperative. Enter Deconstructed Beef Tenderloin. Priced at $45, this superior entree takes center stage on the dinner menu. Tell me what’s not to love about a 9-ounce tender filet cooked perfectly to your liking? Not to mention the merlot demi glace, which cascades over this sumptuous chunk of carnivorous heaven. Hamakua mushroom foie gras truffle-filled puff pastry enhances the dish even more, while showcasing Chaowasaree’s commitment to supporting local products.

Deconstructed Beef Tenderloin ($45) A. CONSILLIO PHOTO

Deconstructed Beef Tenderloin ($45) A. CONSILLIO PHOTO

“I paid a visit to the Hamakua coast on the Big Island, and took a tour of the air-conditioned warehouse where the mushrooms are produced,” says Chaowasaree, noting that the locally grown mushrooms include shiitake and shimeji varieties. According to chef, Hamakua mushrooms are packaged in a controlled environment — sans soil — to maintain the mushrooms’ freshness and quality.

“I like to cook with a medley of mushrooms — button, shiitake and shimeji — when it comes to the puff pastry.” And to achieve maximum flavor, Chaowasaree adds a splash of red wine demi, a pinch of shallots and garlicky goodness into the mix.

Voila! Just like that, Hamakua mushrooms beckon the spotlight once again.

Chef Chai
Pacifica Honolulu
1009 Kapiolani Blvd.

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