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Restaurant Insider with Anne Lee: Kani Ka Pila Grille

Restaurant Insider

November 26, 2023

Story By: Anne Lee | Photos by: ANTHONY CONSILLIO

Snack on delicious bites at Coaches vs. Cancer, a fundraiser held at Kani Ka Pila Grille.

In 1993, Norm Stewart, a cancer survivor and the former head coach of University of Missouri’s men’s basketball program, was the inspiration for the Coaches vs. Cancer campaign, which challenged fans to pledge a dollar amount for every three-point shot made by his team.

Today, this initiative has evolved into a nationwide effort uniting coaches, fans, players and communities across the country to fight cancer.

Assorted desserts, part of the Coaches vs. Cancer event ($150) at Kani Ka Pila Grille

Hawaii’s seventh annual Coaches vs. Cancer fundraiser kicks off on Dec. 19 at Outrigger Reef Waikiki Beach Resort’s Kani Ka Pila Grille. Fans are invited to enjoy dishes prepared by executive chef Dean Kamiya and meet the coaches whose teams are participating in the Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic. Net proceeds benefit American Cancer Society–Clarence T.C. Ching Hope Lodge, where neighbor island cancer patients may stay for free while receiving treatment on Oahu.

I spoke with University of Hawaii men’s basketball coach Eran Ganot as we sampled some of the delicious items that will be on the menu and learned more about the event. It also makes a perfect gift for sports fans!

AL: How did this fundraiser start?

EG: The Coaches vs. Cancer program is a nationwide collaboration between American Cancer Society and the National Association of Basketball Coaches. When I became the head coach here in 2015, we played Oklahoma, which was led by coach Lon Kruger, who was very involved in this program and is the current chair.

After the tournament, I reached out to one of his staff members and expressed my interest in getting involved. I attended his annual fundraiser in Las Vegas, one of the best events in the country. It raised over $1 million. I wanted to be able to do something similar here in Hawaii. Cancer is a cause that I hold dear to my heart. I have had many people close to me that have been affected by this terrible disease.

In my second year of coaching, we held our first event at Murphy’s Bar & Grill. Our guest was Roy Williams as we happened to be playing North Carolina, which had just won the national championship the year prior. This was a pretty big deal.

After the success of the first event, it became clear that we wanted to grow the event. I had a eureka moment: Hawaii runs one of the greatest college basketball events in the country with the Diamond Head Classic.

There are seven new coaches every year at the event. It’s a great time, with great food and a chance for the public to meet and interact with these well-known coaches. We have successfully held this event every year on Dec. 19 at the Outrigger Reef’s Kani Ka Pila Grille, and supporters have raised more than $100,000 for the American Cancer Society–Clarence T.C. Ching Hope Lodge since 2017.

AL: I know that executive chef Dean Kamiya is preparing a fabulous spread for this event. What are some of the dishes that we can look forward to?

EG: Chef Dean will be preparing an all-you-can-eat type of buffet with stations offering ahi and avocado poke made with ogo, green onions, avocado, Maui onions, sesame oil, soy sauce, Sriracha and a mayo drizzle served with taro chips.

The slow-braised short rib sliders are so good. It’s a generous piece of Hawaii-grown beef, Asian-style pickled vegetables and crispy onions served on a brioche roll.

The huli-huli chicken wings are tossed in this delicious orange-mango barbecue sauce.

He even prepared something for our vegetarians: vegetable pesto penne — grilled vegetables and roasted peppers tossed in a housemade pesto with penne pasta.

There are also tortilla chips, salsa and guacamole, and a chef’s assortment of mini desserts including guava cake, coconut cake, tiramisu and double-chocolate brownie bars.

It’s $150 per person, which includes beverages.

AL: Anything else you want to share?

EG: I am very thankful to our sponsors and to our seven coaches who are preparing their teams for a really competitive tournament. And a big shout out to Sean Dee and executive chef Dean Kamiya for helping us put on this event.

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