story by Julia Steele
photo by Elyse Butler
Mark Reinfeld tosses olive oil, garlic, toasted macadamia nuts, lime, salt and huge bunches of fresh basil into a Vitamix. There’s no measuring, no hesitation, just artfulness and speed, and in no time he’s offering a spoonful of vibrant green pesto that is tangy, rich and so exquisite you can’t really figure out how he pulled it off. Secret ingredients?
Hidden techniques? Nope, for Mark’s the author of four blockbuster cookbooks, each one filled with recipes, details and tips designed to demystify, not bewilder. Spend time in the kitchen with Mark and he starts to seem more alchemist than chef, able to transform ingredients into a whole far more delicious than the sum of their parts.
Mark brought that skill to Hawai‘i in 2002 when he opened the Blossoming Lotus Restaurant in Kapa‘a. It was a vegan hotspot that transcended all boundaries, even taking the esteemed Hale ‘Ilima Award for best restaurant on Kaua‘i. People who had never considered vegetarianism—let alone veganism—would drive for miles to order dishes like Nirvana’s Nori Rolls and Super Shakti’s Spanikopita. Though it is now gone, it’s not forgotten by Kaua‘i residents. “I really miss it,” mused Coco Emberson recently as she tucked into a plate of prime rib in a Kalaheo bistro.
But while the Blossoming Lotus Restaurant has disappeared from the Garden Isle, Mark has not. His passion for intro-ducing people to the kaleidoscope of herbs and spices and textures and tastes in vegan cooking is stronger than ever. In addition to his cookbooks—which include Vegan Fusion Cuisine, winner of Best Vegetarian Cookbook in the United States in 2006—Mark is now teaching cooking retreats in the Islands and across the West Coast, including a ten-day intensive on O‘ahu this January. Students learn to make outré creations such as live pies and plant cheeses, in addition to standards like soups, salads and entrées. Whatever the dish, it’s infused with Mark’s virtuosity. He remembers his grandfather, a famed ice carver who was still sculpting with a chainsaw when he was in his 80s, on oxygen and in a wheelchair. “He was like a mad scientist,” Mark says, “and his passion was an inspiration.”