Issue 20.6: December 2017/January 2018
Native Intelligence: O‘ahu

Home Cooking

Story by Noel Nicholas. Photos by Renea Veneri Stewart.

In 2010 Native Hawaiian filmmaker Heather Giugni was on an airplane contemplating what her next big project should be when inspiration struck. Flipping through the channels on a seatback TV, she discovered Anthony Bourdain’s travel and food show No Reservations. “I loved it! He told community stories through food,” she says.“I share Hawai‘i’s stories, and I realized this could be a new way for me to do that.”

Several years later, after a stint as a legislator in the Hawai‘i state House of Representatives, Giugni had refined the concept, lined up a host and was ready to shoot a pilot. Family Ingredients, as she named the show, would trace the national origins and family roots of its featured guests’ favorite meals. Along the way it would put a spot-light on Hawai‘i’s multicultural communities and the faraway places from which they came. The host would be the local celebrity chef and restaurateur Ed Kenney, and the first guest would be the internationally known chef Alan Wong.

Kenney was initially reluctant to be onscreen, but Giugni made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. Kenney explains: “She said,‘Here’s the deal—in episode one we’re going to Japan with Alan Wong.’ Wong is like ‘His Eminence’ in this community. He’s a legend. Then she tells me they’ve got reservations at Sukiyabashi Jiro from Jiro Dreams of Sushi!” That’s the 2012 documentary about three-Michelin-star-rated sushi master Jiro Ono. “I was like, ‘OK. I guess I can do this. Twist my arm!’”

The episode won a Daytime Emmy Award nomination after it premiered in 2013 on PBS Hawai‘i. Funding for a full season soon followed. The six episodes, which aired in 2016 for PBS viewers nationwide, included a trip to Tahiti to dine on poisson cru in the ancestral village of Maui Tauotaha, a crew member with the Polynesian voyaging canoe Hōkūle‘a, and a trip to Puerto Rico with actress Tiara Hernandez, sister of pop star Bruno Mars, to feast on arroz con grandules.

“To me Family Ingredients is about getting to know another human being and fostering understanding,” Giugni says. “Food is just the chum for gathering the real stories.” Season two of Family Ingredients premiered in October.