TASTE opens in Kakaako
BY JOLEEN OSHIRO / firstname.lastname@example.org
Behind every great leader and every successful project are the organizers. These are the folks who brainstorm the innovative ideas and execute the tasks necessary to keep things moving forward.
The newly opened TASTE, a food venture at 667 Auahi St. in Kakaako, is the result of a collaboration between two community-minded organizers who thrive on thinking outside the box. Thanks to their partnership, TASTE breaks the mold of the whos and hows of a food venue, such as the range of how one food-related space can be utilized.
“I’ve had this dream forever of a community food space for learning and interaction, a place where chefs can collaborate,” said Amanda Corby of Pili Hawaii, a food group she and chef Mark “Gooch” Noguchi organized. “I sat with Poni, who had a similar vision. Poni and I come from the ‘idea’ frame of mind because we both meet with so many different people. This is a place to finally download all those ideas.”
The Poni she refers to is Poni Askew of Street Grindz, the organizer of food truck events around Oahu, including “Eat the Street.” And those downloaded ideas are a mile long: pop-up and collaborative dinners by local and visiting chefs, weekday breakfasts and lunches provided by popular food truck vendors looking to do more than meals on wheels, specialty brunches, themed meals, tasting and cocktail parties, cooking lessons for the public and culinary industry training. Corby and Askew even envision TASTE memberships for exclusive events.
To accommodate the daily flux, the finished space features counters along the walls for regularly scheduled breakfast and lunch service designed for quick, stand-up eating. Counters fold up during evening events, and then the venue seats 40 people, including an outside table or two.
Noguchi will be as regular a dinner presence as the format allows. Beyond breakfast and lunch, TASTE will not conform to a regular schedule. Other nighttime mainstays will include the Pig & the Lady, Miso & Ale and Sweetbreads.
Quinten Frye, chef de cuisine at SALT Kitchen & Tasting Bar, will present his own creations, and Corby hopes to draw popular North Shore chefs to make them accessible to the larger population for one-night affairs.
Noguchi’s presence also draws star chefs to the space, including “Top Chef” competitor and friend Lee Anne Wong, who teamed with him last week for a “drunch” (dinner/lunch) that profiled pork. Look for more collaborations from the duo since Wong has plans to relocate to Hawaii.
Noguchi also serves as kitchen project manager. As such, he’ll run industry training and curate the chefs who cook at the venue.
“We want TASTE to have a reputation for good chefs and good product,” Noguchi said.
On Mondays, when the kitchen is closed, TASTE will be available as a meeting space. Askew’s husband, Brandon, is in charge of the venue’s social media, including an upcoming app.
AMONG THOSE who will be a daytime presence at TASTE is Wendy Awai, a food truck veteran who operates Fairy Cakes. Awai’s truck has a huge following for its desserts, and will provide morning fare.
“I’d like to do twists on waffles and pancakes, but I’m interested in more than just pancakes. I’d like to pick and serve the best breakfasts from different countries around the world,” she said. “There’s a traditional breakfast sandwich from Lebanon that is a grilled cheese with mint. Or maybe something from Sweden.
“This is fantastic for the local community,” Awai continued. “It’s a great venue for startups to showcase their talent, or for small companies or chefs who don’t have the means to open their own restaurant or a place to serve their food.”
Awai’s sentiments reflect those of many food truck vendors. In fact, to give them a space to explore their culinary talents, Askew organized several pop-up dinners earlier this year at a Kakaako warehouse.
“We enjoyed the dinners in the warehouse, but having a huge warehouse environment is a big production,” said Askew, who always decorated the space extensively and hired musicians and dancers to provide diners with a multisensory experience. “TASTE was birthed out of that as well.
“Overall, my vision was to create another platform for our food truck vendors to be able to sample a brick-and-mortar experience without taking the risk. This collaboration is also a way to provide further learning for them. Some have culinary training while others are inspired home cooks. It’s a great resource to have someone like Gooch who can talk about costing, for instance, to help them be more successful as a food business.”
Another likely presence in TASTE’s lineup is Sean Priester of the Soul Patrol food truck and Lil’ Soul, which recently opened in downtown Honolulu (pacificsoulhawaii.com). Unlike most operators, Priester’s been around the block more than a few times. His long culinary résumé includes stints at Sunset Grill, Wild Mushrooms, Top of Waikiki and, of course, Soul restaurant.
So what’s the upside for Priester in participating in a venture such as TASTE?
“Brunch has always been my forte. I would love to revisit my Wild Mushroom days and show people what brunch is all about,” said Priester, who served up his famous fried chicken and waffles at TASTE’s grand opening Oct. 27.
“It’s a great place if you need to break out in the culinary sense. Full expression can happen at a place like this.”
For more information about TASTE, visit www.tastetable.com or call 240-1096. Breakfast will be available from 7 to 9:30 a.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, starting Thursday, Nov. 15; lunch service will run from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays.
Featured weekly events include “Crunch,” a Tuesday morning breakfast bar of granola, fruit and other things that crunch, and “Taco Tuesdays” featuring Mexican fare by familiar faces such as Paul Zaratez and Xtreme Tacos.
Upcoming Special Events:
» Late Nite Noodles with the Pig & the Lady: 7 p.m. to midnight Saturday, Nov. 10
» Melt HNL: Melt will take over TASTE for three days of lunch service, Nov. 28 to 30
» Everything but the Turkey Thanksgiving: Three side dishes and a dessert for four, by chefs Mark Noguchi (Pili Hawaii), Alex Le (Pig & the Lady) and Chris Sy (BreadShop), $100; order from 9 a.m. Nov. 12, pickup 4 to 7 p.m. Nov. 20 and 21
» First Family Meal & Cocktail Pairing: Break bread with chef Mark Noguchi and Dave Power (Feral Pig), Nov. 27, $300, 12 seats available; proceeds from this dinner will go toward TASTE’s “Fund Our Furniture” campaign
In the Works:
» Counter Top Dinners: Grab-and-go dinner service, no preset menus, no reservations required; a la carte menu, $15 and under
» TASTE Dinner Party: Guest chefs take over the kitchen for one night, announced a week prior via social media, tastetable.com and guest chef social media; advance-sale seats, $25 to $100
» Kokua Lunch Club: Network with nonprofit leaders and eat a house-made brown bag lunch; noon to 1:30 p.m. first Monday of the month