Food Activist Honors Kaua‘i ChefPrivate chef Donovan Kanani Cabebe wants only the best for his clients. If he’s not in the Kekaha Community Garden harvesting produce at its peak, he’s at the farmers market selecting what’s in season. He packs it all into a cooler, brings it to his client’s home and cooks a delicious meal.
With his daughter La’emana tucked securely on his lap, Cabebe and I talk story at his home in Kalaheo. Sous chef and Kaua’i Community College Culinary Arts student Ryan Taniguchi joins us.
Over a lunch of “Any Kine Coconut Curry” and “Massaged Kale Salad,” I learn how Cabebe wound up cooking for an acclaimed environmental activist Jan. 17 before her speech at the Kaua’i War Memorial.
“I’ve promoted biodiversity and seed-saving movements in India, and I’m the vice president of Slow Food International,” said Dr. Vandana Shiva in the Jan. 30 issue of Midweek Kaua’i. “I get to eat the best of foods. The kale salad and coconut dessert have to be among the top dishes I have tasted anywhere.”
As I eat Cabebe’s kale salad, I think about how the shredded beets and citrus must have delighted Shiva’s tongue.
“I hold the activism that Vandana does in high regard,” says Cabebe, who has been active with GMO Free Kaua’i for six years. “To get that kind of accolade from someone like that was a deep honor for us.”
As a private chef and caterer with more than 20 years’ experience in the food industry, Cabebe has developed three pillars that support his business model: sustainability, sovereignty and aloha.
“We go through the extra effort to source from local farmers who are growing wholesome, organic food,” says Cabebe, adding that there are many chefs on Kaua’i doing the same thing. “In Hawaii, we tend to forget about our dependency on the boat. If we’re not sourcing locally, then we’re not actively supporting local agriculture.”
Hawaiians worship the power of nature and believe that the first child of the first man and woman was taro. Believing that taro is part of their DNA, many Hawaiians, including Cabebe, testified against the cultivation of genetically modified taro.
“As descendants of native Hawaiians, taro is part of our DNA,” says Cabebe. “To have it genetically modified, is to genetically alter our DNA and the source of where we come from.”
Thousands of years of observation and knowledge inform the world’s indigenous sciences, or traditional wisdom that has been passed down for generations. Cabebe links food independence to a sovereign island and believes industrialized agriculture has disconnected us from the natural world, and that mana’o, that knowledge, is being lost.Cabebe recently taught a healthy food prep and nutrition workshop in Waimea, hosted by Kekaha Community Garden. The workshop was developed so families could learn how to cook affordable, simple and healthy recipes.
Participants were excited, eager and curious to learn and practice what Cabebe taught, and he says aunties and uncles began to venture outside their Westside neighborhoods to seek out fresh, local food.
They also started their own gardens.
“I feel like I awakened a genetic memory that connected them to a place where we all used to be,” he says. “We all have come to a point where we want to know what’s in our food, and where it comes from.”
Cabebe and Taniguchi say the main ingredients in their food are a positive attitude, a heart full of gratitude and love for what they do.
“As Hawaiians, we believe that the energy that comes from our mouth has life, and can poison the food we eat. If you were at grandma’s house and you started talking back, she would uncover the poi bowl. Food is sacred, and tradition was when the poi bowl was open, all talking and bad attitudes had to stop.”
Cabebe says that Native Hawaiians hold the keys and knowledge to manage resources, live in balance and perpetuate the natural cycles of all things that exist within the ecosystem.
“I see momentum in how we manage and handle our food,” he says. “I have a lot of hope for the future of Hawaii.”
Cabebe caters events and special occasions, and teaches individual and group classes. For more information, call 634-0807.
MASSAGED KALE SALAD
* 1 bunch kale, about 1 pound, chopped small
* 1 raw beet, shredded
* juice from 3-tangerines, about 1/2 cup (you may substitute oranges, grapefruit or other fruit juice)
* about 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
* about 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (use coconut oil as a substitute)
* pinch sea salt, or to taste
* pinch black pepper, or to taste
Add salt and pepper to taste.
Serve chilled, or at room temperature.
Makes four to six servings.
ANY KINE COCONUT CURRY
Note: This dish is best made as a tofu, vegetable or seafood curry. Chicken and beef also may be used.
* 1 cup organic coconut milk
* 4-5 cups any kine veggies, cut into small bitesized pieces
* 2 tomatoes, diced small to medium
* about 5-10 leaves fresh basil
* 1/2 of a medium-size onion, chopped small
* 1-2 cloves of garlic
* 1 tablespoon minced fresh tumeric
* 1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
* 1/8 teaspoon ground red pepper, or to taste
* 2 tablespoons coconut oil (can substitute olive oil or butter)
* sea salt and pepper, to taste
Heat oil in a large frying/saucepan on medium heat. Once oil is heated, add in garlic, tumeric and diced onion. Cook until onion is clear (do not over-cook and burn the garlic and turmeric) followed by the meat and hard veggies, then stir. Once those appear to be about one-fourth to one-third cooked, add in softer veggies (except for tomatoes) and spices. After everything has been heated to the same temperature, add in coconut milk. Allow the milk to reduce in the pan until the hardest veggies are cooked to desired tenderness. Remember to stir the mixture, paying attention to the outer edges of the pan. Once every thing is cooked to your desired tenderness, add in the tomatoes and remove from stove.
Served as-is, on a bed of cabbage, over rice, long noodles, pasta or over sauted potatoes.