September 2 , 2011, Volume 11 Number 16
Dear "Guam Food Guy" Reader,
I am astonished by the number of newsletters we've done! This edition is No. 434! I'm proud of what we've accomplished, and the good news is that there is much more ahead! Today's newsletter has been a bit up-staged by an event that has far-reaching consequences affecting everyone living on our island and all the people who will be coming to Guam in the future.
I am talking about the First Farmer Chef Grill Night that was held on August 23 at Bernard Watson's Farm in Yigo. This event was a collaboration between the Farmer's Cooperative Association of Guam, The University of Guam Extension Service, and the Micronesian Chef's Association (of which I am a board member). This was an historic event, marking the beginning of an exciting new era in bringing high quality produce from our local farms to restaurant tables. The trend to utilizing local produce started a few years ago and has gained as more products have become available. This event marks the first time that chefs competed in a cook-off on a farm using primarily locally-grown fruits and vegetables. You don't want to miss all the details of this event which is featured in our lead article.
We also want to acknowledge another significant event affecting our lives, although in a far different way. I just re-read the intro to our September 14, 2001 Guamdiner newsletter, which described the horrific events that changed the world forever with the multiple terrorist attacks against our country on September 11. I am sure that most of you have riveting and compelling stories about the impact that day had on your life. Our best response is to stay positive and move forward, aware and alert, but not intimidated nor afraid.
A quote from that newsletter rings as true today as it did then: "As we sit down to eat our next meal, let us take a moment to reflect on the many blessings we have been fortunate to enjoy and on the sanctity of life. We will not allow this cowardly attack to deter us from supporting our beliefs and values as free-thinking, life-affirming citizens of the world. " Guam Diner Newsletter, September 14, 2001, Volume 1, Number 12
Ken, the "Guam Food Guy"
First Farmer-Chef Grill Night
August 23, 2011
Bernard Watson Farm
A picture says it all; fresh, local, delicious: bitter melon, dragon fruit, culantro, lemon grass, star fruit, bananas, banana hearts, sugar cane, bok choy, breadfruit, cherry tomatoes, taro, sweet sop, sour sop, sour pickle, eggplant, long beans, pumpkin tips, green onions, mint, basil, boonie peppers, papaya, local lime and calamansi!
It's hard to say precisely when the first seeds where planted in the minds of those hard-working, dedicated people whose lives are committed to growing food, harvesting it, and selling it to those equally hard-working chefs in the kitchens who convert the same harvested produce into delicious meals. It actually started out with only a few products like watermelon, green onions, local eggplant, mangos, papayas, and bananas, and maybe corn. Face it, there really wasn't much being grown and sold to restaurants and even grocery stores. Most of our produce had been (and still is) imported. However, the good news is that we've made some amazing progress in growing and diversifying local produce. Can you believe that our local farmers have been able to grow enough cherry tomatoes so that we don't have to rely on imported cherry tomatoes! That's serious progress, and there's more to come!
The Micronesian Chefs Association (MCA) along with the Guam Hotel & Restaurant Association (GHRA) have spent part of the past five years working with the folks at the UOG Extension Service, namely Bob Barber and Phoebe Wall, who were conducting surveys amongst the chefs for what types of vegetables, fruits, and herbs they were using in their kitchens. They in turn worked with the USDA to provide technical assistance to local farmers who recently formed the Farmers' Cooperative Association of Guam with Bill McDonald as its president.
Mind you, there are many farmers on Guam who have been selling their produce for years, but the reality is that there is strength in numbers and it is beneficial if farmers get organized and focused on growing enough of a variety of produce that can be used by chefs. It is imperative that the farmers and the chefs are engaged in creating a supply and demand apparatus that will provide an abundance of fresh produce to be served in our restaurants. When I say fresh, I'm talking about the "fresh" you can feel, smell, and taste!
I want to apologize to any of those I have not mentioned in my over-simplified description of the process which brought us to the First Farmer-Chef Grill Night. The purpose of the event was for the chefs to visit a local farm where they would be challenged to create new recipes using a variety of local produce that the farmers would make available.
Members of the MCA, UOG, GHRA, GCC, and other interested parties made the journey to Bernard Watson's farm, which covers some 30 acres of arable land in Yigo. Bernard has been farming on Guam for more than 30 years and he is a proficient and prolific farmer, growing bananas, bitter melon, breadfruit (lemmai), cherry tomatoes, sweet sop (atis) and seeded breadfruit (dokdok).
The group took a tour of his impressively organized farm before starting with the challenge. Three restaurants, all locally-owned with local chefs heading up the culinary teams, participated. Executive Chef Peter Duenas of Meskla Chamoru Fusion Bistro & Meskla Dos, Executive Chef Christopher Aguon of Table 35, and PROA's Executive Sous Chef Ivan Mendiola went foraging from amongst the tables that were filled with an abundance of fresh produce.
Each team was provided with a brand new gas-fired grill and allotted a portion of pork baby back ribs courtesy of Triple J Five Star Wholesale. They were given a couple of hours to work their magic, and magic they made! They also had to incorporate some out-of-the-ordinary ingredients to see how creative they could be. One of these was "dokdok", which is seeded breadfruit. These seeds are called "hutu", which have to be peeled before they can be used.
I was fortunate to be one of the judges and I was teamed with popular corn farmer Ernie Wusstig, and Sodexo's Executive Chef, Donovan Brown. We had the unenviable task of trying to determine which team's dishes would prevail.
Each team did an extraordinary job of pushing the envelope further than its ever gone before! The murmurs of gustatory pleasure coming out of the mouths of the judges (myself included) as well as others who were sampling in the outdoor kitchen arena were proof that these were not ordinary creations. In fact, the entire two-hour preparation time was literally torture to those who had to breathe in the heady aroma of the fresh fruits and vegetables being transformed into crave-worthy dishes. The anticipation took a toll on us! During the preparation period, Team PROA's Executive Chef, Geoffrey Perez, made his appearance and relieving Chef Jessie Bamba, who had been helping out Chef Ivan.
Team Meskla's Winning Dishes
First place went to Team Meskla, who created six outstanding dishes, including a local-style Eggplant Baba Ghanoush with white truffle oil; Farmer's Garden Salad; Balsamic Soy Marinated Bitter Melon; Banana in Coconut Milk with Bitter Greens, Garlic Roasted Breadfruit steamed in Coconut Milk, fresh Farm Fruit Salad with Minted Pomegranate Syrup using dragon fruit, Macau bananas, star fruit, sour sop, pomegranate juice, calamansi and local mint leaves.
Left Column: Team PROA Right Column: Team Table 35
In second place was Team PROA, creators of an awesome Tomato & Cucumber Salad sprinkled with hutu, featuring atis (sweet sop) and sour pickle, drizzled with an atis & calamansi vinaigrette dressing. They also fielded a warming Local Greens Kadu with Pork Ribs which was especially welcome since we judges were getting drenched with the rain on our backsides! They finished regally with a divine Fresh Fruit Salad.
Third in a field where all were really winners was Team Table 35, who created a "Local Ratatouille" or Caponata using eggplant, peppers and onions. Its first layer was bread fruit with olive oil, while the finished layer had banana flowers topped with star fruit and a local pickle vinaigrette, all garnished with fresh basil. They also sported a Warm Bean Salad with local fresh eggs, hutu (breadfruit nuts), and cherry tomatoes. Their third dish was local banana flower stuffed with Portabella mushroom, cherry tomatoes.
As I said, everyone won that night, all the chef teams and everyone who was able to partake of that incredible feast! I can't wait for the next Farmer-Chef Grill Night, which will probably happen in three-months time. If you'd like to view higher resolution images of these collages, you can access them with this link:
Picassa Photo Album
Lone Star Steakhouse & Saloon
It was nearly 2:30pm when I was able to take lunch as it's been pretty hectic since returning from my holiday in the States. I was pleasantly surprised when I was delivered what I considered to be a one of the tastier meat loaves I can recall having in a restaurant in a long time! This savory delight is one of Lone Star's Power Lunch Specials, officially known as Steakhouse Meatloaf ($11.99) , and offers an 8 oz. mix of ground beef, onions, celery, carrots, and Lone Star bread crumbs topped with mushroom gravy. The gravy was so good I had to sop it up with my Lone Star roll. Even better, it's served with garlic mashed potatoes made from fresh potatoes not powdered as you so often find at other places.
I was unexpectedly asked by four Japanese tourists to pose in some photos with them. This was interesting as they didn't even know who I was! Afterwards, I went to my car and retrieved a copies of the current ISLAND TIMES Magazine and GUAM FOOD TODAY. You should have seen their eyes when they saw my photo spreads! I wanted to share our happy time at Lone Star - they loved the food - "Oiiishi!" or delicious was their unanimous response to their meal. I also saw a table tent promoting illy espresso beverages. Next time I'll have a Cappuccino!
Old Town Chinese Restaurant
Fourth Floor Aurora Resort and Spa
Finally we have a new Chinese restaurant truly worthy of recommendation. It's a new spin on an "old town" (if you'll indulge my pun). Yes, Lily Liu has realized a dream and opened up a second Old Town Chinese Restaurant in the Aurora Resort & Spa. Taking over the space previously occupied by the Okura's venerable Toh Ka Lin, the venue comes with a storied pedigree from a restaurant that was an elegant favorite for many Guam residents.
Having missed the opening party due to my travels, I was looking forward to seeing how this new place was faring. I arrived for a late lunch around 1:45pm which the manager, Dian Xu, said was the perfect time to avoid the usual lunch rush. This is a beautiful, well-decorated establishment and the ocean view from my table was enchanting. I was mesmerized watching the waves roll in against a bright, sun-light sky (a rarity during this rainy season) in the background.
Unfortunately, I was alone which everyone knows is absolutely the worst number of people to take to a Chinese restaurant. I ordered the Mongolian Chicken ($9.95) as a main dish and settled on a few dim sum selections to round out the meal. My favorite is Har Gau aka steamed shrimp dumpling ($5.75), along with Steamed Crystal Chive Dumpling ($4.75); Shu Mai, a pork & shrimp dumpling, ($5.75) and Steamed Spare Ribs with Black Bean Sauce ($3.75).
As I sipped my hot Jasmine Tea, I surveyed the room and noted how ornate and stately the decor is. Dian gave me a tour of the restaurant, showing me a number of private rooms. The most impressive was the President Room, which has an elegant round table for 20. This room costs about $50/person with the minimum charge for the room set at $1,000.00. There are special menus available for these rooms. This would be a terrific place for a private party of close friends and associates. And, they even have a touch screen Karaoke system for those who like to sing for or after their dinner!
I liked the Mongolian Chicken selection. It had well-seasoned chicken, not too spicy, and a generous amount of perfectly sauteed cabbage. (I had this without rice and enjoyed the dish.) Dian showed me some of the dipping sauces for the dim sum. I tried them but didn't get the flavor I craved, so I made my own using vinegar, chili paste, and soy sauce. It's my personal preference and I think it makes all my dim sum more flavorful.
The restaurant has a designated dim sum chef and, not surprisingly, all of the dim sum items I ordered were very fresh. Dim sum is available seven days a week from 11am-5pm and I think is very exciting - to be able to stop in and order a few choice dim sum items, is simply wonderful!
The restaurant is open from 11am-10:30pm daily. I don't think their prices are out of line given the ambiance, food quality and service level. These factors merit a bit more money as this is not your typical Chinese restaurant. In any event, I feel confident recommending Old Town at the Aurora to people who are craving some good Chinese, especially dim sum.
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