Kalani Kitchen (Interview), Lessons on Island Living, Hawaii

Kalani Kitchen (Interview), Lessons on Island Living, Hawaii

IMG_7650Three times a day up to 200 patrons, guests, staff and volunteer are summoned together by the sound of the kitchen conch being blown to announce that it is meal time.  The sense of community and excitement is palpable as everyone seats family style to enjoy their homemade slow cooked meal prepared by a talented team of kitchen staff and volunteers.  If you would rather your space during dinner though – you can opt for a private picnic table under a magical tree.

Kalani Honua, is Hawaii’s largest retreat center. They have been in existence for forty years, and are an educational retreat center for non-profit with an aim towards mindful living. Kalani is situated on 120 acres of gorgeous jungle, where guests will find impressive trees, flowers, art and hammocks to enjoy.  There are large lawns to play on, a volleyball court, a pool (clothing optional), and many spaces for yoga classes and workshops of all kinds to be held – including daily Hawaiian cultural activities like weaving, lei-making and hula.  The staff and volunteers that you will meet here are really the heart and soul of this center.  Kalani was co-created by Richard Koob and Earnest Morgan who still live nearby and enjoy this special place daily.

Eighty-five percent of food served at Kalani comes from local farms, and that the remainder is made up of vegetables and herbs grown in Kalani’s gardens and orchards. Kalani has the largest commercial kitchen on Hawaii, also known as The Big Island. The kitchen will service any variety of diet, including vegetarian, vegan, and omnivore, and meals can offer anything from brown rice and greens, to build-your-own-salads or house made pastries. They offer various world cuisines, like Italian, Indian, Hawaiian, Thai and Japanese. The pastry department at Kalani produces homemade bread, granola and creative desserts.. The menus are available online, and change daily. If you are interested in eating at Kalani, service is dependent upon a meal pass. Simply purchase the meal pass before entering the dining room to enjoy the variety of cuisines on offer. Mealtimes are divided into one hour or one and a half hour intervals, but rest assured there will be places to get food if you are hungry at other times of day. There is a grab-and-go shop and seating area, Cafe Aloha, where guests can pick up homemade salads, sandwiches, gelato and hot beverages.

Chef: Nikindra Hungerholt

Photo Cred: Matt Bulger
Photo Cred: Matt Bulger
Photo Cred: Matt Bulger

Menu: Tom Kha Soup Red or Green Curry with Local Roasted Green Bananas, Organic Brown Rice, Baked Tofu, Lime Cabbage Salad, Kafir Lime Roasted Cashews, & Salad Bar

Notes from an Interview with Kalani Kitchen Managers – Dana Butler, Kenneth James Drotar and Cameron Nagashima

Kalani kitchen is predominantly volunteer run.  Most of the people who work in here started as volunteers and worked their way up.  Dana first came to Kalani in 2005 as a 3 month volunteer and then came back 5 years later and she was kitchen manager for 3.5 years, left for 18 months and then came back.  Kenny has been here and cooked and done different roles. Cameron is assisting right now in management and has been a trained chef in Seattle. The thing that makes us unique is the volunteer aspect and the creativity they can bring to it all with this diverse talent that they get that comes through the kitchen.

How does Kalani sources ingredients?

We are located on an island so sourcing ingredients is challenging sometimes.  In the long haul, going local is the most important thing for us to do.  We work with alot of local farmers. We are fortunate to have a year round growing climate, so we do get a lot of nice produce year round that is local.  Alot of people come to us. We have a reputation for buying from local farmers so people come to us when they have an abundance of stuff. We have a couple of farms that we buy from regularly including Johnson Family Farm and Ginger Ridge (in Mountain View).  We have a relationship with them where they will grow stuff for us. We have to be adaptable living on the most remote island chain in the world. When things get shorted there is nothing we can do.  It takes 2 weeks for things to get delivered. The evolution is towards buying from local farmers.  Although Kalani does grow food, the volume produced in the Kalani permaculture program is more of a teaching program and the volume needed to feed everyone is just so much higher than is grown on site.  So buying from local farmers is the answer here.

How Kalani deals with Rat Lung Worm Disease and deal with general hygiene?

We wash our products with iodized salt and white vinegar. You have to make sure that the leafy greens float, so that if there are any slugs, they go do the bottom.  We do double wash also.  The vinegar sanitizes it and the salt will take the insects.  To the best of our knowledge, no one at Kalani has ever gotten rat lung worm disease.

There is a strict hand washing policy in Kalani kitchen. Hands must be washed whenever we leave and enter the kitchen or move between ingredients. We are inspected by the department of health in Hawaii regularly and pass inspections regularly.  We also take steps that food is stored and disposed of properly as well.  It is a jungle kitchen, so we have to take extra steps to keep it clean.

What happens in stormy season and the power goes out?

In 2014, this region was hit with hurricane Iselle and lower Puna lost power for 12 days.  The Kalani kitchen had to get a generator and since then has been generously gifted with a super power generator and now the kitchen is permanently wired that will kick on if the power goes out.  There will be refrigeration and power if needed in story season or power outages.  The days before the generator you would just be praying it would go back on because after 4 hours you have to start throwing things away.

How does the Kalani kitchen deal with food waste and packaging?

Kalani kitchen has a big focus on composting, recycling and re-using.  The kitchen generates waste from packaging, bottles and such that food comes in.  We focus on recycling, but also reusing. There is a station behind the kitchen for things that are useful to other people like glass jars with lids, or waxed cardboard as a great bonfire starter, chipped plates and cups for the art shed.

We separate food waste into raw and cooked food waste. Raw food waste is like potato peels, carrot peels, egg shells, coffee grinds.  Our permaculture department has a recipe for compost so they will take a lot of this waste for their compost.  The cooked food waste has to be processed differently (it takes a year vs. 6 months for raw to compost).  The cooked food waste also attracts critters, so the best solution we have found is to use it as pig slow. Local farmers will come and collect it for their pig slop.  There are also feral pigs that roam the Kalani grounds that the Kalani crew will capture and gift to the local pig farmers, which is also supporting the local economy.

The main themes of the Kalani kitchen include delicious local nourishment, creativity, teamwork, play and the love of coming together to share a meal with old and new friends and family.  Whether you are traveling alone, participating in a group retreat, or becoming immersed as a volunteer – this daily ritual of coming together will leave not only our belly, but your heart full and nourished.  Thank you to the entire team for creating this space where travelers and locals can come together as family.


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