The locally produced TV series Family Ingredients has just the right mix of food, culture, and local history. The show has been airing on PBS to a national audience with the season finale airing tonight. Closer to home, Hawai‘i residents have been gathering to watch it in a unique viewing experience.
Every Wednesday for the past couple of months, the dining room of the Kaimukī restaurant Mud Hen Water transforms into a screening room. Family and friends gather around the bar and nearby tables as a projector is set up along the wall.
The show, which earned a regional Emmy, is told through the eyes of host and chef Ed Kenney. Kenney who would rather spend time in the kitchen, throws on an apron as the show begins and retreats back to where he’s more at home.
“We’re busy tonight so I was actually in the kitchen and didn’t get to see it,” Kenney said with a sheepish grin. “You always hope they’re going to laugh at this part so I’d rather not watch it in front of people.”
But that doesn’t stop crowds from showing up. Bar manager Kelly Jeffers says the restaurant likes to play with the theme of the night, with a featured ingredient often showing up in special dishes or drinks. With the night’s episode featuring a trip to Japan, Jeffers whipped up a miso flavored cocktail.
The miso syrup was actually the same red miso Kenney and the Family Ingredients crew brought back from Japan. Jeffers believes those small connections help draw people in.
“I think that it adds a nice fun component to it,” said Jeffers. “When you have the ingredient that you’re working with in the drink that you’re drinking, it brings you closer to the story.”
The night’s episode centers on Kenney’s journey to Japan alongside Alan Wong, the famed island chef who helped put Hawai‘i regional cuisine on the map. Born in Tokyo, Wong immigrated with his Japanese mother to Oahu when he was just six years old. They lived in an apartment building right behind the original L&L on Liliha Street. He says one of his favorite meals growing up was as simple as a bowl of miso soup.
“My mom had one pot and she had to work nights at a Japanese restaurant,” Wong remembered. “She made rice in a pot, took it out, and portioned it out for me and my sister, Beverly. And she made miso soup in 10 minutes.”
Wong watched the episode for the first time that night at the viewing party at Mud Hen Water. He says tracing each ingredient back to the source gave him a new perspective for the food he grew up with.
“We come from those beginnings; it was either that or the egg and the rice,” he said. “And so I have a different appreciation for all the ingredients that do go into miso soup, all the things that you can do with miso, because back then it was pure survival.”
After the episode, both chefs shared more stories over food, as people in the audience sipped their miso cocktails.
“It was great to bring people together here around food,” said Kenney, looking around the packed dining room. “It’s always really close and intimate, 40 or 50 people. They’re always invited by the guest and it’s all family and friends. Really that’s what I think brought it into being.”
Kenney says with the show airing nationally, it gives Hawai‘i an opportunity to share these stories beyond our shores.
“I’m learning so much, not only about food, but about culture and how Hawai‘i came to be,” said Kenney. “And then, based on the emails and the letters we’re getting, people on the mainland can’t believe the stories we’re telling.”
The next story Kenney will tell focuses on Puerto Rican roots to the islands. The season finale airs tonight on PBS.