Thursday | September 21, 2017
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Let’s Talk Food: Chef with Hilo roots

Chef Jon Matsubara, culinary executive director for Bloomingdale’s at Ala Moana Center in Honolulu, has roots in Hilo. His grandfather, Ben, worked for HELCO and his grandmother, Sakiko (Kagimoto) Matsubara, was a piano teacher to many.

His father, Benjamin, graduated from Hilo High School in 1961.

Chef Jon remembers spending Christmas holidays and summers in Hilo with his Matsubara grandparents, who lived across from the Chinese cemetery.

When I was young, I remember my father taking us to see the many Christmas lights in the Matsubaras’ yard.

Today, Jon Matsubara is an award-winning chef, named one of the “10 Top Chefs to Watch” by Modern Luxury Hawaii magazine. He has been featured at the James Beard House in New York City, the Food Network, Zagat, the “TODAY” show and in Travel magazine.

Prior to being with Japengo Restaurant in Waikiki, Matsubara was at Azure, where he helped the restaurant win Honolulu magazine’s 2010 Hale Aina Award for Hawaii’s Best New Restaurant and the 2010 Ilima Award for Hawaii’s Best Restaurants Critics Choice.

In 2011, Azure was honored as Oahu’s Best Restaurant Bronze by Honolulu magazine. Prior to Azure, Matsubara was an executive chef for Stage Restaurant, where he was awarded with Best New Restaurant by Honolulu magazine’s 2007 Hale Aina Award.

Jon’s start in the business is very interesting and one of determination.

He started out in law school, looked around and saw future lawyers who were so good he decided he didn’t want to have to debate them.

So he left law school to pursue his passion — cooking. With no experience or education in the culinary arts, he went to apply at Alan Wong’s and Roy’s Restaurant, who both looked at him and said the only job he was qualified for was a dishwasher.

So, he took the job, but asked that he be able to come in on his own four hours before he started work so he could learn how to make sauces from the sous-chefs.

Matsubara scraped food from the dishes, had food on his clothes and in his hair, but always kept in the back of his mind, “I need to give up something to work at something I want.” He then moved to New York City and served as chef de partie in the famed kitchens of Jean Georges, Tabla, Bouley and then back to Mauna Lani Resort’s Canoe House to work under Chef Edwin Goto.

Chef Jon attended the French Culinary Institute in New York and graduated with distinction.

He is also a graduate of University of Puget Sound, Tacoma, Wash., with a bachelor of arts degree in Native American history.

Sponsored by the Hawaii Culinary Education Foundation, Hayley Matson Mathes introduced Chef Jon, who spoke to the Hawaii Community College culinary students.

The students watched as he grabbed Kona cold lobsters, placed them in boiling water for two minutes, gave them an ice water bath and then pulled out the claws and continued cooking them for four minutes.

The tail, still raw after only two minutes of cooking, was then ready for several preparations: medallions, split in half or the whole tail.

All other parts, the head, legs and shells were then pulverized to make lobster stock.

• • •

Lobster Stock

1/3 cup good-tasting olive oil

2 pieces head, shells and legs with gills and stomach removed — pulverized in a food processor or a Hobart commercial mixer with paddle

2 medium onions, halved and thinly sliced

6 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed

1 bay leaf

5-6 sprigs fresh thyme

A dash of hot pepper flakes

2 cups dry white wine

2 cups white port

1 cup brandy

1 (14-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes

1/2 chicken stock and 1/2 cold water to cover shells

Film a large skillet (14-inch) with olive oil and heat over medium-high heat. When the oil begins to shimmer, add the lobster shells, onion, garlic, bay leaf, thyme and hot pepper. Saute, stirring often, 6-8 minutes, until the onions are softened and the lobster shells are fragrant. Reduce the heat to medium if the onions begin to brown.

Add the wine and the tomatoes with their juices and return to a simmer. Cook another 5 minutes, then add enough chicken stock/cold water to cover the shells. Return to a simmer, then reduce heat to medium-low and continue to gently simmer another 30 to 40 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste and remove from heat.

When slightly cooled, pour the broth through a fine strainer, let cool completely, then refrigerate.

• • •

Chef Jon made lobster broth with the claws the students cleaned. Other uses include a wonderful base for lobster bisque, chowder or even seafood paella.

Each student got the opportunity to cook a lobster, then take apart the tail and remove the claws. Chef Jon told them not to panic when pulling the lobster apart, to stop, take a breath and try again. With practice, he said they could have perfect pieces of lobster. The claws, he told them, would be easier to extract after removing the feather in the claw.

The tourists as well as locals love to eat chef’s Ultimate Loco Moco, consisting of Hawaii Ranchers Beef, foie gras, butter poached lobster tail, Waimanalo eggs and mushroom fried rice with black truffle demi glaze sauce. Price you ask — $45.

Speaking of the Hawaii Community College culinary students, this week’s second-year students are featuring the foods of India. Call 934-2591 for reservations. If they are too busy to take you, try the first-year students’ cafeteria next door.

Email me at audreywilson


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