The idea seemed simple enough: Take a favorite family recipe, trace its origins and make a TV show about the quest. That concept brought two of Hawaii’s top chefs to Japan and the organic farm of Nancy Singleton Hachisu, who moved there from the Bay Area almost 26 years ago.
The result is “Family Ingredients,” an hourlong production that will be shown tonight in San Francisco as part of CAAMFest 2014, an 11-day multimedia festival sponsored by the Center for Asian American Media.
Hachisu is the author of “Japanese Farm Food,” and her book tour was launched at Chez Panisse Cafe in September 2012. Dan Nakasone, who lives on Oahu and is the co-producer of “Family Ingredients,” bought the book soon after it was published. When he started work on the show, it occurred to him that Hachisu might be an ideal match for its host, Ed Kenney, and its featured chef, Alan Wong.
And that’s exactly what happened.
“They were like yin and yang — such a good balance off of each other,” Hachisu said on Monday night from New York, on her way back to Japan. “ Interestingly enough, some people opened up to Alan, while others opened up to Ed. They were an absolutely unstoppable combination.”
Hachisu was born in Palo Alto in 1956, spent her childhood in Atherton, went to Stanford University and met Tadaaki Hachisu when he was a student in an ESL class she was teaching. They are farm-to-table cooks and farmers in Saitama, Japan, and their farm produces, among other things, rice and eggs – a key fact that made the simple idea for the show a much more ambitious undertaking.
“Alan’s father was Chinese Hawaiian and his mother was from Japan,” said Nakasone on Monday, by phone from Honolulu. “He gave us two dishes he grew up with: tamago kake gohan, which is raw egg on rice with a dash of shoyu, and miso soup. I thought, ‘Man, how are we going to do a one-hour pilot on these ingredients?’ “
But then he remembered Hachisu’s cookbook. “I thought that if we could get to this farm and meet this farmer, we could close the loop. It was so compelling. I told the director, ‘We need to go to this place.’ And he said, ‘Oh, Dan. You got a plan B?’ “
Kenney’s Town restaurant and Wong’s namesake upscale eatery, both located in Honolulu, have enjoyed enormous acclaim, and they have been relentless advocates for local cuisine and farmers on the Hawaiian Islands. Still, they learned a lot during their nine-day visit to Japan, which included a visit to Sukiyabashi Jiro, a three-star Michelin restaurant in Tokyo where the two chefs from Hawaii ate the best sushi they’d ever tasted.
At the Hachisu farm, about a two-hour drive from the capital, they encountered a version of raw egg over rice that was completely unlike the familiar dish that the chefs had consumed for decades.
In “Family Ingredients,” Kenney and Wong watched Tadaaki Hachisu transform tamago kake gohan into something else entirely.
“It was so different from what we do,” said Nakasone, who lives in the Oahu town of Wahiawa and is of Okanawan ancestry. “It was creamy, like a risotto. He stirred it first in circles, then he looped it. It created a lot of air and a lot of foam.”
“Family Ingredients” combines food, history and travel. It aired last May on PBS Hawaii and is currently available on Hawaiian Airlines flights. Nakason said the pilot was made with the hope that it would be picked up as a series. Recently, the PBS national programming board said it wanted eight half-hour episodes.
“We’re the first production company from Hawaii to be offered a PBS series in prime time,” Nakasone said. “The concept is to feature all the different ethnic groups that you find in Hawaii – Filipino, Puerto Rican, Portuguese Chinese, Korean, all of them. The focus would be on food. That’s the bridge that would take us to the place of origin.”
Tonight’s 7 o’clock showing of “Family Ingredients” at the Sundance Kabuki on Post Street will be its second in San Francisco. The first was Friday night. Afterward, Nakasone and director Ty Sanga did a question-and-answer session.
“At the end, a woman from India came up in tears,” Nakasone recalled. “She said it made her miss her mom and home country. It reaches people on an emotional level. That’s the immigrant story.”