Images by Vincent Carabeo
It gets a lot of attention. It gets created, served, appreciated, eaten and appreciated again. It’s a dish with origins, lineage and story – lots of story. From the simplest and sometimes crude preparations in the beginning to the most elaborate, technical presentations today, poke has brought people together. And I really don’t see that changing any time soon, especially after what just went down in Seattle. Let’s cut to the chase – the Seattle poke fest was different. This one had Sam Choy. And if you don’t know who that is, it’s time for you to visit Hawaii where you’ll quickly learn that the name Sam Choy and poke go hand in chopsticks. He has been an ambassador, a teacher and a representative for 35 years… and to have him present in Seattle (judging, talking story, providing a poke history lesson, snapping photos and even doing a full demo) was something the event attendees will not soon forget. Already a mogul in the culinary world, the city of Seattle was more than prepared to take us on and The Stone House Café hosted the waterfront event.
With cooked food and desserts on the second level, the ground floor spread the chefs front to back, competing for best poke dish. They all had diverse backgrounds and represented both Hawaii and the west coast. Either way you look at it, every single person cooked with skill, thought, creativity and plenty of Aloha. Loa Greyson set the tone with his Hawaiian acoustic set and even Chef David Dekkers’s wife (13 Coins Restaurant) entertained with her graceful hula. With a sold out crowd and hungry judges waiting, the doors opened at six and the chopsticks came out in full force. Tuna, local salmon, yellowtail, octopus, oysters – it didn’t stop. From simple plates to poke three ways, there was no right or wrong answer. It was ALL incredible. But competition is competition and with five incredibly competent and respected judges, the tally sheets eventually came in. Congratulations to those who placed and huge kudos to those who came up just short in the tight competition. Very few points separated all chef participants, so that clearly attests to the skill and creativity from these chefs.
1st Place Kraken Congee – Chef Jeriel Calamayan – Hamachi Poke – poke of fresh Japanese hamachi, kiawe smoke, pickled ginger, sweet onion and calamansi aioli
2nd Place Zarlitos – Chefs Chris Aure and Big Mike – Spicy Garlic Poke – poke of Yellowfin tuna, sesame oil, soy sauce, minced garlic, chili flakes, roasted black sesame seeds, green onions, chili oil, Sriracha sauce and fried crispy garlic
3rd Place Hacking the Dragon at Facebook – Chef Wade Tamura – Poke Three Ways – (1) Poke Bomb: poke of ahi, salmon, cowboy sauce, seaweed salad and tobiko (2) Poke Nachos: base of shrimp chips topped with traditional ahi poke, lime juice and crema (3) Cold-smoked Coconut Poke: ahi, sesame, sea salt, green onion, coconut and cold-smoked shoyu