Friday, November 11, 2011

For APEC 2011, The First Lady's Chef In Hawaii Is Ed Kenney

Mrs. Obama has selected an acclaimed local chef to join her for Summit events. And he's got Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner's stamp of approval, too... 
UPDATE: A post about the First Lady's farm visit IS HERE; a post about the luncheon IS HERE
Hawaiian chef Ed Kenney is so well known that Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner made time to chat with him earlier this week on the sideli
nes of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Honolulu. And Hawaii Governor Neil Abercrombie, a longtime fan, tweeted a photo of Kenney and his crew cooking for an APEC reception. This weekend, First Lady Michelle Obama has invited the chef to be her on-island version of Senior Policy Advisor for Healthy Food Initiatives Sam Kass. Kenney will join Mrs. Obama for two of three APEC events she is hosting, which will take place at two very different farms, and spotlight the Let's Move! campaign. (Above: Gov. Abercrombie looks on as Kenney speaks during the APEC reception, held at Washington Place in Honolulu)

President Obama and M
rs. Obama arrive in Honolulu late on Friday night. Neither Kass nor any of the other White House chefs are traveling to Hawaii for Mrs. Obama's events, an East Wing spokesman told Obama Foodorama. APEC events kickoff on Saturday morning; the President's schedule is here.

Like most of the chefs Mrs. Obama has publicly allied herself with, Kenney has a focus on education and policy as well as cooking. His motto is "local first, organic whenever possible, with Aloha always,” and he's the executive chef and owner of two restaurants in Honolulu, Town and Downtown, and he also runs Uptown, a catering operation. Born on island, Kenney trained at the Culinary Institute of the Pacific. He has received much acclaim for his cooking as well as for his commitment to local sourcing and combating food insecurity through his work with MA'O Organic Farms. Both are key elements of Mrs. Obama's Let's Move! campaign.

On Saturday morning, Kenney will join Mrs. Obama as she tours MA'O, a 24.5 acre certified organic farm located in the Waianae area. It's "the largest Native Hawaiian community in the world and one of the most economically challenged communities in the state," according to the East Wing.* Kenney sits on the farm's advisory board, and sources much of the produce he uses for his restaurants from the 35-45 kinds of fruit and vegetables grown on site. The farm also sells to farmers markets and other restaurants on island.

The operation is run by local youth who participate in the Youth Leadership Training internship, which requires three years of work in exchange for a full tuition waiver at a local community college and a monthly stipend. The young agriculturalists will lead the First Lady on her tour. After, she and Kenney will "sit down" with them "for a conversation about youth leadership, engagement and community responsibility as well as access to healthy, affordable food," according to the East Wing.

Pacific Island natives have one of the highest obesity rates of any population, and yes, Hawaii has food deserts. Eradicating food deserts is a pillar of Mrs. Obama's childhood obesity initiative.

On Sunday, Mrs. Obama has invited the twenty spouses of the APEC Leaders to a farm-to-table luncheon that will be held at the Kualoa Ranch, a 4,000-acre working grass-fed cattle operation on protected land, which has breathtaking mountaintop views of the Pacific. Kenney will cook the luncheon, using fresh produce from MA'O. He'll be assisted by the farm's young interns.

Founded in 1850, Kualoa is also a thriving agritourism venue, offering acivities from the mountaintops to the seaside. Its dramatic scenery has been well-used by Hollywood, most notably for "Jurassic Park" and the long-running TV series "Lost." Before the 11:30 AM luncheon, Mrs. Obama will greet each spouse personally in a formal receiving line. During the luncheon they will be entertained with a musical performance by the Honolulu Boys Choir.

The chef meets the Treasury Secretary...
As for Kenney's tete-a-tete with Sec. Geithner? He's given the chef's culinary skills the official stamp of approval ahead of Mrs. Obama's visit. Kenney tweeted about their meeting earlier this week, in the midst of cooking for multiple APEC events. Geithner is a big fan of organic Hawaiian food, apparently. (Above: Geithner speaking at APEC on Thursday)

"Met Sec. Geitner. Seemed truly interested in how business is going. Loved the @maoorganicfarms veggies, @manaii poi, & @KuahiwiRanch beef," Kenney tweeted (sic).

Translated to non-Twitterese, Geithner "loved" the organic vegetables from MA'O, he "loved" grass-fed beef raised on the Big Island, and he "loved" Poi, a traditional Hawaiian dish made from the taro plant, created by a local food artisan. Each is a likely item on Mrs. Obama's luncheon menu, too.

Geithner will not be attending either of Mrs. Obama's events, an East Wing spokesman told Obama Foodorama. He'll be too busy trying to save the global economy. On Saturday evening, the President and Mrs. Obama will host a reception and dinner for APEC Leaders and guests. It will be at the Hale Koa Hotel, which describes itself as a "72-acre tropical oasis fronting the finest stretch of beach in Waikiki." The dinner program includes remarks by Mr. Obama and "cultural performances."

On Sunday, as part of her Joining Forces campaign, Mrs. Obama will meet military families and speak at a hiring fair sponsored by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for service men and women, veterans and military families on Hickam Air Force Base.

The President was born in Honolulu--something Gov. Abercrombie himself vowed to prove earlier this year, before Mr. Obama's long-form birth certificate was released. The President also attended school in Honolulu for part of his boyhood. The First Family spends Christmas vacation in the town of Kailua each year, which is located across the island of Oahu from Honolulu.

Mrs. Obama has hosted two previous farm-to-table events for spouses of world leaders. In 2010, she welcomed the spouses of UN General Assembly members to New York's Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture Center, where they took a farm tour and had lunch at Blue Hill resturant, cooked by chef Dan Barber and the White House chefs. During the 2009 Pittsburgh G20 Summit, Mrs. Obama hosted a farm-to-table dinner for spouses at Teresa Heinz Kerry's Rosemont Farm. Both events spotlighted local, organic and sustainably grown ingredients.

*Honolulu Civil Beat disputes the White House assertion that Waianae is "the largest Native Hawaiian community in the world," and says this is "half true."

*Top photo by Ed Morita/Nonstop Honolulu; second by Eddie Gehman Kohan/Obama Foodorama; third by AP