Posted: 6 months ago Quote
Rain or shine, the chef sources ingredients for his pop-up restaurant, Na‘au. It’s all part of his mission to preserve the island’s vanishing foodways for future generations.

Brian Hirata grabs his well-worn serrated machete and heads into the dense, soupy rainforest. He scans the wild terrain, covered with evergreen shrubs, moss-carpeted trunks, and gnarled native ʻōhiʻa trees. A cluster of 12-foot-tall giant ferns, with coiled fiddle heads the size of walking sticks, catches his eye. “My family harvested these when I was growing up,” says Hirata, as he gently saws a fiddle head from each fern. “This ingredient we call hāpu‘u was very common and prevalent in Hawai‘i just two generations ago.”

Deep in a lush forest in Mountain View, a tiny rural town between Hilo and Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park on the island of Hawai‘i, Hirata is foraging for hāpu‘u for his upcoming pop-up dinner at the Anna Ranch Heritage Center in Waimea, a breezy cattle ranch town on the northside of the island. The wild ingredients harvested for this dinner are part of Hirata’s efforts to highlight the importance of native plant and sea life and preserve native cooking traditions, which are both at risk of becoming obsolete. “We live in one of the most isolated land masses in the entire world,” Hirata says. “And there are unique things that grow here that don’t exist anywhere else.”