The Blue Tomato - Cookbook Review
The Inspirations Behind the Cuisine of Alan Wong
By Alan Wong
More than just a cookbook and certainly not just a collection of recipes, The Blue Tomato is an approach to cooking characterized by creativity and innovation. The title comes from one of the many anecdotes that chef Alan Wong tells in order to illustrate his culinary philosophy. When he was teaching a school class about you could make different colored ketchups out of different colored tomatoes, like yellow and green tomatoes, one boy asked Wong about blue ketchup. Wong said that with blue tomatoes blue ketchup is certainly possible. He relates the anecdote to illustrate the importance of thinking outside the box. "It's my hope that if we can arm kids with information and a heightened awareness," writes Wong, "they will realize that the possibilities before them are endless."
Wong is an extraordinary chef and educator — culinary activist even — who works tirelessly to promote Hawaii's regional cuisine and local farmers. He is a 1996 James Beard award winner, served as a judge on "Top Chef" and has made guest appearances on the Food Network, the Travel Channel and PBS. He worked at The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, Lutèce in New York City and The CanoeHouse on the big island of Hawaii before opening his eponymous Alan Wong's Restaurant (now Alan Wong's Honolulu) in 1995 and The Pineapple Room four years later. In 2009, Barack Obama invited Wong to bring Hawaiian cuisine to The White House for the annual Congressional Picnic. The Blue Tomato is Wong's second cookbook, following on from the success of New Wave Luau (2003).
Besides numerous anecdotes drawn from his experience as an educator and restaurateur and features on local farmers and regional dishes, The Blue Tomato provides recipes for 70 dishes from Wong's own restaurants. Most are beautifully illustrated with full-page color photographs; some of the cooking techniques and processes are similarly illustrated. The recipes themselves are often quite complex, with multiple components, yet the resulting Nouvelle Cuisine-inspired dishes are miniscule. They're more small plates, whose presentation can be admired, whose taste can be savored and whose craftsmanship can be wondered at, than dishes to fill up on. Wong's Spaghetti and "Meatballs" (made with Ahi tuna), for example, consists of only a handful of artfully arranged morsels on a long plate smeared with various sauces.
The seven chapters of The Blue Tomato comprise Appetizers, Ahi and Ceviches, Soups and Salads, Fish, Shellfish, Meats and Poultry and Next! Featured recipes include appetizers such as Kona Lobster on Old-Fashioned Cream Corn and "Duck Rumaki" with Chiptole Miso, Ka'u Oranges and Angel Hair Pasta; salads like Roasted Beet, Tomato and Avocado Salad with Li Hing Mui Dressing and Alaskan King Crab and Manila Clams with Sunomono Salad; and meat dishes such as Sweet Sour Crispy Pork Belly with Pineapple Gastrique and Soy-Braised Kalbi Short Ribs with Gingered Shrimp and Koo Choo Jang Sauce. The final chapter entitled Next! features recipes created by members of Wong's staff, including the book's only dessert and cocktail recipes. A magnificently produced book, Alan Wong's The Blue Tomato is a testament to the culinary riches of the Aloha State.
Reviewed by Barnaby Hughes