Categorized | Featured, Food

Catching up with Chef Sam Choy

Sam Choy and his Pineapple Express truck in Los Angeles. (Photo courtesy of Sam Choy)

Hawaii 24/7 Staff

Chef Sam Choy recently took time out of his busy schedule to chat with Hawaii 24/7 and share some of his thoughts and philosophies, as well as what he has been up to over the summer.

Q. Aloha, Sam. Thanks for taking the time to update Hawaii 24/7 on your recent adventures. You appeared as the celebrity chef at last month’s Breadfruit Goes Bananas Festival here in Kona. How did you find the experience?

A. It went great – the attendees loved it! It is amazing how adored breadfruit is, and learning more of the history behind its significance was very enlightening. Breadfruit is an indigenous ingredient in Hawaii, and it is important to showcase its versatility and teach people the different ways you can cook it – from breadfruit flan to chowder – the possibilities are endless.

Q. Ulu is making something of a comeback on local menus. Have you been a breadfruit fan? What’s your favorite way to prepare it?

A. I’ve always been a fan of breadfruit – I will use it in lieu of potato in “potato” salad, to thicken and enrich soups and stews, turn it into a hash, or even fry up chips and use them to dip in poke or guacamole!

Q. Actually, the whole Big Island has been catching on to the farm-to-table trend. Not just restaurants and chefs, but schools are starting gardens and many residents are seeking out local produce at farmers markets? As a chef, how does that make you feel?

A. I feel like the farm-to-table trend can’t catch on in Hawaii, as it has always been a way of life! There is so much history with huge plantations on the Islands, and because we came from that mentality, and having so much of the population being plantation workers – we’ve never lost the importance of that way of life. I think it’s amazing to see all of the cultural groups that embody Hawaii growing their own produce and representing the cuisines they identify with.

Q. You’ve been busy. How’s the LA Pineapple Express truck doing? Can you explain the whole concept?

A. Pineapple Express is great! I was inspired by the old Lunch Trucks on the North Shore – which were really at the height of popularity in the 60’s and 70’s, and really helped to shape Hawaii’s culinary backbone. I saw this resurgence happening on the mainland, in Los Angeles more than anywhere else, and wanted to get in on the action. Pineapple Express is way to introduce my Hawaiian Heritage cuisine to a new public, and the goal is to provide them with restaurant quality food that speaks to the food on the islands, and gives a sense of the ‘Island Way Of Life.’

Q. You were on TV recently. How was that experience?

A. “Chopped: Grilling All-Stars” was an amazing experience for me. The show really looks at food on a national level, and provides chefs a chance to take risks, pair interesting ingredients together, and be adventurous. It really motivated me and inspired me to look at Hawaiian food from a completely different level.

Q. And how is your Keauhou restaurant doing? Hard to believe it’s been open a whole year already!

A. It’s doing wonderfully! I remember reading a Zagat guide years ago, and hearing the view being called “one of the best on the island.” We were lucky to take over the location, and we work hard to maintain the service, food and consistency to match the magnitude and beauty of the view the restaurant has!

Q. You’ve usually got so many things going on, it’s hard for us to keep up. Got any other projects coming up – books, TV appearances, food products that will be available in local stores? Fill us in …

A. I have a lot going on, actually. I’ll be starring on Food Network’s “Best Thing I Ever Made” this month, and I’m in the process of launching a new frozen food line. I’ll also be looking to expand the Pineapple Express food truck, and continue to build upon my brand. We’ve got some exciting catering opportunities with Pineapple Express bringing full scale luaus home for the holidays, and I’m excited to be bringing the Aloha Spirit to people’s houses and offices!

Q. Can we back up a little bit and get you tell us how a young boy from Oahu grows up to be THE Sam Choy?

A. A lot of hard work! I didn’t really realize what I had accomplished until I started to receive awards. Growing up on the North Shore my parents educated us and exposed us to food at a younger age. Having that instilled so young, and finding something I was passionate about really allowed me to fuel my confidence and have respect for food. I’ve always believed in simplicity and allowing the ingredients to speak for themselves.

Q. As a youngster, what inspired you to get into the kitchen? Who inspired you?

A. My parents always supported me and inspired me to cook. They taught me the importance of food, and I’ve never forgotten those principles that they shared.

Q. What do consider to be your greatest accomplishments – both personally and professionally?

A. Personally, it’s being married for all these perfect years! Professionally, it was being awarded the American Heritage Award from James Beard.

Q. If you retired tomorrow, what would be your ideal day be like?

A. I’d still be cooking! I don’t think I will ever stop cooking, if I retired I would probably start all over again!

— To keep up with Sam Choy’s Pineapple Express and see where they are headed and opening next, visit:

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