BLOG Kauai Food Blog by Chef Leo

At 4 years old, I loved to eat and explore the refrigerator, putting my fingers into all the food I could find, especially. . . the sweets. I’ve always had a lot of energy so my mom keeps me busy and out of trouble by having me help her in the kitchen. Most days you could find me mashing potatoes, whipping cream, whisking egg whites, making flan and the most important thing, making bread. Playing in the dirt and getting dirty was one of my other favorite things but my mom wasn’t too happy because I would always ruin my clothes. Still...she loved me. Playing with dough was a good compromise for both of us. She would put a stool up for me to reach the counter, leave the ingredients, and leave me by myself to learn. I would have so much fun mixing it for hours trying to get the feel for it; if the dough is too wet, it will stick in your fingers and the bread won’t rise. If the dough is too dry, it won’t rise and it will be really hard in the ‘bite'. When you grab a little piece of dough and mash it in your fingers, it has to ‘pop'. She would come back and check and let me know if it was ready or not so ready. I would work and work, my little fingers feeling for that perfect consistency and patiently listening for where the dough ‘pops’.

At 20 years old, I was living on the beach and running my own restaurant in a beach town in Uruguay. I thought I was living ‘da life’ until I learned of Kauai. I didn’t have a real sense of the place but when I was called, something told me to go and within 24 hours and through a series of fortunate and unexpected events, I had a ticket in my hand. I wasn’t prepared really well for what I was about to get into but I think I adapted very quickly. I arrived in Lihue with $350 in my pocket, no English, 1 backpack and no idea where I was going. Thankfully, I did have a friend that was waiting to pick me up; my knowledge of maps and internet was kinda rough at the time so I would have been totally lost. He picked me up and we bought a tent and sleeping bag and we drove at night to the North Shore. Kauai is completely black at night so all I know is that we’re going north but I can’t see any of the island. I slept over at Anini Beach Park and when I woke up, I thought I was in Heaven. The same day we went to surf Waikoko’s and I got to see Hanalei for the first time. 

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People will laugh at me because I’m always washing out plastic Ziplock bags but I believe in the expression, waste not, want not. The earth gives us so much that it is only right and fair for us to give what we can. Reducing waste is one of the easiest ways to do this; conserve the limited resources that keep us all breathing fresh air, surfing in clean water, and enjoying good food. Here are some of my tricks to catering with zero waste: 
1) As I’ve mentioned, wash and reuse plastic bags and containers 
2) Wash and reuse bottles 
3) Collect food scraps from the kitchen and turn them into compost 
4) Persuade people at each event to use real plates, cups, and silverware (nothing disposable or plastic) 
5) Setup a system and train workers to use as little water as possible washing dishes; don't use the dishwasher

6) Buy locally at farmer’s markets and from bulk sections of the health food store to minimize packaging and transport costs

7) Use cloth towels, not paper towels, wash and reuse them and dry them on bamboo racks to save on the energy from dryers
I apply the same rules to my home as I do for my business. In my backyard, the daily routine involves taking the food scraps, adding yard waste, turning it and turning it until over time, about 8-12 months, it becomes "food for the food” and is added to the soil for the base of a beautiful garden.  I’m not at 100% zero waste but I try my best to get closer and closer. If we all try a little, it adds up to a lot.

I’m very careful about creating teams or ‘crews’ as they’re called in the catering industry. I can train anyone to do the tangible work in the kitchen, cutting, chopping, washing, serving, etc. but each individual has very different ’soft' skills so most of the time, I will start a new worker at a big event with lots of support and I will get a feeling for how he or she works in the group. The next step is to have them work a few days in a small event, just me and that worker, so I can tune in with how efficient he or she can be. I have high expectations for quality and customer service but working for me is not so difficult. I think of myself as a teacher and the best teachers help their students remember the lessons by making it fun. I try to keep things fun and light by cracking jokes, ’talking story’ and showing I care by learning myself. I am constantly learning about the personalities of my workers.

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