Right now, chefs across the island are busy prepping dishes for an event that will bring together 26 restaurants, a mix of big hitters like d.k Steak House and Roy’s Waikiki, alongside neighborhood favorites like 12th Ave Grill and Side Street Inn. The eateries certainly are varied, but for this particular event — Empty Bowl Hawaii 2015 — they’re connected in their dedication to benefit Hawaii Meals on Wheels.
Empty Bowl Hawaii is the local initiative of the Empty Bowls Project, an international effort to raise awareness and funds to fight hunger. Created by an arts nonprofit in Michigan in the 1990s, Empty Bowl was launched locally through Hawaii Potters’ Guild (HPG) in 2009. This year’s event is from 6 to 9 p.m., Saturday, April 11, at 445 + 449 Cooke St. in Kakaako.
“The event brings the community together,” explains HPG member Tricia Beaman, who is an Empty Bowl volunteer organizer. “It reminds them that there are always empty bowls in the world and people who need our help and compassion.”
For $20 (or $25 at the door), you get, as Beaman likes to phrase it: “one soup bowl and one bowl of soup.” First, you select a bowl — from a collection of 5,000 — hand-crafted by HPG artists. Then, in what has to be an equally difficult decision, you can pick your soup from the 26 participating restaurants. To complement your soup, bread will be donated by Halekulani, La Tour Bakehouse, Hawaii Star Bakery and Liliha Bakery.
Throughout the years, Empty Bowl Hawaii has benefitted various local organizations that tackle hunger, including Hawaii Foodbank and River of Life Mission. With the goal of helping individuals maintain independence while accessing nutritious food, Hawaii Meals on Wheels delivers hot meals directly to the homes of those in need.
“We really just love the mission of Hawaii Meals on Wheels,” Beaman says. “They serve all sorts of people who are in need, from the elderly to people with special needs.”
When Empty Bowl Hawaii first launched, HPG wasn’t prepared for the kind of turn-out it had: They quickly sold out of the bowls they’d made.
Beaman is quick to note that the success of Empty Bowl is not just because of HPG — it’s a community effort.
“For potters,” Beaman explains, “we can make something, which is something that we love to do anyway. And in the end, you see (the event) filled up with people who want to come down and help.”
To create the impressive collection of bowls, it had help from local high school students, who joined them in “throw-a-thons,” in which a group of potters gathers to compete to make the most bowls in a set amount of time.
In conjunction with the event, bowls created by the students — along with a number of local artists — will be for sale at Neiman Marcus at Ala Moana Center in its gift gallery on the third floor. Pieces are available from March 26 to April 12, and all proceeds benefit Empty Bowl. (Student works also will be for sale at Empty Bowl.)
“These are pieces the public can hand pick and use every day to remind them they were a part of something that brought sustenance and comfort to thousands of others,” says Denise Luke of 12th Ave Grill, one of the participating restaurants.
The culinary industry has been a large part of Empty Bowl since the start —and support has grown with the fundraiser.
“What is really exciting is that there is a breadth of everything, from vegetarian places to supermarkets to really high-end restaurants,” Beaman says.
“We always get more and more restaurants that want to participate — and step up their game with their soups,” she continues. “I think a lot of the chefs really see this as an opportunity — they can be a little bit more flexible and try something different.”
One dish Beaman is particularly excited about, for example, is Street Grindz’s Smokey Chili with Venison, which features slow-cooked Maui Nui venison with herbs and spices.
Another dish includes Pozole from Cocina.
“Pozole is a traditional soup from the Americas,” Cocina owner Danny Kaaialii explains. “With corn being heavily used in the Americas, it has corn, and the base is always a meat stock — pork, beef or chicken. And then there is hominy and fresh vegetables.”
Cocina doesn’t serve soup at its Kakaako restaurant, so Empty Bowl represents a rare opportunity to try Pozole.
For its contribution, Michel’s at the Colony Surf also has chosen a dish that’s not on its menu: Roasted Island Tomato Soup, which it occasionally runs as a special.
“It’s a very simple soup — with island-grown ingredients, including carrots, onions, celery and beets,” says Michel’s executive chef Eberhard “Hardy” Kintscher.
“And we use island-grown tomatoes and roast them until they really sweeten up.”
12th Ave Grill offers Shinsato Farms Pork, Mushroom and Watercress Soup, comprised mainly of roasted, close-to-the-bone meat (“which has the deepest flavor,” Luke explains) braised with bay leaf, peppercorns, onions and ginger, and combined with alii and crimini mushrooms, fresh water-cress, celery and garlic.
While Empty Bowl is a chance for restaurants to showcase items that may not be on their regular menus, collectively, their desire to get involved seems to stem from another goal.
Monica Toguchi, owner of Highway Inn, which offers Smoked Kalo Chowder, neatly sums it up: “Most restaurants have a very simple goal when it comes to the execution of their food: To make people smile. If Highway Inn can participate in a worthy cause, become an active member in the communities we serve, and make people smile, the hard work and contribution would have made our participation a worthwhile endeavor.”
“(12th Ave Grill) chef/ owner Kevin Hanney and executive chef (Jason) J. Schoonover have always been eager to participate in events that might move Hawaii forward food wise,” Luke says. “They have never forgotten that this includes the needs of those families who have to think about nutrition and other basics of day-to -day living. It starts with food security for all.”
For more information about Empty Bowl Hawaii or to purchase tickets, call Hawaii Meals on Wheels at 988-
6747 or visit emptybowlhawaii.org.
Here’s a list of participating restaurants and their soups:
12th Ave Grill
Shinsato Farms Pork, Mushroom and Watercress Soup
Alan Wong’s Pineapple Room
Cream of Mushroom
Hearty Chicken Tortilla Soup
California Pizza Kitchen
Dakota Smashed Pea with Barley Soup
d.k Steak House
King Natural Meatball Soup
Great Life Cuisine
The Great Life Soup
Highway Inn Kakaako
Smoked Kalo Chowder
Hula Grill Waikiki
Hawaiian Style Gumbo
JJ Bistro & FrenchPastry
Cream of Potato
Mariposa at Neiman Marcus
Mariposa Corn Chowder
Michel’s at the Colony Surf
Roasted Island Tomato Soup
MISSION by Pili Group
Nilagang Baka Mazemen
Murphy’s Bar & Grill
Black-eye Pea with Ham Hock
Nico’s Pier 38
Island Style Bouillabaise
Kim Chee Soup
Creamy Smoked Manhattan Clam Chowder
Side Street Inn
Portuguese “Beanless” Soup
Smokey Chili with Venison
Contemporary Caf Hearty Garden Vegetable
The Pig & the Lady
Mama Le’s Beef and Jasmine Rice Soup
Tiki’s Grill & Bar
Mama’s Thai Coconut Chicken Curry
Roasted Vegetables and Grains
Whole Foods Market
Kahala Thai Carrot Ginger Soup