Southern-style cooking is not common on Kauai, but one kitchen in Kapaa is cooking up a storm with savory recipes from the South.
For years, chef Thomas Fuquay carried a piece of paper in his wallet with the idea of a food truck, called Nom Kauai, written on a piece of paper in his wallet.
He was getting ready to attend culinary school, when his wife Alicia got pregnant and the Central Florida couple moved here 10 years ago to start a family.
“I realized I was gonna be a dad and culinary school is like $40,000,” Fuquay said, “so I needed to work and not go into debt.”
He posted an advertisement looking for partners or investors and found another couple that liked his vision and financially backed the whole thing. He started operating his big red Nom Kauai food truck in Kapaa in the summer of 2015 and ran it for two years before outgrowing the space.
After a year of fundraising, the talented chef bought the couple out of their shares to gain full ownership of the eatery. Through hard work, love, and passion, he won “Tasting Kauai’s 2016 Coconut Cup” cooking competition, beating several seasoned chefs from renowned local restaurants. The success continued when Hawaii Magazine awarded the big red truck as one of Kauai’s best burgers.
Soon the eatery started receiving national attention. Foodie website, Yelp, named Nom Kauai as one of the top 100 places to eat of all the restaurants on their site for 2017.
Then the Food Network contacted Fuquay about being part of their television show, “Cooks vs. Cons,” a cooking competition where dishes are judged without knowing if the creator is a professional cook or not.
The network flew the chef to New York City to film its Season 5: Episode 3 “Meatball Madness,” and he won a $10,000 check for his quality cooking.
With the prize money, he was finally able to fund and open Nom Kauai’s new storefront on Jan. 17 at 4-1101 Kuhio Highway next to Big Save Market in the Kapaa Shopping Center.
“We’re providing Kauai a really new hip local eatery unlike anything this island has to offer,” Fuquay said. “We specialize in Southern comfort food.”
Their tagline is local ingredients with southern roots. Their juicy oversized burgers are in such high demand on weekends, Fuquay takes regular trips to Medeiros Farms in Kalaheo to buy beef.
The eatery gets buns and cinnamon rolls from Passion Bakery Cafe in Kapaa.
“We’ve really taken the Hawaiian aspect and Hawaii ingredients and kinda fused those with recipes my grandmother taught me how to cook,” he said.
The new restaurant is open for breakfast and lunch, as well as Sunday brunch, which has been “insanely busy” Fuquay said.
One of their signature items, selling for $16, is called The Notorios P.I.G., a jalapeno cornbread waffle with a maple-braised pork belly on top.
“We braise the pork for six hours in maple syrup, and we make the waffles from scratch,” Fuquay said.
Another popular dish is his Southern-style biscuits and gravy, smothered in spicy sausage and bacon gravy then topped with two eggs your way for $12. Fuquay arrives to the kitchen at 5 each morning to make about 48 biscuits that last until they sell out.
“I’ve had tourists that come from the South say these are better than their grandmothers’ biscuits,” he added.