Home cooking

WAIPOULI – When Kristen Valenti moved from the Virgin Islands to Kauai 18 years ago, she couldn’t believe the generosity she received from her co-workers and others who barely knew her. They threw her a memorable birthday party, Hawaiian style.

“It was my first birthday here and I couldn’t believe all the food people brought me. People who barely knew me brought me leis and jewelry,” said Valenti. “I had so many flower leis.”

That celebration, held at a local bar that is no longer open, seems like yesterday. It was a first impression that blew her away.

“I couldn’t believe how big the island was compared to St. Thomas,” Valenti said. “And I loved how it was so clean.”

Another birthday party brought her together with her now husband and business partner, Bobby Valenti.

“I didn’t think much of him. It was a casual encounter,” Valenti said. “I’d heard about him, but I didn’t realize I’d marry him.”

She said everybody at first assumed they moved here together because they talk with the same regional accent and are both Italian. Turns out, Kristen grew up in Hopkinton, Mass., at the starting point of the Boston Marathon, and Bobby was raised near the finish line of the race in Waterton. But they shared more than heritage and geographic similarities.

“Being Italian, we’re all about food,” Valenti explained with a laugh.

After a courtship of being wined and dined at numerous Kauai restaurants, because as she put it, he was hoping to impress her, he cooked a meal for her at home.

“He has a killer eggplant recipe,” Valenti said.

He eventually proposed to her in Wailua after a four-month trip through Italy together.

The real reason she married him, she jokes, is his marinara sauce. It is one of a number of family recipes they now use at Bobby V’s the Italian restaurant in Waipouli opened a little over five years ago. The couple now has two children and loves raising them in the Wailua Homesteads, a place they appreciate calling home.

“People who don’t have much will give you the shirt off their back,” Valenti said. “You create your own ohana here. It’s a give and take.”

The giving comes easily for the couple who regularly are able to donate at least a couple thousand dollars a year. Twenty-five percent of restaurant tabs are occasionally set aside for specific sporting and travel opportunities for Kauai children.

“It’s called pay it forward,” Valenti said. “We like doing it for our community; it’s where our kids live. I like to give back. Why not? If you can.”

While it may seem like running a restaurant with her husband is all-consuming, they look forward to their breaks to commune with nature and other families: a recent three-day camping trip to Kokee State Park, for example.

Just like a stereotypical big Italian family they camped with 25 of their closest friends.

But with cooking in their genes, their natural penchant to cook didn’t stop. They prepared pasta primavera for everybody to enjoy under the stars one night.

Turns out, the cooking couple who made a Kauai life together just can’t help themselves.

“We also threw together a tossed green salad.” Valenti said. “Including whatever we could find — everything except the kitchen sink.”

• Lisa Ann Capozzi, features and education reporter, can be reached at 245-0452 or lcapozzi@thegardenisland.com.

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