Back to his roots

Ed Kenney says one of his fondest memories growing up on Kauai was eating poi.

“As a child, I couldn’t get enough,” said Kenney, a Hawaii restaurateur and host of “Family Ingredients,” a television show on PBS that tells the stories of Hawaii’s multi-ethnic traditions through food.

The inaugural episode, airing Wednesday, tells Kenney’s story, the history behind poi, its different varieties and various ways the Hawaiian staple is prepared on Kauai and Oahu.

“In some of the other episodes, we traveled far, but this one we traveled to Kauai where my family is from,” he said. “My dad spent most of his youth growing up (there). As a child, he would take me back there every chance we could.”

The show highlights food made of simple ingredients and tells the stories of the people who grew them.

“If you got really good fish, if you got really good tomatoes, if you got really good ulu, you don’t have to do anything to them,” he said. “For me, all these stories and all these people we met along the way, that’s what all these episodes is all about.”

Kenney, who lives on Oahu and owns four restaurants, pointed out a couple of revelations while filming the poi episode on the island: like his visit to the ahupua‘a (land division) of Waipa on the north shore.

“We’re driving past Hanalei. As we drive past a house, I see the big sign: Waipa. We make a U-turn, we go back,” he said. “That house used to be my uncle Kaipo and aunty’s house. Turns out, she was my grandmother’s sister. I had no idea going to Waipa that was the same place I grew up in as a kid.”

The nostalgia engulfed Kenney, who recognized the inside configuration of the house as well as its familiar scent.

“As a child — being a city boy — I looked forward going in there all the time,” he said. “My family is actually from Anahola, so we spent a lot of time in Anahola right on the river: Fishing, catching opae, Samoan crab out of the river.”

Another moment for the restaurateur was a trip across the island after taking part in community poi day in Hanalei.

“Everybody got together and cooked the kalo over open fire, talked story and cleaned kalo, run it through the mill and delivered kalo from Hanalei to Waimea side,” he said. “In Waimea, you get all the Hawaiians from Niihau, and they’re all speaking old Hawaiian. I had never experienced that. That was heavy.”

Because the episode features Kenney and his roots growing up on Kauai, he brought along his wife and children.

“There’s an old church above Anahola. My whole family — going back five generations — is all buried in,” he said. “We went up there with my dad. To be able to hear his stories about the family and for my kids to see it, it was incredible. It’s something that my kids will never forget.”

“Family Ingredients” airs at 7:30 p.m. on PBS Hawaii.


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