We head out to sea and spend the next four hours sailing between Maui’s Pali Lookout and the island of Kaho‘olawe, drifting over coral reefs. Schools of fish show up as colorful, abstract art on the fish-finder Doppler radar screen. Onboard, the action is constant: we drop our lines into calm seas, and reel in fish with shouts of “Over here!” “Fish on!” and “Help me, Mike!” And also, “I think my line is stuck on the reef.” We guests have been advised to bring our own snacks and drinks, and all through the morning, I hear cans of beer and soda popped open and chips being munched on.
At eleven thirty, as we head back to Mā‘alaea, Mike lays out the fish for photos and fileting. I’m surprised when we count our catch and see that we’ve landed more than three dozen! The fish are beauties — canary yellow with turquoise stripes — and Mike brings up the subject of gyotaku, the Japanese art of inking fish and pressing their images onto paper. “We work with a fish printer, if anyone is interested,” he says, and one couple opts in. Approaching the harbor, we marvel at the lush green vista seen from this makai (ocean) perspective, and I eagerly anticipate the sea- and farm-to-table dinner Chef Hiram will prepare.
It’s early afternoon when Hiram and I reach my home on Maui’s north shore, along with Kelly and his wife — who is also named Kelly. We watch attentively as Hiram cleans and scores the ta’ape. He says, “I lean more toward cooking with Mediterranean flavors, so I made a Moroccan chermoula [sauce] and a macadamia-nut purée to accompany the fish. It’s made with fresh herbs from my garden, and we sourced some veggies from the Upcountry Farmers Market and from Becky’s garden.” I dip a spoon into the chermoula. Mmm-mm. The fresh, bright flavors of parsley and preserved Meyer lemon sing on my tongue, layered with salty anchovies and sweet, herbaceous olive oil. Hiram gathers and strips the leaves from the branches of a katuk plant (a Malaysian sweet-pea-flavored leafy green), and with a mandolin, slices paper-thin sheaths of ivory cassava root from my garden.
Kelly — Monroe’s brother — has been piloting boats since his high school days. He’s a walking encyclopedia of fishing, and enlightens us on the habits of ta’ape. “One life-saving trait of the fish is that they come together to form a massive wall when under attack by predator fish . . . all their stripes align” and the attacker can’t distinguish where each individual fish begins and ends.
Mise en place ready, Hiram cheerfully sears the whole ta’ape in hot olive oil, and soon the white meat flakes from the bones when pierced with a fork. He places the fish atop the macadamia nut purée and dapples it with the chermoula. I taste a dollop, and applaud Hiram’s culinary prowess. He has been a private chef on Maui since 2011 —though it took a while for him to get here. Born in Israel, he moved to New Jersey with his family when he was ten years old, later graduated from the Central Oregon Culinary Institute in Bend, and became a chef in Portland. These days, he stays busy cooking for a loyal clientele in their homes, sometimes for a single meal, sometimes for weeks.
The dish is beyond our expectations, and we all agree that this is the perfect preparation for a reef fish that is normally under-valued and underused. As Hiram accepts our praise, we see the potential for future dishes . . . and for decreasing ta’ape’s invasive presence in Hawai‘i waters.
Maui Fun Charters
Mā‘alaea Harbor, Slip #97
10 Mā‘alaea Harbor Road, Mā‘alaea
808-572-2345 | MauiFunCharters.com
Chef Hiram G. Peri / Honu Cuisine
808-633-6533 | HonuCuisine.com