For the past few years I’ve been taking some pre-Christmas vacation time in Hawaii. I call it a vacation but I usually find some sort of story of interest to folks back home. This year is no exception, so I talked to David Lennam of All Points West this afternoon from Kona, on the big island of Hawaii.
This year I caught up with a fellow Vancouver Island foodie named Connor Butler. He was born in Bremerton, Washington but moved to Nanaimo when he was young as his father was stationed with the U-S Navy at the Nanoose Bay Maritime Testing Facility. When he graduated from high school he trained as a chef in what was then known as the Malaspina College Culinary Arts program. I met him in Vancouver while he was running his own restaurant on Granville Street, but after the restaurant closed I lost track of him until I discovered he was here through a mutual friend via Facebook, of course.
Connor gave up his restaurant just before the 2010 Olympics when the landlord tried to jack up his rent, and was kind of down on the way the restaurant industry was abusing its ingredients via sustainability in the ocean and on land, and moved to the BC interior, where he and his wife spent a year basically living off the land, growing, hunting, fishing, while he was learning how to make wine. They came back to Vancouver where he was a consultant to a new restaurant and then came The Moment. “I hit this wall of drinking great coffee every day, and thinking, ‘I’m never going to be able to grow this here!’ But my wife and I had been to Hawaii before, the big island, and we decided to come back and continued to fall in love with the place. I want to have a farm, and grow coffee beans and all the other great stuff you can grow here, lemons, ginger, sugar cane, and even tomatoes at higher elevation.”
But he’s not a farmer yet, still a chef. Has to build up the nest egg to purchase the ten acres of land he wants to farm. So after a few months of getting to know the lay of the land he found a job as the executive chef at a popular café here in Kona. His wife, who has a background in the finance end of restaurants, also found a good job, but like most chefs, Connor was always looking for another opportunity. He found it just down the street at the Daylight Mind Coffee Company. It’s funny, because last year when my wife and I were here we walked through this unused part of an open air mall that sits right on the ocean with a more than 180-degree view and we remarked how it was a waste of beautiful space. I guess the owners had the same idea, and with Connor’s help, have created a complex where although the focus is on coffee, they roast their own beans, it’s also a bakery, a pastry shop, a bistro, and soon to become a coffee education centre as well for up and coming baristas and the general public.
Connor told me he really used the brewpub or winery cafe model when he was helping develop the idea for Daylight Mind. Something that has a focus, in this case coffee, but can branch out in many different ways.
The food is delicious. Connor has built a high-tech kitchen which eliminates the traditional grills and griddles and deep fryers and uses a combination of induction stovetops, sous vide and an amazing oven that can bake pizzas or roast a hamburger to perfection. The burger I had the other day was made using grass-fed beef from the big island, and for breakfast I had a Kona Kine Benedict, that’s a nod to good old fashioned smoking of pork shoulder, which Connor handles with a smoker on the rooftop of the building. Even the edamame, or boiled soybeans are done with a twist by adding some pickled daikon radish and passion fruit pulp in the dressing. As for the coffee, I spent some time with Alexis Hide, who was hired from the U.S mainland to come and run the roasting and coffee programs. Even though this island is rife with coffee plantations, she thinks there is a lot of room to make a better final product here.
I’m bringing some of Alexis’ espresso roast home with me, and some of Connor’s granola and some other Hawaiian goodies that might make it to the CBC office next year. Happy Holidays to everyone out there, and I’ll be back with you in the New Year.