All in the Family
Promoting Hawaiian poke with a smile
Posted on May 11, 2017
Creating connections is everything to San Diego native Nino Camilo. The coffee enthusiast, marketer for King’s Hawaiian rolls, and founder of the I Love Poke Festival (now in its eighth year) and the blog Ono Yum, credits connections as the inspiration for all of his culinary projects. For example, drinking coffee is all about the communal experience. Hawaiian food? That’s all about backyard parties and gathering with loved ones.
As for poke, the classic Hawaiian dish of marinated and chopped fresh fish served with rice, Camilo says there are really two different kinds: Hawaiian poke and mainland poke. “I’ve separated the two — a high percentage of what’s being served outside of Hawaii is different — it’s not the same experience, not ordered the same way,” he explains. “In Hawaii, you get poke by the pound and it’s an everyday street food from the local market, superette, or mom-and-pop shop. Even if there are ten different varieties, each appeals to the local palate, with Hawaiian ingredients. Here, it’s more of a trendy, specialty item and it’s changed a lot, which is OK. There’s room for both. It’s like what happened to Chinese or Mexican food in the United States.”
For Camilo, the most important component of poke is the freshness of the ingredients. “If it’s mainland poke and the fish is fresh, that’s really delicious, and speaks to the true spirit of the dish,” he says. High quality ingredients and execution are what Camilo looks for when finding chefs for the three-hour long I Love Poke Festival, which always takes place on a Tuesday in May at Bali Hai in San Diego and also features island-inspired desserts and music. At this year’s event on May 23, visitors can expect creations from Herb & Eatery, Herringbone, Tidal, Ironside, and Toronado, as well as returning champions Sushi on a Roll.
Camilo says the festival is starting to become known more as a potluck, but all of the people coming just happen to be chefs — many of whom come to compete year after year. “It’s like when your friend throws a party and it becomes an annual thing. You look for the same familiar faces and good food and look forward to meeting more cool people. We find that the people who come have the same heart as those who cook at it: they just want to have a good time.” An annual event that features fresh fish and that kind of ethos? That’s something anyone can get behind. onoyum.com Jackie Bryant
Photography by Kai Diaz