Articles from May 2012

Look Who’s Cookin’ at Taste of the Hawaiian Range: Cary Peterson of Kohala Burger and Taco

The Facebook Specials can’t be beat at Kohala Burger & Taco (KBAT). It could be the Sizzlin’ Carne Asada Fajitas or tacos during 2-Fer Tuesday… or the Swizz Burger (original recipe since 1962) or the savory Cowboy Steak Won Ton—all made using grass-fed beef. And don’t forget the cool and refreshing Whip drinks and shakes (even a bacon one)! Chef/owner Cary Peterson is the man behind all the fun and we caught up with him recently at his popular Kawaihae Shopping Center eatery. He also shares the recipes for the yummy “street tacos” and salsa that he served at last year’s Taste.

Second-generation restaurateur

Chef Cary Peterson of Kohala Burger & Taco

Chef Cary Peterson of Kohala Burger & Taco served an easy taco recipe at last year's Taste that included his homemade salsa.

Chef Cary grew up in North Lake Tahoe, Calif. where his family owned a small chain of Mexican restaurants. He started helping out in the kitchen in his early teens and worked for 10 years, learning the ropes of the restaurant biz. Peterson got his first job as chef in 1991 at the former Tres Hombres Beach Grill at Kawaihae Shopping Center. After a nine-year career with one of the nation’s largest restaurant chains, Peterson moved back to his hometown and purchased his childhood haunt, the “World Famous” Char-Pit, which was established in 1962.

The landmark Char-Pit is where Cary “learned the secrets and recipes used to create the nostalgic flavors of the great 50’s-style drive-in burgers and shakes.” He says the menu selections at Kohala Burger & Taco are a reflection of “those truly classic items.”

Kohala Burger & Taco opened in November of 2010. The vision for the restaurant was to “utilize fresh and local ingredients,” especially Hawai’i’s grass-fed beef and the abundance of fresh, line-caught, wild fish.

Chef Cary explains, ” I wanted to create a restaurant that would provide top quality food, great value, and accurate and speedy service. Kohala Burger & Taco is the juncture where my years of Mexican food and hamburger experience meet. Right here at Kawaihae Harbor, where it ALL began…Kawaihae Harbor is the original landing place of the vaquero to Hawai’i. These Mexican Cowboys were brought here in 1823 by King Kamehameha III. They taught Hawaiians the art of cattle ranching. Originally called ‘espanola,’ the Hawaiians pronounced this as ‘paniolo.’ The name stuck, and is the common reference for cowboys in Hawai’I today.”

Q and A

Kohala BurgerQ: Why did you become involved with the culinary arts?
A: I have a passion for food and developing people.

Q: How would you describe your cooking style and please give some examples.
A: Simple and straightforward. I like to cook food people like to eat everyday, not just for a special occasion. I don’t use a lot of herbs or garlic, not that I’m against these; however, I feel the main ingredient should be the main ingredient. Most of my food has only a few ingredients. The key is being precise with the way things are cut and the way flavors go together, while never trying to hide or mask natural flavors.

Q: Why do you use grass-fed beef (GFB)?
A: I strive to leave a small environmental footprint and local beef requires much less energy and resources to process and deliver. I also think the flavor is great for the type of food I do, which is very simple and straightforward. I prefer to use a sweet bun for my burgers and the earthy flavor of the beef goes perfect with it. From a health standpoint, grass-fed beef is a no brainer; it’s antibiotic and hormone free!

Q: What are your favorite GFB cuts and why?
A: I think the tri-tip is a great cut and very versatile; this is what I use for my Sizzlin’ Carne Asada Fajitas.

Q: Do you let patrons know on your menu they are eating GFB?
A: ABSOLUTELY! I’ve built my concept around it!

Q: What other local food products are your favorite and why?
A: We feature various local, line-caught, fresh fish in our fish tacos and we make a hand-cut, local tomato salsa daily.

A: Are you participating in the 2012 Taste?
Q: Yes! This is hands-down the best food event on the island-organized, fun and informative.

Kohala Burger & Taco is located upstairs at Kawaihae Harbor Shopping Center, on the Akoni Pule Hwy. 270, Kawaihae, 808-880-1923,

Grass-Fed Beef Recipe: KBAT Taco Beef & Salsa


Grass-Fed Beef Recipe: KBAT Taco Beef & Salsa

By Cary Peterson
Kohala Burger & Taco, Kawaihae Harbor Shopping Center, Hwy. 270, Kawaihae, 808-880-1923,

Makes 24 Tacos

2.5 lb grass-fed Hawaiian ground beef
1 cup Heinz Ketchup
1/2 t kosher salt
1/2 t ground black pepper
1/2 t garlic powder
1/2 cup McCormick Taco Seasoning
1/2 cup water
1 cup fresh, Pico de Gallo Salsa (recipe below)
24 Big Island Corn Tortillas available at local grocers
Shredded cheddar cheese and lettuce for topping tacos

Place all ingredients, except beef and tortillas, into a heavy saucepan and stir well, making sure all dry ingredients have mixed with wet. Place pan on low heat and slowly add the ground beef crumbling as you go. Once beef is in mixture, simmer and stir often, not allowing meat to stick to pan. Add more water if necessary, while stirring use the backside of the spoon to break up larger pieces of beef. Heat beef until it has reached an internal temperature of at least 180 degrees F. Remove from heat and allow to set for 10 minutes stirring occasionally. (optional: the beef may be blotted with a paper towel to absorb excess oils that may have come to the surface of the meat during set). Heat the tortillas in a heavy skillet and add a large pinch of shredded cheddar cheese, place hot Taco Beef into tortilla, top with shredded lettuce and tomato salsa.

Pico de Gallo Salsa
Makes 4 cups
4 ea medium ripe Hawaiian-grown tomatoes (diced)
1/2 ea medium yellow onion finely diced
1 ea jalapeno pepper
1 ea fresh lime (juice from)
1 ea bunch fresh (rinsed and dried) cilantro
1 T kosher salt

Dice tomatoes and onions and place in a large mixing bowl. Reserve tomato ends for slurry, place tomato ends in food processor or blender.

To make slurry: blister the jalapeno by placing in an oil-lined pan and turning until the skin blisters. Remove the skin and the stem, place in food processor with tomato ends, chop the leaves of the cilantro from the stems (reserve leaves), place stems in food processor with tomato and jalapeno, add the juice of one lime and half the salt. Blend the slurry until it is well combined and liquid, this should be pourable.

Roughly chop the cilantro leaves and combine with tomatoes and onions in large bowl, pour in slurry and stir, add remaining salt. More salt or lime may be added to taste.


Look Who’s Cookin’ at Taste of the Hawaiian Range Ken Takahashi of Honolulu Burger Company

Lollipop, Lollipop, la, la, la lollipop!

Everyone loves flavorful candy on a stick and Ken Takahashi took the treats to a new level with his Burger Pops at last year’s Mealani’s Taste of the Hawaiian Range. Assigned grass-fed burger, Takahashi created something unique and fun to eat while “grazing” at Taste. Chef shares his recipe for making burger “lollipops,” tells how he got into cooking and details his use of grass-fed beef at Honolulu Burger Company.

Chef Ken Takahashi

Chef Ken Takahashi oversees the frying of Burger Lollipops by a Kona HawCC culinary student at last year's Taste.

From Hilo to O’ahu
Born in Sapporo, Japan, Ken arrived in Hilo at the tender age of five in 1967. He attended De Silva Elementary, Waiakea Intermediate and High Schools and graduated from UH Manoa with a BBA in international business. He opened Honolulu Burger Company in 2010 after getting into the culinary arts via restaurant management.

Takahashi explains, “I began in the restaurant business as a part time host at the Hilton Hawaiian Village’s Ajisai-tei restaurant.  There, I learned marketing and front-of-the-house operations, as well as rudimentary kitchen tasks from the chef.  Within a few months, I became marketing/ sales manager and was responsible for also managing their two other restaurants.  In order to effectively oversee the other restaurant operations, I had to learn how to cook and teach kitchen operations and cooking procedures to the culinary staff.  That’s where it all started.  After that, I opened a small hot dog, burritos and gyros stand called the Dog House at the King’s Village Shopping Center.

Besides loving food, Ken enjoys golf. He explains, “At last year’s Taste of the Range, I was able to sneak off with my friends from Hilo and almost finished 17 holes in two hours at Waikoloa Village Golf Club before it poured on us. Then I had to rush back to finish making our burger pops.”

Q and A

Q: How would you describe your cooking style and please give some examples.
A: Chop Suey!  I’m not ashamed to admit that through my career in the restaurant industry, I learned from whomever was willing to teach me.  My mom taught me traditional Japanese home cooking. I learned other cuisines from chefs at different restaurants that I was involved with. I picked up ideas from cookbooks, TV-I was a food network junkie when it first started- and I even learned how to make a great tzatziki sauce from a Greek taxi driver who didn’t like what I was using for my gyros. Finally, I experimented with tastes and ingredients in the kitchen-it was a lot of trial and error.

Q: Why do you use grass-fed beef?
A: At Honolulu Burger Company, our main goal is to use grass-fed beef as hamburger patties for burgers first.  We also started making loco mocos with it as well.  In addition, we use sliced grass-fed sirloin for our Teri and Philly Dip Sandwiches, as well as boneless short ribs and brisket for our braised short rib sandwiches.  I have experimented with mountain oysters but didn’t do too well….

Q. What are your favorite grass-fed beef cuts and why?
A: I really like all the different cuts because of the product quality.

Q: Do you let patrons know on your menu they are eating grass-fed beef?
A: Yes, our business plan revolves around the concept of eating local and grass-fed beef.

Q: What other local food products are your favorite and why?
A: The great thing about Hawai’i is that it is the true melting pot of world cultures, ideas and food!  We have such a diverse food culture that there is always a new favorite for me and it changes all the time.  (that’s why I’m so fat-Iove to eat all the time!)

Q: Are you participating in the 2012 Taste?
A: Yes!

Honolulu Burger Company is located at 1295 S. Beretania St. in Honolulu, 808-626-5202,

Grass-Fed Beef Recipe: Big Island Beef Burger Pops


Grass-Fed Beef Recipe: Big Island Beef Burger Pops

By Ken Takahashi
Honolulu Burger Company, 1295 S. Beretania St., Honolulu, 808-808-626-5202,

Makes 16 Pops
Perfect for parties and pupus

1 lb grass-fed burger (1 oz per pop)
Ingredients for your choice of stuffings (see below suggestions):
– Chopped mushrooms and shredded cheddar cheese
– Chopped jalapenos and shredded cheese
– Crumbled blue cheese and crumbled fried bacon
16 won ton wrappers
16 wooden sticks
Oil for deep frying pops

Get the oil hot in your fryer 350 degrees. Roll 1 oz. of burger around your choice of stuffing combos, covering all the stuffing with burger. Stick the lollipop sticks in the meatball.  Moisten the wrapper edges.  Wrap burger ball in won ton wrapper. Make sure to wrap the won ton pei around the stick and give it a twist to make sure that it adheres to the lollipop stick at its base.  Place the pops, burger side down, in deep fryer basket and lower into deep fryer (try not to get the stick in the oil-to make it easier to handle don’t get oil on the sticks). Fry till golden brown. Raise basket and carefully remove pops and place on paper towels to drain and cool. Serve with bowl of condiments for dipping: mustard, ketchup, mayo, chopped pickle, etc.