First participating in Taste as a high school culinary student volunteer in 2004, local girl Korie Nazara returns this October as a participating chef with Mahina Café. Nazara says the Captain Cook, HI restaurant uses grass-fed beef because of personal preference and they “support local and buy local.” She explains, “After you eat a meal with grass-fed beef, you don’t feel all heavy,” she says. “You feel good. It’s better for you.”
Roots in Family Businesses
Chef Nazara says her interest in preparing food “all began” when she was 10 and worked with her parents in the family’s former business, Chris’ Bakery, a South Kona establishment known for its warm and delicious malasadas. “I always had a love for food and when I needed an elective at Konawaena High School (KHS), I signed up for culinary arts and ended up really liking it.”
Credits Konawaena High Culinary Teacher
Under the tutelage of then KHS culinary arts instructor Patti Kimball, Nazara excelled in the food science curriculum. She participated and placed in statewide culinary contests, like the Hawaii Family, Career and Community Leaders of America cooking competition. She also enjoyed vying in the Hilo Culinary Classic and local, food-related events like Taste.
“Korie is one of those persons who’s driven to achieve,” says Kimball, owner of Kimball’s Catering. “She is a hard worker and was one of my best students.”
Even though Nazara was offered jobs by local chefs, she followed her sister to college in Washington. Majoring in business, the teen attended St. Martin’s University for a year, but “got homesick” and returned to Kona. Two years ago, she opened Mahina’s Café with family members.
“Though I have no college culinary experience, I learned a lot in high school,” notes Nazara. “The majority of things I know I learned from Patti Kimball and I’m very appreciative.” Korie adds that she enjoys baking and Mahina’s bakes its own Portuguese sweet bread, focaccia bread, traditional malasadas, pastries and specialty cakes. She learned the art of making specialty cakes and cupcakes as a high school senior when she helped her uncle make wedding and birthday cakes. She likes working with fondant, buttercream and other icings.
Q: How would you describe your cooking style and please give some examples.
A: I call it local fusion. I like to stick to what local residents like but I’m not afraid to try something new. I created a pulled beef sandwich using brisket that’s slow cooked in the crockpot. I put apples on the bottom, rub the meat with seasoning, put in fresh rosemary and add apple juice and it cooks six hours or so until it falls apart. We put it on our bun, serve it with our homemade barbecue sauce and cole slaw, and run it as a special. A sign on the side of the road advertises the specials.
Q: Why do you use grass-fed beef (GFB)?
A: We support local and buy local, so buying strictly Big Isle grass-fed beef simply makes sense. There are no hormones and antibiotics and it’s easy for your digestive system. It’s better for you. We realized that personally.
Q: What are your favorite GFB cuts and why?
A: A lot of people don’t use the knuckle cut; we use it for making teri beef and our french dip sandwiches. (Beef knuckle originates from the round primal cut and is also called a sirloin tip roast or french roll roast. It is sourced for stir frys and stroganoff.) We use a meat slicer to thinly cut the raw beef and then we simmer it in our teriyaki sauce—a family recipe. For the french dip, we roast the knuckle first, and then slice it.
Q: Do you let patrons know they are eating GFB?
A: Yes, it’s on the menu.
Q: What other local food products are your favorite and why?
A: Our motto is ‘farmer, rancher, fisherman fresh.’ We use as much local product as possible and source most of our produce from the wide, local selection at Adaptations here in Kona. All the fish we serve is caught in our Kona waters and we buy it direct from our local fishermen.
Q: What are your favorite “fun” things to do here in Hawai‘i?
A: I have two young boys—ages 2 and 4—and I like to spend my free time with them. We go to the park, the beach.
Mahina Café is located at 82-6123 Mahalahoa Hwy., Captain Cook, HI. 808-323-3200. Open 7 a.m.-5 p.m. daily.