Eva Knott 10:44 a.m., May 18
Chatting with Nino Camilo, Founder of San Diego's I Love Poke Festival
2012 has been a Hawaiian kind of year for me. In February, I spent five days on the Big Island and in April, I spent five days in Maui. A few things have changed about me since then:
I giddily, say “Hey, Bruddah!” to anyone wearing Tommy Bahama clothing. "Hey, Brah," if I know him already.
I have admitted that I like Spam and haven’t been ostracized by my food writer friends. Yet.
I've been giving shakas (the hang loose sign) freely around town.
I’ve met Nino Camilo, the charismatic founder of San Diego’s I Love Poke Festival, which will take place for the third consecutive year on Wednesday, May 30.
For the uninitiated, poke (pronounce POH-kay) is a beloved Hawaiian seafood dish. “Poke” means “to slice or cut” and refers to small, bite-sized pieces of raw fish that are seasoned with ingredients such as onion, fresh herbs, seaweed, soy sauce and crumbled kukui nut. Although poke commonly features yellowfin tuna, other types of fish are used as well, such as salmon.
I recently chatted with Camilo about why he started the I Love Poke Festival in San Diego, and here’s what he had to say:
Q: Poke is a Hawaiian tradition. Why did you start an “I Love Poke” Festival in San Diego?
I started the I Love Poke Festival because I would get many inquiries through my blog, ilovemusubi.com, with people asking me where they can get good poke on the mainland. I was stumped on that one, but noticed the demand for authentic poke and then just decided to do something about it. Basically, I figured if I got the best chefs to try and make the best poke possible and allow people to sample it, I was pretty sure I could get people to show up.
Q: How successful was last year’s festival, and how many people are expected to attend this year?
I Love Poke is set to sell out at 500 this year, just as it did last year. My plan is to grow better, but not bigger. I'm comfortable with just having 500 happy Poke Lovers attend. My goal is to improve on the details every year to make it a better experience for those that come and enjoy. It won't ever be perfect, but I hope that it will always get better.
Q: Who are some of the chefs/restaurants participating this year?
We have chefs from San Diego and even some from Orange County. Hapa J's (San Clemente) is the returning champion of the "Traditional" category and Kitchen 4140 (San Diego) is the returning champion of the "Any Kine" category. Others include Food Farm Truck, Seau's Raw Mana Sushi, Cork & Platter, Salt Box, Peohe's, Sea Rocket Bistro and Humphreys, to name a few.
Q: Tell us a little bit about the chef competition that will take place.
The judging is based on a blind tasting. We know what poke the judge is eating, but they have no clue. This keeps it super fun because the results are a surprise to everyone. It all just comes down to who makes the best poke that day!
Q: What else can festival goers look forward to this year to tempt their tastebuds?
To compliment all the poke that everyone will be stuffing down their face, our dessert section has grown! We will have two shave ice companies, malasadas, cupcakes, cakes and a li hing mui fresh fruit bar. Chuao Chocolate is also new to our festival, and they will allow our attendees to sample some of their most delicious bonbons. We will also have a whole "Foodland" section that will feature other foods aside from poke so that everyone can get their share of a well rounded meal. Kalua pig, fish tacos, hot dogs and, of course, MUSUBI will be served, because, I LOVE MUSUBI (.com)!
What: I Love Poke 3rd Annual Festival Where: Bali Hai Restaurant on Shelter Island When: Wednesday, May 30, 2012, 6:00pm Cost: $50 per ticket; includes tastings from 30 restaurants and food purveyors; $5 of each ticket will benefit the Kona-California Scholarship. For more festival information and to purchase tickets online, please visit ilovemusubi.com.
Photo credits, top, Susan Russo, middle, @maryjuana, bottom, FCC, @Sam Howzit. Disclosure: I will be one of the judges at the competition.