If you're in a major U.S. city like Los Angeles or New York, chances are good that you'll stumble across Hawaiian-style poke at some point. Fast casual joints dedicated to the raw marinated fish salad—a traditional Hawaiian dish—are popping up across the country, and more and more chefs are adding poke-inspired dishes to their restaurant menus.
Basic Hawaiian poke is pretty simple: raw cubed fish, usually tuna, is marinated in soy sauce and sesame oil and often eaten with rice. It's a casual dish that's sold in gas stations and supermarkets, along with casual beach shacks and restaurants. While you'll find plenty of variations on poke in its native Hawaii, here on the mainland, poke gets next-level with additions like macadamia nuts, mango, radishes, and wasabi peas.
"It's a double-edged sword for me," Sheldon said in a recent interview with The Feast. "It's great that it's getting Hawaiian food out there, but just the way that it's being represented…I won't speak for all my fellow Hawaiian chefs, but it's something that I think that we need to dig deeper and show off what the real poke is, and everybody can get a taste of it."
Sheldon, who finished third on Top Chef Season 14, owns a mom-and-pop restaurant in Maui called Tin Roof that serves casual bowls of homey Hawaiian-Filipino food. There's a poke bowl on his menu, too, which changes daily but sticks to traditional toppings like green onions and Japanese seasoning.
He's seen some crazy stuff in poke bowls during his visit in NYC, though. "I see that you can put edamame on it. I think somebody, they put gummy bears or something on it. Sprinkles?" he joked. "That's not really poke, but we'll let it be."
On the opposite coast, Top Chef Season 14 winner, Brooke Williamson, owns a Hawaiian-style restaurant called Da Kikokiko in LA. The menu features create-your-own poke bowls, where customers can choose from more than two dozen topping options.
Sheldon actually helped Brooke develop the menu at her restaurant, and she's fully on board with the poke trend, she said. "I don't feel like it's a trend for no reason. It's food that people like to eat, it's food that's delicious," Brooke explained. "It's appropriate for making you feel like you've eaten a healthy, light, but really flavorful lunch, and you can go through the rest of your day feeling good."
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