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A Mosaic of Flavors at Kokua Market’s Deli

Organic, healthy and delicious

By Martha Cheng

Never has “health food” looked so good as it does at Kokua Market’s deli. But as beautifully as the beets glisten, the kale shows off its ruffles and the carrots bask in their vivid oranges, the food in the deli is more than just about looks.

Kokua’s deli boasts 90 percent organic ingredients in its prepared foods, and the dishes draw on local produce sourced by Abdul Kariapper, the produce manager responsible for stocking Kokua with more local produce than any other supermarket in town. And if the dishes seem eclectic, varying from one day to the next, it’s because each dish expresses the creativity of its cook. In true co-op fashion, the handful of cooks behind the deli are given the freedom to create with whatever ingredients are available.


“The wonderful thing about the deli is that it’s a very free-form deli,” says Kathy Maddux, one of the cooks at Kokua. “It allows people to be creative, to use their intuition. [The staff] come from a space of being very aware of nutrition and wanting to produce the best quality food that they can. It’s exciting to see what happens, what kind of dishes they make.” Each of the cook’s styles is so unique that Maddux can often tell who made what, just by the ingredients and how they cut their vegetables.

The people who eat at Kokua are very lucky.”

The cooks’ backgrounds are more eclectic than in most restaurant kitchens. Many are students at UH, one is a yoga instructor; most cook for fun. Maddux is one of the few who cooks professionally, specializing in macrobiotics.

In the deli case today, Maddux’s macrobiotic contributions include a reuben made with tempeh (a fermented soybean product), onions, cabbage, sauerkraut, tahini and shoyu.

But as much as the cooks are experimenters, everything they serve obviously also has to be delicious. Maddux says they’ve never had to pull a dish that was unacceptable. This she attributes to the talent of the cooks as well as the ingredients they cook with. “The integrity with which the store allows us to cook is amazing,” she says. “At Kokua, they really encourage us to use organic ingredients and good-quality things. The people who eat at Kokua are very lucky.”Kokua_deli_produce-1

For Alyssa Moreau, another one of the co-op's professional chefs, she’s the one who feels lucky to be cooking at Kokua. She comes into work toting her pressure cooker, thinking up new recipes and excited about the apple-pear crisp she’ll be making, sweetened with agave and topped with oat and barley flour and walnuts. “Everyone’s learning from each other, seeing what flavors are inspiring them,” she says. “It’s a nice atmosphere.”

Moreau already has a full plate as an instructor at Kapiolani Community College and personal chef specializing in vegetarian cooking. But she also cooks at Kokua because she wants to share her cooking with a wider audience. “I had this vision of wanting to feed more people and share the recipes that I created through trial and error,” she says.

Kokua_deli_feature-2Moreau’s focus is to take local foods and prepare them with a healthy bent, stripping away the fat and salt while piquing flavor with spices, fresh herbs and lemons. And so she gets a kick when a regular customer, a house painter, returns to Kokua’s deli day after day because it’s “better than Zippy’s.” 

But Kokua’s deli isn’t just about vegetables. Matt, a graduate student, is the designated “meat guy,” cooking with Italian and French flavors. There are Land of Organica juices, sandwiches and desserts in the refrigerated case, and enticingly stacked in front of the deli are Kokua’s famous oatcakes.

So Kokua’s deli beckons, a mosaic of food that reflects the personalities of the cooks who make it. It may be organic, sustainable and healthy, but ultimately, it’s the colors and textures and smells that entice you to grab a fork and dig in.


What is a co-op?

Kokua Market is run as a cooperative, or co-op, meaning that it’s owned and operated by its customers. Profits from the co-op are invested back into the business; no private individuals profit from its success. Kokua Market is Hawaii’s only natural food cooperative, with a strong emphasis on organically grown foods.

What is macrobiotics?

Macrobiotics refers to a lifestyle that emphasizes balance. “The way we think about food is in the term of energetics—how you balance the energy of foods,” Maddux says. Foods categorized as “contractive,” such as meat and eggs, should be balanced by “expansive” foods such as fruits and vegetables. Things that are inherently more balanced are usually whole grains, plants and foods that are less processed.

Comments from Readers

  1. Daf0f63a5ffe3fd8f63ed6bee3c4f7d2
    Carol O'Neill on 2/27/2011 at 7:17pm

    I love your oatcakes and in particular the ginger oatcakes. I buy several and put them in the freezer. Any chance of getting the recipe?

  2. Df81f51109d3a25f6d3f3eebd0166e9b
    Susan Linn on 4/9/2011 at 9:25am

    One of the things I miss the most about Hawaii is your (ginger) oatcakes. When we are back for a visit, I always load up on herbs, spices and oatcakes at Kokua, and make sure I bring the kids back a few if they don't go with me. I second Carol, any chance of the recipe for us locals stuck on the mainland?

  3. 0df9334674072cf8e6cccb4de73a6751
    Kim dC on 9/5/2011 at 2:02am

    Here, here, please provide the ginger oatcakes recipe. I've been searching for it ever since we moved to the mainland. We still refer to our local co-op as "Kokua"....who can blame us for dreaming?

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