Cow Pig Bun in Kihei is back with its industry competition Knife Fight, but they’re changing it up a bit. This next installment has sous chefs vying for a championship title that will be handed out later this year.
The most recent competition went down last Sunday, June 19. It pitched Hana Ranch Provisions’ Lawrence Mason against Oceanside Restaurant’s Eric Purugganan. The guest judges were State Representative Kaniela Ing, D–Kihei, Monkeypod’s Jason Vendrell and Michael Bucciantini with Maui Wave Riders, with Chef Lyndon Honda as the emcee. The chefs had one hour to prepare three dishes. Their main ingredient was oyster, and the “surprise ingredient” was opakapaka.
Knife Fight is one of those rare opportunities to see the kind of trash-talking that goes on between chefs, but it’s all in good fun. The antics were hilarious at times, and Purugganan really hammed it up–even tasting one of Mason’s dishes at one point and giving comments (he also showed us why he wears a rubber glove on the back of his cap).
Mason’s more mild manners were squared off against Purugganan’s wilder demeanor. Mason took a while to get his first dish–house-made bread with mixed greens and a cured opelu spread with fried opakapaka, while Purugganan’s raw oysters in the shell with opakapaka tartar and Suriname cherra granita was up in a jiffy, not to mention the extra credit pupu platter of chicharrones for the judges.
Next up Mason created a deconstructed cracker and oyster dish for his second, but Purugganan’s second dish, a Maliko Heirloom tomato gazpacho with prawns and oyster was a favorite of Ing. Bucciantini favored Mason’s open-face sando. Vendrell was still savoring the oyster and opakapaka crudo from round one.
“With elevated ingredients and complicated cooking techniques, sometimes a raw dish is the best thing to let the ingredients really make their impact,” said Vendrell.
The last bit of the competition got hazy, and rightly so, since Cow Pig Bun is a bourbon bar. If you don’t have a cocktail in your hand, it’s your loss (they were also serving succulent pork tacos until the wee hours). With Purugganan yelling for more oysters in the final 10 minutes to prepare his absinth chowder while Mason served his fifth and sixth over-the-top dishes, things got crazy. It was a close competition as points go, but ultimately two of the judges scored Purugganan higher, and he won this round of Knife Fight.
“My style is letting the food come through on its own,” says Purugganan. “I cook from the heart with what is fresh.”
Purugganan is originally from Alaska, where he fished for his own share of crab, and he’s been in and out of kitchens his whole life. Trained in Portland, he also worked at Merriman’s on Kauai before bringing his knives to Maui.
Tie up your apron strings because the next competition takes place on July 19. There will be a total of eight sous chefs vying for the championship title. Stay tuned for a special edition Knife Fight where Cow Pig Bun will call back last year’s winning chefs like Jeff Scheer, Isaac Bancaco, Sheldon Simeon, Roger Stettler and others for a #KnifeFight competition like you have never seen.