Mainland Poke

This article originally appeared in the July/August issue of The National Culinary Review, the official magazine of The American Culinary Federation.
By Rob Benes

Poke has been a longtime staple in the Pacific islands. It’s a dish that traditionally features sliced or cubed raw fish, chopped Maui onion, Hawaiian red alaea sea salt, chopped kukui  nut,  julienned  seaweed  and  soy  sauce.  For  the  past several years it’s been swimming its way across the nation— and it doesn’t seem to be slowing down. Poke claims the No. 1 spot in the Movers and Shakers—Trends Heating Up category in  the  National  Restaurant  Association’s  2017  What’s  Hot Culinary Forecast.

1_AhiPoki_credit _AhiPoki

Poke bowl variations from AhiPoki.

Not only are independent restaurants adding poke as an appetizer or entree item, but there are new restaurant concepts exclusively serving poke popping up coast to coast. Poke is on 54% more menus than it was four years ago, but it’s only on 2% of menus nationwide, according to Chicago-based foodservice research firm Datassential. The company also reports that 13% of consumers have tried poke and another 24% said they would like to.

David Arias, executive chef at Oceana Poke, New York, says people are drawn to poke for several reasons. First, it’s considered a healthy meal option that has fresh, unadulterated

Oceana Poke

Oceana Poke’s poached octopus with tomato, cucumber, shiitake mushrooms, sweet onion, crispy shallots, sesame seeds, cilantro mayo and white soy sauce.

ingredients. Second, it’s viewed as a complete meal, with a protein, starch and vegetables, as well as various textural toppings. Third, it’s an interactive event that gives control to customers, allowing them to build their own poke bowls for a snack, lunch or dinner. Finally, it’s perceived as a good value for the amount of food ordered.

Poke Concepts

Chicago, considered a steak-and-potatoes kind of town, is beginning to see more poke outposts. FireFin Poké Shop, the city’s first freestanding poke restaurant, has five locations in the downtown area. It features 10 different predetermined FireFin Creations poke bowls and a build-your-own custom poke bowl option. Aloha Poke, opened in March 2016, has four locations, with plans to open 14 more in the Chicago market.

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Poke bowl from Aloha Poke.

New York has more than a dozen poke restaurants. And in California, poke has been a mainstay on menus for years.

AhiPoki Bowl, ranked in the 1,168 spot for emerging chains in the country by Chicago-based Technomic, opened its first location in Temple City, California, in December 2015. It now has 14 locations in Southern California, Northern California and the greater Phoenix metro area, with plans to open 11 more locations in California, Arizona and Seattle in 2017.

“We want to make poke a mainstream food within the quick- service market,” says Jason Jantzen, co-owner. “Poke is aligned with customers’ desire to eat healthier. We meet that expectation and fall in line with many other quick-service restaurants serving vegetable-focused items.”

Jantzen also believes that people who enjoy eating sushi are accepting poke as a favorable alternative. Poke elevates the flavor experience when the raw seafood is combined with a sauce and paired with vegetables, textural toppings and finishing sauces at an affordable price point in a more casual dining environment. Poke bowls range in price between $15 and $20.

All poke shops are designed in a similar format that allows customers to choose ingredients to create unique poke bowls. Customers first pick a base, then a protein and a marinade/sauce that’s tossed together. The seasoned protein is placed on top of the base, and the bowl is finished with vegetables, toppings and a second sauce.

Ingredients and preparation vary, but a bowl usually features a base of brown rice, white rice, quinoa, soba noodles or greens; a protein of yellowfin tuna, ahi tuna, bluefin tuna, spicy tuna, salmon, scallops, shrimp, tofu, grilled chicken or poached octopus; vegetables such as seaweed, edamame, bean sprouts, cucumbers and avocado; toppings of crispy garlic, hazelnuts, tortilla strips, sesame seeds and puffed rice; and a finishing sauce, with a choice that includes the house specialty, garlic/ soy mirin, spicy mayonnaise, kimchi, avocado wasabi, ponzu, cilantro mayonnaise, yuzu aioli and white soy sauce.

4_Oceana Poke_credit Oceana Poke

Poke bowls from Oceana Poke.

Some shops also feature poke rolls, which include all of the ingredients that go into a bowl but wrapped in roasted seaweed. And each shop usually offers several house poke bowls. “Having a few house bowl choices takes away the guesswork for someone not familiar with how to pick ingredients and assemble a poke bowl,” says Arias. “The next time that customer comes in, he or she may feel more adventurous and create their own.”

Three house bowls are offered at Aloha Poke that all start with a choice of a base and protein. The Aloha adds pineapple, cucumber, scallion, jalapeño pepper, Maui onion and sesame vinaigrette; The Volcano, seaweed, edamame, jalapeño pepper, ginger, orange and black tobiko and Volcano sauce (chili/ponzu mayonnaise); and The Crunch, jalapeño pepper, cucumber, scallion, edamame, tobiko, spicy crunch, spicy aioli and sweet- and-savory samurai sauce.

Poke is attracting a range of age groups. “We’ve noticed our demographic has changed from being the health-conscious YogaFit-goers to a younger crowd, as well as enticing older guests,” says Zach Friedlander, Aloha Poke’s co-founder/operating partner. “We feel the uptick is due to a desire for unprocessed foods and good value for the amount of food received.”

While raw seafood is the primary ingredient, poke can go beyond that. For example, grilled chicken and poached octopus appeal to diners who want their protein cooked. Uncooked organic tofu is also popular. “You need to have more options other than raw fish, because you will exclude a certain segment of people from ever entering your restaurant,” Arias says. “Those diners might change their mind on a future visit, be adventurous and order a bowl with raw seafood.”

Simply Poke

Eric Rivera, executive chef at The Bookstore Bar & Café, Seattle, decided to put poke on the menu because he wanted to have items that tell stories related to the nationalities of the restaurant’s cooks. Two of his chefs are from Hawaii, so poke made sense. “I want my cooks to play an active role in menu development,” he says. “We’ll think about how the recipes can be presented with a modern approach, particularly for the dinner menu, but still be recognizable by guests.”

The Bookstore Bar and Cafe

The Bookstore Bar & Cafe prepares a composed poke plate with cured tombo tuna.

Tombo tuna poke is not served in a bowl piled high with ingredients,  but  it  delivers  traditional  poke  flavor.  Rivera’s recipe is a refined approach that features cured tombo tuna, rice crackers, seaweed crackers, chili oil, green chili sauce, Fresno chili tips, kewpie and salt water cure, all composed on a plate.

To add a bit of texture and bite to the tuna, it’s diced, cured with a 7% salt water solution for 20 minutes, rinsed off, air-dried in the cooler for two hours and portion-packed in sealed containers for service. “I don’t want the tuna to sit too long in the marinade, because it would turn into a ceviche and be too firm,” Rivera says. “But I feel that curing the tuna prior to assembling the recipe adds a textural element, plus, the cure serves as the sauce.”

For lunch, Rivera menus a traditional version, a poke bowl that features cured tuna, jasmine rice, forbidden rice, wild rice, seasonal pickled vegetables, green onion and sesame/ginger sauce. “The challenging aspects of making poke is ensuring the highest-quality seafood is available to use, breaking the seafood down, cutting ingredients into the same size and having consistency,” he says.

“Preparing poke is a bigger conversation than preparing a salad or steak entree, because we’re working with many ingredients that need to complement each other, not only in taste, but in presentation, too.”

William Middleton, executive chef at Oceans 234, Deerfield Beach, Florida, compares poke in Hawaii to hamburgers on the mainland. “It can be found everywhere,” he says. “Poke’s even available at gas stations.”

Photo credit: Alissa Dragun

Poke bowl in coconut from Oceans. Photo credit: Alissa Dragun.

Oceans 234 features Atlantic bluefin tuna steak as an entree. Each steak yields about 3 ounces of trim that’s used to make a poke bowl for the lunch menu.

“I like the simplicity of poke, so we don’t get fancy,” Middleton says. The recipe features tuna, diced cucumber, diced mango, chopped macadamia nuts and ponzu sauce served with deep-fried plantain chips in a half coconut shell.

“People gravitate toward poke because it’s viewed as being a healthy item that does not include processed items. Our recipe doesn’t even include a starch,” Middleton says. “It’s also more inviting compared to sushi or sashimi, because there are many other components served with the seafood.”

Ricardo Jarquin, chef de cuisine at Travelle Kitchen + Bar, Chicago, uses white soy sauce in his ahi poke bowl to retain the tuna’s deep-red color. A colored sauce, he says, would turn the tuna a different color and make it look unappetizing. “Also, the basis of a good poke is the quality of the fish, so you don’t want to overshadow the fish with a lot of ingredients or heavy sauces. You just want to enhance the natural flavor of the seafood.”

His basic poke recipe, made tableside, is ahi tuna, white soy sauce, sambal, sesame oil, Hawaiian red alaea salt, scallions and cipollini onions. It is served with pork rind for a crunchy textural element and as a means of scooping up the poke. Jarquin likes white soy for its strong umami flavor.

Rob Benes is a Chicago-based hospitality industry writer. Contact him at



The World’s Biggest Party

By Ana Kinkaid

Each year the Chinese mega-celebrate the start of the new Lunar Year. It’s always quite a party because for 15 days the number of people feasting, dancing and laughing in China will equal the entire population of North America, South America, Australia, New Zealand and all of Western Europe combined.

Now that’s a big guest list! This year’s party starts on January 28th under the new zodiac sign of the Rooster.


According to legend, the holiday started long ago when there was a fierce fight against a giant magical beast. It would appear on New Year’s Eve as a huge raging ox with a roaring lion head killing and destroying all in its path.


After many battles, the people of the region learned that the creature feared the color red, bright lights and loud noises. To ensure their safety, villagers hung red paper signs on their doors. Fireworks exploded overhead and drums banged loudly in the nearby streets and alleys.

Once defeated, it was believed a better year could be secured by serving symbolic foods. One such dish still popular is “Yee Sang,” also known as “Yusheng,” means “prosperity toss.” This unique tossed salad is created in an unusual manner in the hope of obtaining both prosperity and good fortune.


Smoked salmon, pickled leeks, daikon, carrots, red pickled ginger, deep fried crackers, pomelo pulp, peanuts, sesame seeds, five spice powder and plum sauce are the most traditional ingredients used.


When the time comes to “lou” or toss the salad, the final sauce is added and everyone present stands up. They toss the salad with their chopsticks and the higher they toss, the more luck they will have in the coming year.


Other traditional Chinese New Year dishes still served today contain noodles. Pulled noodles were made in historic times by two main methods, (1) pulling and stretching the dough by hand through a series of looping and twisting motions and (2) by rolling and stretching the dough over hanging poles.


The ultimate goal of each noodle master, no matter his preferred method of production, was to be able to create a noodle so fine and yet so strong it could be passed through the eye of a needle, a feat known as the Lamian.

Despite the amazing Chinese skill level, both Italy and the Middle East have claimed that they first created noodles. An archeological discovery in 2004 finally resolved the conflict.


Clams have long been considered the perfect ingredient to combine with Chinese noodles. Noodles, especially long noodles, represented a lengthy, joyful life while clams with their rounded shape resembled coins and future wealth. It was reasoned that if one were blessed with endless riches, that person would also want a long life in which to enjoy them.


Surely such wonderful dishes that offer the hope of wealth, long life and a bright future should be part of every chef’s menu as millions celebrate the new year of the Rooster.  It’s as simple as a stepping into the kitchen and joining the world’s biggest party–a party full of good wishes for all in the coming New Year!

Chinese New Year Tossed Salad




20 wonton wrappers, sliced 1 cm wide
Vegetable oil to deep fry
1/4 cup thinly sliced candied ginger
1 thumb-sized piece fresh ginger, grated
1/4 cup thinly sliced pickled ginger
2 Tbsp julienned red-salted ginger
2 Tbsp pickled onions, finely sliced
1 cup shredded carrot
2 cups shredded lettuce
1 cup shredded green apple
1 cup shredded cucumber
1 medium-large turnip, shredded
200 grams thinly sliced sashimi salmon
1 Tbsp finely chopped coriander
3 green shallots, finely shredded
1/2 cup sesame seeds, toasted
3/4 cup roasted peanuts, crushed
1/2 tsp five spice powder
1/2 tsp pepper


1/2 cup Chinese plum sauce
1 1/2 Tbsp soy sauce
2 1/2 Tbsp sesame oil
2 Tbsp warm water


Heat oil in a saucepan over medium heat until 180ºC (356ºF).
Deep-fry sliced wonton wrappers in small batches until golden and crisp.
Remove from oil with a mesh skimmer and drain on paper towel.
Arrange all salad ingredients and fried wonton wrappers on a large platter by color.
Arrange the salmon pieces last.
Scatter coriander, sesame, peanuts and spices on top of the vegetables.
Place ingredients for the sauce in a bottle and shake well to combine.
Pour sauce over salad in a circular motion.
Each guest tosses the salad with chopsticks while saying good wishes for the coming year.

Long Noodles and Clams with Bok Choy and Black Bean Sauce



2 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 Tbsp minced garlic
1 1/2 Tbsp finely grated fresh ginger
6 scallions, thinly sliced crosswise, white and green parts separate
2 Tbsp fermented black beans, rinsed well and mashed lightly with a fork
3 to 5 dried whole small chilies, or to taste
1 red bell pepper, cored and cut thinly into 2-inch strips
3 dozen Taylor Shellfish clams, or clams of your choice
1 cup low-sodium chicken broth, divided
1 Tbsp rice wine or dry sherry
2 Tbsp cornstarch
2 tsp soy sauce
1 lb baby bok choy, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced crosswise
Long noodles, cooked in amount needed per guest


Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat.
Add the garlic, ginger, scallion whites, fermented black beans and chilies.
Cook while stirring for 1 minute.
Add the red bell pepper and cook while stirring for 1 minute.
Add the clams and 1/2 cup of the broth.
Cover the pan tightly and steam the clams. As they open, transfer the clams to a bowl.
In a small bowl, whisk together remaining 1/2 cup of broth, rice wine, cornstarch and soy sauce.
Add to the saucepan in a stream while whisking.
Bring to a boil.
Add the bok choy and cook while stirring for 1 minute.
Add the cooked clams with juices to the pan.
Cook, stirring to coat the clams until hot.
Serve the clams and broth over pre-cooked long noodles.
Garnish each portion with scallion greens


Kinkaid, Ana
Ana Kinkaid brings 25 years’ experience in the hospitality industry to her writing. As a world traveler, nothing delights her more than discovering an innovative restaurant or a unique ingredient.  Ana is a consultant to leading food companies and also speaks at major culinary conferences, often linking past culinary traditions to current and future trends. Her areas of expertise include culinary history, ethnic foods, terroir, wines and cocktails, as well as sustainable development within the food industry.

The Name of the Game

What’s in a name? For pork, it’s profit. From the porterhouse to the ribeye, official pork chop names drive big value for operators. Fourteen pork cuts now have consumer-friendly names, including many that align with well-known beef or steakhouse cuts.

Watch this break-down demo to learn how to butcher and name chops from a bone-in loin, and find more how-to demonstrations, including the boneless version at

Showcasing pork chops as a premium center-of-plate protein and referring to specific pork cuts help operators get more value from specialty chops. Lee Morcus, CEO of Kaiser Restaurant Group in La Quinta, CA, has used explanatory names for pork cuts for years. “‘Porterhouse’ is an intuitive way to amplify and clarify what we’re serving,” says Morcus.

All bone-in pork chops are prepared from the Institutional Meat Purchase Specifications (IMPS) number 1410 Pork Loin. These are also the numbers used in North American Meat Institute’s (NAMI) Meat Buyer’s Guide (MBG). The 8th edition of the MBG adopts the new IMPS numbers for pork chops along with the corresponding Purchaser Specified Option (PSO) for each of the new named chops. Learn more about common cuts from the pork loin below.

1410, PSO8 Sirloin Chops

Bone-in chops from the portion of the loin that meets the fresh leg. The fine grain holds moisture and flavor well.


1410, PSO2 Porterhouse Chops

Bone-in chops with loin muscle and tenderloin.


1410, PSO3 T-Bone Chops

Bone-in chops with loin muscle and a portion of the tenderloin tail.


Top: 1410, PSO1 Center-Cut Chops

Bone-in chops similar to a New York strip steak. Differs from ribeye chops because no spinalis muscle or cap shows on top.


Top: 1410, PSO4 Ribeye Chops

Bone-in chops from the rib portion of the loin with one or more loin back ribs on each chop, depending on thickness.


1410, PSO7 Blade Chop

Bone-in chops from the blade end of the pork loin.


Boneless Pork Chops

Boneless pork chops are derived from the IMPS 1413, boneless pork loin.

To learn more about cutting portion cuts from the boneless loin, watch the video and see the cuts below.

1413, PSO2 Ribeye Chops


1413, PSO1 Center-Cut chops


1413, PSO3 New York Chops


For more information on how pork chop names drive big value for operators, visit The 400 newsletter and sign up for the latest pork news, videos, recipes and trends delivered right to your inbox.

Follow all the action on Instagram @PigAndCleaver.

This content was provided courtesy of the National Pork Board.


Cold Noodles for Hot Days

Call it ramen 2.0, or perhaps a limited summer edition of everyone’s favorite noodle. Chilled ramen dishes are nearly as abundant and diverse as hot renditions, but are overwhelmingly underrated, uncelebrated and overlooked, in favor of more familiar preparations. Not all soups must emerge from the kitchen with a plume of steam, nor gently charred and still radiating heat.

Read more Cold Noodles For Hot Days — via BitterSweet

Building a Career in Food

By Paul Sorgule, M.S., AAC

There aren’t many industries that can promise you a career track for as long as you want it.  The food business is the positive exception to the rule.  The direction you choose can be as different as restaurant work to food sales, product research and development, teaching, marketing and even writing.  Kitchen tracks are diverse as clubs, destination resorts, hotels, fine dining, quick service, family dining or even operating a mobile food truck business.  The path you set and your commitment to following a plan will determine where you wind up in the food business.  So, how do YOU go about the process of building a road map toward realizing your professional goals?


The intriguing thing about the food business is there is more to learn than there is time.  Every day you spend in the kitchen provides opportunities to build on your skill set and truly learn.  A cook or chef will never master how to prepare a dish without truly understanding the heritage behind the preparation, ingredient flavor profiles and the passion with which that dish was developed.  This must be part of your education.


No one expects you to know everything, but they do expect you to know how and where to find the information you need to be successful.  A good start is to seek out the “where” in relation to the information that will allow you to succeed.


Everyone has heard the statement that there is no such a thing as a dumb question (although many would argue with that), but regardless of your assessment of that commonly referred to quote, the best career-oriented cooks are always seeking an answer to “why.”


When in doubt, always refer back to the first point: “Know what you don’t know.”  Even when you have mastered a task, make sure that you are always open to learning the next.  Chef Andre Soltner once said, “Keep in mind that we are all cooks.”  This was Soltner’s way of knocking down the pompous approach that some take once they reach a certain position in the kitchen.  Cooks are always hungry to learn – stay that way.


It will be your cooking skills that get you noticed initially.  If you are good with a knife – get better.  If you are fast and efficient – get faster without losing an eye on quality.  If your flavors are spot on – learn to master new ingredients, spices and herbs.  Every day is an opportunity to improve.  Michael Jordan took 100 free throws before every game to constantly improve his eye for the basket.


The best cooks understand that a chef may not be able to pay you to learn new skills.  Volunteer to learn what you don’t know.  Ask the chef to help with inventory, costing out menu items, working on an ice sculpture, preparation for a food competition or testing new recipes.  Those who seek to learn will win the admiration of others and set the stage for career growth.


Every time you gain a new skill, make your presence known at a special event, put in the extra effort or work extra hard to strengthen the kitchen team, you are building your personal brand while helping the operation succeed.  Your brand is what will sell you to that next step in your career.


Start today – make a list of the chefs, restaurateurs, managers and business associates you admire.  Jot down why you admire them, what skill you could learn from an association with them and who can help you make a connection with them.  Once the connection is made, work the network by staying in touch, volunteer for a stage, seek advice when making a decision or simply follow what they do and how they accomplish their goals.  You never know when one of these contacts will serve as a valuable influence in your career.


It is time for a professional mentor in your life.  It might be the chef you currently work for, a previous employer, an educator or simply a person with a track record of business success.  Invest in spending time with them, offer to help with their endeavors, share your questions and your progress, and by all means – LISTEN to what they have to offer.  A mentor can keep you on the right track.


Chefs and restaurateurs hire team players who have the chemistry to “fit” in an organization.  Individual skills pale in comparison with your ability to play well in the company sandbox.


You will likely move to different food operations throughout your career, but while you are at a particular operation, make sure that you are loyal to the business, the chef and the owner.  Never compromise on this EVEN AFTER YOU LEAVE A PROPERTY.  When I  interview a cook for a position in my kitchen, I always ask what they thought of their previous employer, chef or manager.  If they immediately focused on spewing negative statements about that property or person, I would write them off my list of potential hires.


Treat your job in any kitchen as if it were your own business.  Watch for wasteful production, stay tuned to maintaining a sense of order, take the time to check in purchases with care and treat every food item that you touch as if your signature were included on the plate.


Finally, make sure that every day you prepare for another shift in the kitchen you review your career goals. Focus on this checklist as a way to shine and a way to make a difference for your employer.

As a chef or operator, take the time to guide your cooks through this process of career planning and invest your own time in their success.  It will pay back tenfold.

we are chefs

Paul Sorgule has been a chef and educator for more than four decades holding positions as hotel executive chef, food and beverage director, faculty member, dean of culinary arts and provost at a prominent culinary college. Sorgule is president of Harvest America Ventures, a restaurant and culinary school consulting and training company he formed in 2012. He blogs about culinary issues and finding that work/life balance at