A year ago, Megumi Odin left Peace Cafe, the much-loved restaurant she started almost five years ago, to follow her creative inspiration to the next level.
In September, the chef behind the first vegan restaurant in Honolulu began Satori Hawaii, a “pop-up” in the Soto Mission of Hawaii (1708 Nu’Uanu Ave) serving Contemporary Shojin Ryori (Buddhist Cuisine) meals that are vegan and gluten-free.
Megumi says opening a vegan restaurant in the U.S. was her mission, but she didn’t believe Americans were ready for Japanese style vegan food back when Peace Cafe opened.
With Satori, Megumi wanted to create a warm and intimate atmosphere, like eating at her grandmother’s home in Tokyo, the place where Megumi learned mindful, healthy cooking and eating. Megumi even wears a kimono she received from her grandmother, who is 96 years old.
“Ikitoshi ikerumono subete ni ai to kansha wo. Itadakimasu”-To eat with respect and appreciation for all living things, is a traditional Buddhist saying her grandmother used that Megumi still holds dear. Guests of Satori feel those sentiments in the simplest of ingredients prepared with loving consideration.
Satori’s menu is often Japanese, but also includes Western, Korean, Chinese, Thai, Indian and other Asian influences, to convey the experience of visiting a particular country through food-one of Megumi’s many interests.
Satori uses local and organic produce, brown rice, and no cane sugar (instead Megumi uses maple syrup or coconut sugar, sparingly). The ingredients exclude garlic and onion, which Megumi abstains from for spiritual reasons. While gluten-free cooking is new to her, Megumi says she has enjoyed experimenting with it, and is happy to accomodate the needs of her guests.
A recent menu at Satori consisted of 6 items: stewed vegetables and tofu with ginger ankake sauce, pickled vegetables, salad (mustard cabbage, wakame, hoshi daikon), sesame tofu with walnut miso sauce, soup (made of butternut squash, carrots and tomato), and brown rice with mushrooms and yuzu vinegar. And let’s not forget dessert: a Dorayaki pancake made from brown rice flour and filled with sweet potato paste, coconut cream and adzuki beans.
Guests are pampered as Megumi’s small crew (Yumi, Yayoi and Tao)—all of whom worked with her at Peace Cafe—embrace them with hospitality and refill their teacups with organic hojicha. In addition to Japanese laquerware trays and bowls (in the “Oryoki” style of traditional Zen meals), Megumi explains that table cloths and screens are also important for her theme.
Satori has quickly gained popularity through word of mouth, and many regulars are hoping that Satori turns into a full-fledged vegan restaurant. However, Megumi prefers to keep her creative freedom for now. Since leaving Peace Cafe, she has been working as a private chef, catering events, consulting, and developing restaurant projects in Yokohama and New York.
When an acquaintance at the Soto Mission suggested Megumi borrow their kitchen and auditorium once a week, Satori Hawaii was born.
Satori is open for lunch from 12:00 pm-2:00 pm on Saturday (first-come, first-served), and special occasions (reservations only), including Thanksgiving, Christmas, and an “Osechi” (Japanese New Year’s tradition) meal on January 3. Satori’s fixed menu lunch set is $18 and the special events are $20 (cash or local check only). Vegetarian Society of Hawaii Members receive a 5% discount.
Occasionally, the Satori lunch follows a traditional Zen “Zazen” meditation held in the Soto Mission of Hawaii’s temple. The next “Zazen + Shojin” event will be on January 31 beginning at 11:00 am. Information for this, and other events can be found on Satori Hawaii’s home page.
Before coming to Hawaii, Megumi worked 17 years as a food stylist in Tokyo, learning about cuisine from all around the world. Eventually, she became disillusioned with her work making commercials, where she was required to handle meat and also witnessed a lot of food being thrown away on a daily basis.
Megumi moved to Hawaii 10 years ago following the birth of her daughter. “I wanted to make a good environment for my daughter while making the world a better place,” she says. Megumi has been vegan for 10 years (before that, she also ate fish).
Megumi has no formal chef training, and learned to cook by helping her grandmother. She says she didn’t eat out any meals until High School, and has never tried Coca-Cola!
Megumi is excited to be doing Satori and wants to continue traveling the world through cooking in the future. “Exploring different foods is like traveling the world,” she says. Besides the U.S., Megumi has visited Indonesia, France Italy, Mexico, and Korea. “The trip to Korea was important because I could visit many temples that serve traditional Korean Buddhist Shojin meals, and now I make these meals at home or for Satori events.”
Among Megumi’s favorite cuisines to prepare are Indian, Chinese and Japanese. At home, she has an outdoor wood-burning brick oven to make traditional Naples-style vegan pizza, and makes her own fresh pasta, too. “I make delicious Italian food,” Megumi says. “What I enjoy most of all is making home-cooked family meals for my daughter and husband.”
Megumi is also studying Ayurveda and wants to do an Ayurvedic and Vegan cafe in the future. Her guests can hardly wait to see what’s next.
This post is also available in: Japanese