The Palamanui Palate: Chef Stephen Rouelle teaches plant-based cuisine and shares his veganism lifestyle philosophy

We’re lucky here at Hawaii Community College — Palamanui. We operate in a community with extremely talented chefs and have an organization — the Hawaii Culinary Education Foundation — that brings these chefs into the classroom to guest lecture for our students.Why is this valuable? It’s important to introduce students to new culinary experts who can supplement their associate degree curriculum. As the Hawaiian proverb says, “A‘ohe pau ka ‘ike i ka halau ho‘okahi,” which means, “One learns from many sources.”Earlier this semester, our guest lecturer was Chef Stephen Rouelle, founder and chef behind the vegan, vegetarian and raw food restaurant, Under the Bodhi Tree, which was founded in Kona in 2014.Chef Stephen’s demonstration, titled “Understanding Veganism in Professional Food Service,” was fascinating. It culminated in a recipe demonstration for vegan corn chowder that was as good if not better than the traditional recipe that includes bacon.But first, Chef Stephen began with the basics, which is important because not everyone understands what veganism is. He defined it as “a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.”He also made sure to tell our students why this knowledge is important, pointing out that 3% to 4% of the world is vegan and in Hawaii’s tourism-based economy, restaurants serve customers from all over the world.“When providing service to guests in a food and beverage setting you will be asked to understand many concepts around how people dine and eat,” Chef Stephen noted.He added: “I would ask you to understand that ultimately we are in the people business, not the food business. Producing food is a far easier task than producing food to meet people’s expectations of taste, quality and value within their needs and desires.”That’s a really important point, and culinary student Kamaile Gusman said that was her big takeaway from the presentation.“You don’t have to be vegan,” she said, “but it is important to learn about different dietary needs to be able to cater to different people.”So, how to meet a customers’ expectations for taste and quality while cooking vegan? It was interesting to see Chef Stephens’ approach, in which he identifies the flavor profiles of ingredients like bacon and then tries to capture those using ingredients such as Bragg’s liquid aminos, liquid smoke and others.The proof was in the chowder. It was really delicious and opened up the students’ eyes to what vegan cuisine actually can be. But you don’t have to take my word for it. You can make some yourself. Or if you’d rather have the pro cook for you, Chef Stephen has some new things happening in addition to the Under The Bodhi Tree serving at Kaimu Farmers Market on Saturdays in Pahoa. Chef Stephen is also doing a weekly meal delivery in Kona, Keauhou, Pahoa and Hilo. He recently opened Kohala Coffee Co. at Puna Kai in Pahoa and expects to have Under The Bodhi Tree Pahoa and Banzos Falafel open this summer in Pahoa. Later in the year, he’ll have a second Kohala Coffee Co. and Bodhi Tree Juicery and Deli in Waikoloa Village.Mahalo to Chef Stephen and the Hawaii Culinary Education Foundation for enhancing our program of culinary studies!Vegan Corn Chowder1 medium onion, diced2 stalks celery, diced3 sprigs fresh thyme1 bay leaf1 cup corn kernels2 teaspoons brown sugarDash smoked paprika3 drops liquid Smoke1/4 teaspoon black pepper3 Tablespoons Braggs Liquid Aminos3 Tablespoons flour3 cups vegetable stock (see recipe below)2 cups oat milk1 russet potato (skin on) diced1 1/2 Tablespoons chopped parsleyAdd 3 Tablespoons Coconut oil to a medium-size, 3-quart soup pot. Add and saute the onion and cook over a medium heat for about 10 minutes to build flavor. Add and sweat the celery for a few minutes on a medium heat. Add the thyme and bay leaf and sweat for about 30 seconds. Add the corn and sautee another 30 seconds. Add the sugar, paprika, liquid smoke, black pepper and aminos and reduce to a syrupy consistency. Dust the mix with flour and cook out the flour (about 2 minutes).Add the vegetable stock (recipe below) and bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Add oat milk and taste and adjust seasoning. Add salt and pepper to taste. Cook until potatoes and vegetables are tender and soup is reduced to create richness and flavor. Finish with chopped parsley.Basic neutral vegetable stock1 onion, rough dice1 medium carrot, rough dice2 celery stalks, rough dice1/2 teaspoon Fennel seed10 peppercorns.Dash of turmeric1 tomato, rough dice2 Tablespoon soy sauce1-inch by 2-inch strip kombu (edible kelp)32 oz. cold water Place all ingredients into a pot and allow it to sit overnight in refrigeration. Place on a slow stove top and bring to a simmer. Cook for 1 hour. Strain and cool.This vegetable stock can be made ahead and reserved for use.