Cookbook Review: Mala Ocean Tavern Cookbook: Recipes for a Healthy Lifestyle, by Mark Ellman

by Nicholas Rummell
May 2012

Mala Ocean Tavern Cookbook, Recipes For A Healthy Lifestyle
Author: Chef Mark Ellman

Difficulty Level: Home Cook

Interesting Photos: Mala Ocean Tavern Chef de Cuisine Ben Klein and Ellman’s family mugging with the Dalai Lama during His Holiness’ visit to Maui

Chapters: Mala Prep List, Mala Basics (recipes), Menus.

A Few Select Recipes: Ali’i Mushrooms; Carrot-Butternut-Coriander Soup; Tiradito de Opakapaka; Kona Lobster Ceviche; Braised Octopus; Edamame Spread; Mahi Mahi Croquettas; Fresh Oven-roasted Akule with Lemon, Garlic, and Maui Onions; Wok-fried Opakapaka with Spicy Black Bean Sauce.

Along the southwestern Maui coast is Mala Ocean Tavern, a laid-back eatery so close to the water that turtles often pop up to watch diners. Meals there highlight the simplicity and richness of Hawaiian fish and produce—and Owner Mark Ellman’s cookbook is a testament to that simplicity.

As chef, restaurateur, franchiser of the highly successful international Maui Tacos chain, and now cookbook author, Ellman is a major force on the islands. The Mala cookbook (Ellman’s first, clocking in at less than 100 pages) is slim and to the point, but its eclectic mix of his tavern’s most well-known dishes is refreshing in its simplicity. He lets the product do the talking, often with minimal manipulation (he has a list of ceviches and tiraditos, as well as some whole-fried fish recipes). Many of the recipes include explanations of Ellman’s inspiration, like watching Charlie Trotter make an edamame purée or tasting Claude Koberle’s flourless chocolate torte soufflé.

Ellman has lived on Maui for a quarter of a century, and he is known as one of the most influential cooks there (he was one of the 12 chefs, known as the Hawaii Regional Cuisine movement, that took the islands out of gloppy hotel surf-and-turf and into fresh, local, and innovative dishes). He also helped produce another quasi-cookbook, Practice Aloha, a collection of vignettes (and a few recipes) from Hawaiian chefs, artists, and even celebrity vacationers (actor Helen Hunt and rocker Mick Fleetwood) on what they think of Hawaiian “aloha” culture. But for chefs looking for an entry into Hawaiian cuisine, the Mala cookbook is a great place to start.