Shep Gordon, Supermensch
He still manages Alice Cooper, but Shep Gordon is otherwise retired and enjoying life on Maui, his home of the last 43 years.
Just out with a book, "They call me Supermensch," Gordon tonight talked about his life at an event that quickly outgrew its intended venue at CookSpace in Ward Warehouse. Instead, it was in a seating area next to the courtyard at the IBM building, and got started just after the evening's well-attended yoga class.
For those not versed in Yiddish, "mensch" means a person of integrity and honor.
The book represents "a backstage pass to the amazing worlds of film, food, and rock 'n roll," according to the cover, and yes, he's well-known in show-business circles. For Hawaii, though, he is likely best-renowned for helping to create and promote Hawaii Regional Cuisine (HRC) starting in 1991.
In the audience was chef Roger Dikon, one of the original 11 chefs of HRC, as well as chef and restaurateur Ed Kenney and Brandon Lam, an owner of La Tour Cafes, as well as recording artists Jack Johnson and Makana.
Denise Hayashi Yamaguchi, CEO of the Hawaii Food and Wine Festival and wife of HRC chef Roy Yamaguchi, introduced Gordon, as well as CookSpace Hawaii co-owner Melanie Kosaka, who led Gordon through a question-and-answer session.
It was a chef that saved his life, Gordon told the audience. He was at dinner with a bunch of movie stars and other noteworthy figures of the time, after winning an award at the Cannes Film Festival. He was young and "too successful," he said, indicating a proclivity for drug use back then, as well as the then-recent deaths of Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin, both of whom he'd known and with whom he had interacted. At that same dinner, when chef Roger Verge entered the room and Hollywood actor James Coburn leapt to his feet to hug him, Gordon thought of Verges, "this was the guy who was going to save my life," he said.Verge, who died last year at 85, told Gordon if he learned to cook, he could come work in his kitchen some time. Gordon took the classes, showed up at Verge's restaurant looking to cook with him, but instead traveled with him to Thailand. The journey made them fast friends and Verge, a leader in the nouvelle cuisine movement (along with Paul Bocuse and others), as well as Dean Fearing, a leader of the Southwestern cuisine movement in the U.S., came to Hawaii to help Hawaii's chefs lay the foundation of HRC.As for Gordon's decades-ago drug activities, he said it had been an awkward subject until friend and celebrity chef and TV personality Anthony Bourdain jokingly referred to Gordon's past activities as his pharmaceutical career, which got a hearty laugh from the audience. Gordon's book, published by HarperCollins, also is labeled "an Anthony Bourdain book." Bourdain has never been a client, Gordon said, but described Bourdain as a rock star, and it was clear the two are friends.Gordon also has cooked for the Dalai Lama more than once, along with a cadre of volunteer chefs and other team members. Even then-Kauai Mayor Joanne Yukimura volunteered to scrub pots and pans and wash dishes for his Hawaii visit, Gordon said, describing her as a short, hard-working woman whose daughter was taller than her, and saving her name until the end of the story as a punchline, not intended to be funny as much as surprising.Given his long and storied career, Gordon was asked about his passion, about what makes him get out of bed in the morning. "I don't have a record player, and I don't really watch movies," he said. The culinary world is what inspires him, he said, and to illustrate the point, he said he soon will be going to Italy for truffle-hunting.
Gordon and the HRC chefs launched a movement some 25 years ago …
… and some returned to the James Beard House in 2011 to blow away some mainland taste buds.
An alumnus of that Beard House dinner, chef Wade Ueoka, now owns and operates MW Restaurant with his wife Michelle Karr-Ueoka, and it was at MW that Gordon, the Dikons, the Johnsons and the Kenneys enjoyed a pre-event dinner.
Gordon's book is $25.99 and is available at bookstores and online.
Look for more insights into Gordon's thoughts about, and love for, Hawaii and its food, in next week's Crave.