How to Host an Imu

Ed Kenney showcases a traditional style of Hawaiian cooking at the Melbourne Food & Wine Festival
Staff Writer
Imu Prep

Will Budiaman

Chef Ed Kenney and friends unveil the much anticipated feast.

Grilling season may soon be coming to a close in Australia (unless you're in Queensland, the Northern Territories, or the upper reaches of Western Australia), but here in the States, it's just around the corner. That means it's time to start thinking about cooking in a pit in your backyard again.

Click here to see the How to Host an Imu Slideshow

Last time, we taught you How to Safely Do a Backyard Pig Roast. This time, we sat down with Ed Kenney, Hawaii native and chef-owner of Town Restaurant in Oahu, at the Earth MasterClass as part of the Melbourne Food & Wine Festival, to generalize the technique of cooking in a pit to apply to just about anything. 

We'll be honest — when Kenney started his presentation by saying he was going to cook "an imu," since we were Down Under, we took that to mean he was going to cook "an emu." We weren't alone — a member of the audience shared our disappointment and confusion when instead of a big bird, Kenney brought out a leg of lamb. "Where's the bird?" was what we thought.

When asked about this, Kenney laughed. "I wish I had thought of cooking an emu on an imu," he said. All kidding aside, however, this traditional technique is one that holds a special place in Kenney's heart. He says:

The imu is "the space between." It is the cornerstone of a special occasion where we set all else aside to reconnect with the ones we love. It's a communal affair with everyone taking part. Children run around in circles, cousins bring freshly caught fish or wild boar, aunties and uncles cook a multitude of traditional dishes, friends play music and dance hula, grandpa drinks a lot of cold beer. Laughter and aromas permeate the air. It's a whole day and night affair, sometimes two. All too soon, Mahealani (the full moon) has risen, wisps of smoke rise from the imu, the rooster crows.

An imu is, in other words, just as much about the people as it is about the food. Kenney shared the stage that day with equally entertaining Ben Shewry, chef and owner of Attica Restaurant in Melbourne, who showcased a similar technique with roots in New Zealand. To compare and contrast, click here to see How's Your Hangi?

Will Budiaman is the Recipe Editor at The Daily Meal. Follow him on Twitter @WillBudiaman.

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