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Kiki Aranita on the Truths Behind Hawaiian Food

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About this episode

Discover the fascinating story of Kiki Aranita, the founder of Poi Dog, a restaurant-turned-CPG sauce brand, and her extraordinary talent for yarn art recreations of food brands. 

During the episode Kiki candidly discusses the challenges of starting a culinary career without formal training, the exhilaration of catering for NBA players and other large events, and the intriguing fusion of influences in Hawaiian cuisine. Learn the truths behind Hawaiian food misconceptions and the cultural amalgamation showcased in dishes like the famous Hawaiian plate lunch. 

Plus, gain insights into Kiki’s bold decision to write an article about the closure of her restaurant, a move that earned her a James Beard Award nomination, and her perspective on why more chefs should be contributing to the food media landscape. 

Where to find Kiki Aranita: 

Where to find host Josh Sharkey:

What We Cover

(2:44) Kiki’s background

(4:30) Being a Jäger Girl

(9:06) Teaching the classics

(11:44) Opening Poi Dog

(16:31) Hawaiian food misconceptions

(19:33) Writing a Restaurant Obituary

(23:58) The struggles of closing a restaurant

(28:42) On becoming a food writer

(32:32) The benefits of being a personal chef

(34:12) What Kiki kept from closing Poi Dog

(37:05) Why more chefs should write

(41:43) What food writers inspire Kiki

(48:41) Why Kiki started selling Poi Dog sauces

(59:34) How Kiki got into crocheting branded products


Josh Sharkey [00:00:00]:

Welcome to The meez Podcast. I'm your host, Josh Sharkey, the founder and CEO of meez, the culinary operating system for food professionals. On the show, I'll be interviewing world-class entrepreneurs in the food space that are shifting the paradigm of how we innovate and operate in our industry. Thanks for listening, and I hope you enjoy the show. 


My guest today is the multi-talented Kiki Aranita. Kiki is a chef and a food writer and the founder of CPG brand called Poi Dog, which is an offshoot of her former restaurant of the same name in Philly.


And she's also a fiber artist, which if you don't know what that is, I also didn't know what it was until I met her, but it's really amazing and she recreates these packaged food brands like Fish Sauce and Spam and other really cool products out of yarn and other materials that she finds to repurpose.


And the art is so good that it's been on display at Philadelphia International Airport and show fields in Nordstrom's in New York City, and it's just pretty incredible the creativity and artistic talent that she has. I was introduced to Kiki by a close friend of mine who said, I absolutely need to meet her, and she could not have been more right.


I was so impressed with her diverse background of skill sets and her ambition and perseverance and creativity when Kiki closed her restaurant, Poi Dog. During the Pandemic, obviously a publication called to talk about the closure, and she did something that, man, I wish I had thought of. Kiki decided that she wanted to write the article herself in her own words, and it was such a bold thing to do, so much so that she was actually nominated for a James Beard Award for the article. So obviously we talk about this and restaurant closures in general and much more in the episode. So I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.


All right, Mrs. Kiki, so nice to see you today. 

Kiki Aranita [00:02:02]:

You too. 

Josh Sharkey [00:02:03]:

Thanks for joining the podcast. I was pleasantly surprised when our mutual friend, the Brocks, Megan Brock, introduced us and I didn't know much about you, but when she introduced us, I sort of looked you up a little bit. And then after our last conversation I left like, holy shit, this is gonna be such an incredible conversation because I've never met anybody that's done what you've done, at least the way that you've done it. So I wanna kick it off just right away. We'll do a little bit of background on you and then I have some questions I wanna dig into to talk about your writing and some of the things that you do with your writing. So maybe just for the audience may not know about Kiki, little about yourself, your background, how you got to be, where you're today.

Kiki Aranita [00:02:44]: 

I started off in classics, sort of. I grew up in Hawaii and in Hong Kong. I have a parent from each place, and I know we're going far back in time, maybe farther than you expected, but the fact that I have a parent from each place has definitely shaped my current careers. So I majored in comparative literature with classics and Renaissance Italian, started NYU in Florence, and then finished off the rest of my bachelor's here in New York.


I was in two different PhD programs at CUNY and then at Bryn Mawr studying first Renaissance Italian literature and then classics, so Latin, Greek spent long summers in Rome and in Athens with the American Academy in Rome and the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, and I know this is a little bit sleepy, but my academic background definitely shapes who I am today.


I taught a whole bunch, and while I was teaching, of course, I was not getting paid very well, so I worked as a jaeger girl for about three and a half years. I did wine tastings. I obviously went into bars and decked around in the East Village Halloween Parade, encouraging people to consume as much Jägermeister as humanly possible and throwing t-shirts into crowds.

Josh Sharkey [00:04:13]: 

We gotta talk about that. 

Kiki Aranita [00:04:15]: 

Did I not tell you about this before? 

Josh Sharkey [00:04:17]: 

No, you did. I have a note about it and I see it here. It's just smaller in my fonts. But what's the craziest thing that happened during your time as a jäger girl and are there still jäger girls that exist today?

Kiki Aranita [00:04:30]: 

I believe there are still younger girls that exist today .I'm actually in touch with a lot of the girls and dudes that I worked with back in the day

Josh Sharkey [00:04:35]: 

Oh, there's jäger dudes as well. 

Kiki Aranita [00:04:37]: 

Yeah, there were yager dudes and they were like the most handsome male models that you could possibly imagine. And so they have careers now and they're in LA and like doing cool things and I was the random jäger girl who didn't want to become an actress or a model like I was very much in classics and I was a terrible jäger girl.


Like I wasn't good. I would like hide in the back of bars. I'm so, oh my God, I'm so sorry if anybody from jäger is listening to this, but I would like grade papers. I am in bars. So two stories from my jäger days. My very first Jägerrmeister promotion, I was chased out of a bar by a woman who shouted at me saying that she hated crosses.


And the Jägermeister logo, of course, has a cross with antlers. And I had given her jagrer t-shirt with the logo on it, which had a cross on it. But yeah, she chased me out of the bar screaming that she hated crosses and how dare I give her something with a cross on it? And that was my first night on the job. Thankfully got a lot better after that, but going back, I was born in New York, didn't really grow up here, obviously went to college here.

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