was born and raised on Kaua‘i, the oldest of three children. As the only daughter, she was especially close to her mother and spent a lot of time cooking and baking with her. After her mom passed away, Leimomi says, “I felt it was my turn to continue to pass down the legacy of my ‘ohana to my only daughter.” The dish Leimomi shares with Tutu’s Kitchen is her grandmother’s recipe for Bacalao and ‘Ulu Salad. “As long as I can remember, this was always served at my grandma’s when we went for family dinners. My grandma, Helen Souza, was of Portuguese descent (bacalao is a Portuguese dried, salted cod) and this was a dish you could always count on when going to her house. My grandma taught my mom how to make this dish, and my mom carried it on. She would gift it to family members for their birthdays or holidays. My mom taught me how to make it years ago, and since then I’ve made it for family gatherings and carried on the tradition of gifting it to family.”
Leimomi is the director of human resources at The Princeville Resort on Kaua‘i. For her, cooking the recipes her mother passed down is a cherished way of preserving their heritage and keeping her family in her heart.
What is the story behind this dish?
Bacalao is a Portuguese dried, salted cod. My earliest memory of having bacalao was when I was around six years old. It’s kind of expensive here, so we add ‘ulu to stretch it, and the ‘ulu absorbs all the flavor. My grandma was of Portuguese descent and this was a dish you could always count on when going to her house. I remember how excited I would be to go to her house because all of my cousins would be there, we would eat dinner together with my uncles and aunties, and play with my cousins. This dish has been a family favorite for generations. My grandma taught my mom how to make this dish, and my mom carried it on. She would gift it to family members for their birthdays or holidays. My mom taught me how to make it years ago, and since then I’ve made it for family gatherings and carried on the tradition of gifting it to family.
How did you come to be the person who cooks for the family?
I’m the oldest of three — with two younger brothers — and as the only daughter, I was very close to my mom. We spent a lot of time together, cooking and baking. My mom was known to have “golden hands” — she was well known on Kaua‘i for her ‘ono food and delicious homemade pies, breads, malasadas and Portuguese soup (another family favorite). After my mom passed in 2015, I felt it was my turn to continue to pass down the legacy of my ‘ohana to my daughter. My most treasured items from my mom are her 40-year-old handwritten recipes books. Passing them down is a true legacy, a representation of our culture, who we are, the memories that go along with it when we prepare these dishes, and bringing our ‘ohana together to reminisce. My daughter has mastered many of the recipes and she’ll be able to pass them down to her two daughters. My brother Jay has also continued some of my parents’ recipes, like homemade Portuguese sausage, smoked meat and de oja (pot pasteles).
Why is cooking for your family so important to you?
Born and raised in Hawai‘i, food has always been the center of our culture. When I cook for my family, I feel close to my mom; it takes me back to the times we spent together in the kitchen, talking story, laughing and reminiscing. It’s a true expression of love for my ‘ohana when I cook for them. Between 2014 and 2016, I lost my father, mother and the younger of my two brothers. Losing them was extremely difficult, and today I savor the moments of family time. I choose to keep my family’s memories alive through the traditions — the recipes — and pass that legacy down to the next generation.
Bacalao and ‘Ulu Salad is our September 2019 Tūtū’s Kitchen dish