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New vegetarian-vegan-raw eatery takes root on Kohala Coast

Updated: 
July 21, 2014 - 12:05am

A new restaurant at The Shops at Mauna Lani celebrates nature in both design and food.

Under the Bodhi Tree serves “fresh, healthy food in an atmosphere where sustainable agriculture and responsible business practices come together in perfect harmony,” states the recycled paper menu. Its chef owner Stephen Rouelle and general manager Abraham Go share a commitment to offering a unique restaurant experience distinguished by its delicious vegetarian-vegan-raw menu and its core environmental values.

Their use of recycled materials throughout the space catches the attention of customers: the wall made from shipping pallets, the tiny light bulb terrariums on tables, a collection of chairs repainted and reupholstered, water served in reusable mason jars. Most of the decor was made from repurposed or reclaimed materials, collected locally, including from the Habitat for Humanity West Hawaii ReStore.

Besides creating an ambiance that’s “upcycle cool,” Rouelle and Go have put a lot of thought into the materials used by patrons, as well as ways to eliminate waste, recycle and have high-efficiency water and energy usages. They have worked hard to create a place that’s environmentally conscientious in its design and reminds us of our obligation to be socially responsible. They strive to create as small of an impact as possible on the environment and welcome all ideas.

The food is personal. It’s a reflection of Rouelle’s major lifestyle change, along with his love of using sustainable Big Island ingredients produced by local farmers.

Born in Montpelier, Vt., Rouelle attended Central Vermont Vocational School for culinary studies and earned a culinary arts degree from Johnson & Wales University in Providence, R.I. He has more than 30 years of culinary experience, including working in top restaurants in Vermont, Ohio, Hawaii and international locations. In 2012, he was named Chef of the Year by the American Culinary Federation Kona Kohala Chefs Association. Prior to opening Under the Bodhi Tree, he was the executive sous chef at The Fairmont Orchid, Hawaii, and had been at the Mauna Lani resort since 1992, when it was a Ritz-Carlton.

Throughout his successful career, Rouelle wrestled with obesity, aches and pains. At one point, he weighed 350 pounds. Concerned about the potential health risks and ready for a transformation, he relearned how to live and eat. Rouelle has lost 145 pounds by embracing a vegetarian diet, then a vegan one and now raw-foodism, as well as increasing physical activities like hiking. “I’m now more vibrant, happy and healthy,” he said.

Not only does Rouelle eat less and feel better, he’s become even more of an environmental advocate. He believes what we choose to eat is one of the most significant factors in the personal impact we have on the environment. He mentioned concerns about overfishing our oceans, scarcity of resources, and evidence proving a meat-based diet requires seven times more land than a plant-based diet.

Rouelle also spoke about his excitement to have inclusive vegetarian-vegan-raw cookery, a cuisine appealing to omnivores and herbivores alike. Besides presenting another restaurant option, he hopes to inspire and satisfy those on the well-heeled vanguard of these dietary trends, as well as help this food be more accessible by offering meals at reasonable prices. As a raw foodist, Rouelle understands the difficulties of eating out. Since opening last week, the response has been exciting and overwhelming supportive, he added.

So far, foodies of any dietary inclination have fallen in love with creative fare like the Reuben’s Garden sandwich (rye bread, sauerkraut, kale, mushrooms, Swiss cheese, tofu and thousand island dressing), Raw Thai plate (zucchini “noodles,” bok choy, bean sprouts, spicy ginger coconut sauce and cashews), Kung Fu Tofu salad (rice noodles, spicy tofu, mung beans, onions, bok choy) and Garden in a Grinder soup (chilled vegetable gazpacho with avocado and cucumber). Prices for entrees range from $8 to $16.

Rouelle’s farm-to-table focus is a return to how restaurants did business a generation or so ago. The majority of products served come from no more than 50 to 60 miles from the restaurant. “Maintaining committed, direct relationships with local farmers allows us to keep our menu remarkably diverse and constantly changing with the seasons,” Rouelle said.

Under the Bodhi Tree also offers a juice and smoothie bar, homemade desserts, frozen treats like Taiwanese shaved ice, Hawaii Kombucha on tap, and French-press 100 percent local coffee. Open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily, this casual restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. Here, Rouelle said patrons are encouraged to slow down, linger longer, socialize, take advantage of the free Wi-Fi, and even read a book on one of the shelves. Takeout is available, too.

For more information, call 895-2053 or visit underthebodhi.net.