He had moved to Osaka to teach English after high school, spending two years in the metropolis on the country’s main island and expanding his culinary skills.
He cooked with his then-girlfriend, who was Japanese, and learned to make egg rolls and fried rice from her parents.
But Kauwe, 31, was a foodie long before he learned to make egg rolls overseas.
He started helping in the kitchen at an early age, stirring cornbread batter under the watchful eyes of his grandfather. A favorite photo shows him as a youngster mixing batter with a large spoon, wearing a Superman T-shirt and a wide grin.
His grandmother encouraged him.
“She used to tell me that I needed to learn how to cook, because I might marry someone that didn’t know how, and one day it would come in handy,” he recently wrote on his food blog at nomnerd.com, where he shares his latest culinary adventures, like making one recipe per week for a year from “Joy of Cooking.”
His grandmother had the 1975 edition of the quintessential cookbook. Kauwe picked up a 1946 version at Monkeyboy Books in downtown Spokane for $35. The find inspired his project, which Kauwe launched about two months ago, making the “Joy” cornbread in honor of his grandpa as well as its Chocolate Soufflé and Wine Custard, among other recipes.
He admits the endeavor is a little “Julie & Julia,” in which Julie Powell spent a year making each recipe in Julia Child’s famed “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.” Kauwe saw the 2009 movie version of Powell’s book starring Amy Adams and Meryl Streep and liked it. “It made me hungry.”
Kauwe tweets under two Twitter handles – @nomnerd and @SpokaneEats – dispatching food-related tidbits and photos. SpokaneEats – “celebrating food, locally” – has more than 650 followers. Nomnerd – “Promiscuous Eater. I measure life in Manhattans” – has more than 1,800.
Kauwe enjoys a range of cuisine – from duck confit and steak tartare to sushi, Korean barbecue and, of course, egg rolls.
“I eat French food once in a while, but I can’t live without Asian food,” he said.
Kauwe likes the spiciness and the freshness of Asian cooking.
“I’m a big fan of Asian flavors and Asian culture,” he said. “It reminds me of where I’m from.”
As the oldest of six growing up poor in Hawaii, Kauwe cooked for his siblings, mostly using canned goods such as the pork product Spam. His uncle refused to eat what he called “poor people food,” Kauwe wrote on his blog.
“We didn’t see poor or rich people food; we just saw food,” wrote Kauwe, who also went to college in Hawaii.
He’s part Hawaiian. He’s also part German, Spanish, Puerto Rican, Portuguese and Chinese. “I’m a mutt,” he said. “I’m a little bit of everything.”
After college, he moved to the mainland – first Seattle, then Spokane and Southern California, then back to Seattle and, now, Spokane again. “I’ve done a circle.”
Before the embarking on the circle, from 2000 to 2002 in Japan, Kauwe graduated from canned to fresh foods and continued to develop his passion. Today, he works as a loan specialist at Washington Trust Bank in downtown Spokane and makes egg rolls to take to parties “or when I’m craving something nice and fried.”
He gets ingredients – like egg roll wrappers, Chinese-style sausage and specialty sauces – at local Asian markets, like Best Asian Market, 2022 E. Sprague Ave.
And he’s glad he listened to his grandmother. Other than the occasional slow-cooker meal, his now-girlfriend doesn’t cook.
But the fact that Kauwe does, “I love it. It’s great,” said Kelsey Tobeck, 29.
She readily admits she never helps Kauwe in the kitchen, but she’s enjoying the fruits of his “Joy of Cooking” commitment.
“It’s something I look forward to on the weekends, and it’s exciting,” she said.
While Kauwe still keeps a can or two of Spam on the shelf in their Spokane apartment, he rarely makes the dishes that he cooked for his family in Hawaii – “not because of their taste, but because of the emotional vulnerability they evoke within me,” he wrote on his blog.
“Food, for me, is a memory that contains the emotion of a particular time,” Kauwe wrote. “I’ve always related my memories of food to the emotion of a particular time and place, and every relationship I’ve had, in essence, can be broken down into a culinary one: what we make, where we dine, and what we take away.”
Greg Kauwe, who learned to make egg rolls a dozen years ago in Japan, eschews the food processor when it comes to making the filled, fried snacks. His secret: finely and evenly chopping all of the vegetables by hand.
He also mixes the ground meat and chopped vegetables with his bare hands: “I’ve tried it with a spoon. I’ve tried it with everything in the universe. Hands are the only way.”
Kauwe uses store-bought egg roll wrappers – he prefers Menlo All Purpose Chinese Spring Roll Wrappers. He removes them from the package, places them on a dry paper towel and covers the pile with a damp paper towel to keep them moist. “If they’re dry they will just fall apart.”
After spooning about 2 tablespoons of the filling onto a wrapper, he rolls one layer, then folds in an end, rolls another layer, then folds in the other end, rolls the last layer, then seals the little package with a streak of egg wash.
He always uses ground pork, but he said, “I’ve been tempted to get some ground duck and spice it up. I’ve never ventured out. This (recipe) has always worked.”
Kauwe likes to serve egg rolls with Thai chili sauce. He particularly likes Mae Ploy Sweet Chili Sauce, which also can be found at Spokane’s Best Asian Market on Sprague Avenue. Other serving options include soy or ponzu sauces and fried rice.
Whatever you do, “Don’t refrigerate them; they’ll get soggy,” Kauwe said. “Have you ever had a soggy egg roll?”
1 cup finely chopped cabbage
1 cup finely chopped carrots
1 cup finely chopped sweet onion
1 pound ground pork
1 to 2 tablespoons fish sauce (or more, to taste)
Salt and pepper (to taste)
1 pack of wrappers
4 to 5 cups vegetable oil (for deep frying)
Add finely chopped vegetables to ground pork, mixing until well combined and an even consistency is reached. Add fish sauce and mix well. Season with salt and pepper.
Scoop about 2 tablespoons of mixture onto wrapper and roll, then repeat until all of the mixture is used. In a large pot, deep-fry egg rolls in vegetable oil until golden brown, then remove from pot, drain excess oil on paper towels and serve.
Yield: approximately 30
“The trick to doing fried rice is doing it in sections,” said Greg Kauwe, who often serves the dish with egg rolls. “Don’t just dump everything in. You need to do your meat first. Then you take that out of the pan.”
Next, he cooks the eggs alone in the pan before adding back the meat and mixing in the rice, corn and sauces.
Another trick: Kauwe uses a single chopstick to create small and even pieces as he scrambles the eggs.
Fried rice is a versatile dish that can use all kinds of meat – duck, pork, chicken, shrimp, beef – and vegetables such as green onions, peas and carrots.
This is Kauwe’s favorite combination.
1 cup meat or sausage of choice, finely chopped (Greg Kauwe prefers Kam Yen Jan Chinese-style sausage)
3 eggs, beaten
1 cup jasmine rice, cooked
1 cup corn, cooked
1 to 2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 to 2 tablespoons soy sauce
Salt and pepper, to taste
Fry sausage in a skillet or wok over medium heat. Remove from pan and drain and dry on paper towel-lined plate. Drizzle eggs into skillet, stirring frequently, until they are scrambled and thoroughly cooked. Add cooked sausage to the egg mixture, stirring until well combined. Then add the cooked rice, and mix well. Repeat with the corn. Finally, mix in sauces, season with salt and pepper, and serve immediately.