5:2 A Place at the Table

MILAKALE, KAUA‘I, THE REPUBLIC OF HAWAI‘I  |  1889

The strikingly beautiful Anias Casey hadn’t yet turned twenty when she met her dashing young sugar baron at a society ball on San Francisco’s Market Street. The young Miss Casey had been busy making quite an impression in the rough-and-tumble city with disarmingly attentive eyes the color of the North Sea, seemingly endless red hair, and skin like melted Moon.

Lanthier, for his part, was tall, dark-haired, and comported himself with a bit of grace, something lacking in most of the men Anias had met in the heady days after the gold boom turned her sleepy backwater town into something resembling an ant hill stepped on by a draft horse. All other potential suitors simply faded away upon seeing the two together, ceding the contest to fate itself.

Anias had worked hard to make the distant island of Kaua‘i her home and Milakale was the envy of many of a ragtag parade of sea captains, missionaries, Hawai‘ian royalty, and fellow sugar families that graced, or she should say grazed, her table over the years.

The only people not impressed by the homestead’s opulence were the workers that spent their days in the sugar fields and their nights in the shantytown on the edge of the sprawling property, and the native Hawai‘ians who still considered the low, flat promontory of carefully stacked lava rocks that stuck out like an accusing finger into Milakale’s sheltered bay to be kapu. Forbidden.

The native Hawai‘ians entertained a legend that the heiau had been built by menehune, or the diminutive original inhabitants of the island who worked at night only to disappear with the coming of the dawn.

When her husband first acquired the property that was to become the Lanthier estate, a Hawai‘ian healer, or kahuna lapa’au, lived out on the short constructed peninsula in a hut built of thatched palm fronds. The local chief would make his way down the trail from the cliffs surrounding the bay and confer with her whenever matters of a metaphysical nature arose in the village. The path he walked had been traversed by generations of leaders before him and the spirits of those ancestors were said to still walk to the point when the moon and tides were right.

Alexander Lanthier had originally come to the islands as a missionary in the 1860s and, like many, gradually shifted his focus from saving souls to making money. Even after beginning to develop his estate he still retained enough of the missionary zeal to be able to convince the locals to turn their backs on traditional custom and spend their Sundays in the brand new clapboard church he had built for them. Soon after, an unfortunate “fire of unknown origin” finally cleared the healer’s pier for more secular uses, or at least those with more of a Protestant bent.

Most of the locals considered the landing cursed and would not set foot on it. When Lanthier began to unload boats full of lumber and building materials from all over the Pacific islands, he first tried to hire the Portuguese who were immigrating to the islands from the Azores. He found the stout men to be hard workers, but also quickly learned that they knew what their toil was worth. Lanthier found the Chinese more willing to work for a pittance and relief from the brutal cane fields, and soon a grand mansion began to take form on the ridge.

From what would become the Lanthier’s parlor—an opulent room paneled in radiant koa wood with rolling walls that could control the intimacy of any gathering—French windows looked out over the reef and gently breaking surf below. A wide, white sand beach marked where Lanthier’s property ended and God’s own realty began.

When the house was finished, Anias Lanthier busied herself playing hostess to whomever came through their island that mattered. When talk of annexation by the United States began to take on more of a strident tone, it was often the Lanthier’s table that was the setting for such sedition.

While her husband predictably sided with other sugar interests in pushing for the larger nation to subsume the monarchy, Anias remained nonpartisan and would entertain members of the royal family with as much welcome and grace as she would any American opportunist.

The Lanthier’s dining room table, set in crystal and the finest bone china, often meant a safe place for champions of any cause to meet and attempt to influence the future of the Hawai‘ian Islands. Discussions, while often pregnant with portent, rarely became heated at Mrs. Lanthier’s table lest a guest receive a withering glance from the matron herself and lose future access to the inner sanctum.

Of course, not every guest that sat at the Lanthier table was a politician or carpetbagger at heart. Those with an interest in dining well for its own sake were never disappointed. Anias had interviewed nearly a dozen chefs hailing from all over the globe before deciding on an ageless culinary wizard named Jun Jin.

Jun, a Chinese national originally from Shanghai, ran the Lanthier kitchen with a ruthless efficiency. Although no one would guess it, Jun had already reached his thirties when the British opened the port city up to the West at the end of the First Opium War in ’42. Already well established as a kitchen prodigy, the subsequent influx of British, French, and Americans flooding the International Settlement in Shanghai allowed a quick study such as Jun to learn how to cook for just about anyone with a mouth.

Since relocating to the Hawai‘ian Republic, Jun took it upon himself to master the art of wrapping a pig in taro leaves, burying it in a pit, and slow roasting it until it became so tender that the smoky meat would abandon the bone at the merest touch. He also taught himself how to properly transform the underground corm of the taro plant into the native Hawai‘ian staple poi, one of the first non-natives to care to do so.

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