Rescue reward drives passion for food

Nearly 20 years ago, Adam Tabura rescued a drowning man at Lanai’s Hulopoe Bay. Little did the teenager know then that saving that man would lead to a passion for cooking, his livelihood and now a chance for TV stardom.

The rescued man paid for half of Tabura’s culinary arts education in Oregon. Taking hold of that opportunity, the 36-year-old Tabura has worked 20 years in the culinary business, eight as an executive chef. Now, he is a restaurant consultant and owner of his own business, the Spice Rack.

While the 1994 Lahainaluna graduate’s fortuitous life is a story in itself, it can only get better with his new role as a reality TV star.

The Kihei resident, his older brother Lanai Tabura of Oahu and friend Shawn Felipe will make their national television debut tonight as the Aloha Plate food truck team on the Food Network’s “The Great Food Truck Race.”

Viewers should check their local listings for times and channels.

The Tabura brothers, raised on Lanai, and Felipe, a standup comedian and actor who lives on Oahu and in Los Angeles, will battle it out with seven other first-time food truck teams from across the nation, competing for $50,000 in prize money and a food truck of their own.

The teams drive their food trucks across the U.S., making stops along the way to sell their grub. The aim is to make the most money at the stops. The teams that make the least money get eliminated along the way.

The show, now in its fourth season, has in the past provided challenges during the competition.

For example, electrical power/ gas was once cut to the trucks, which made cooking impossible. Another time, the teams were forced to try and sell their food during the early-morning hours.

The actual competition has been completed and taped for viewers, but the teams are not allowed to say how they did nor what types of food they sold.

“What I can tell you, we tried to keep it as real as possible, using the elements we had with the challenges at hand, every city and state was different,” said Adam Tabura in a conference call interview last week with fellow team member Felipe.

Overall, Adam Tabura said the team’s menu and food reflected their Aloha Plate name.

“We were serving aloha one plate at a time,” he said.

A profile of the team on the Food Network Internet site showed a surf-and-turf plate cooked up by the Hawaii group. It consisted of shrimp and steak with coconut orzo.

On the show, the team members hawk their grinds in a yellow food truck. Its exterior design depicts a beach scene with hula dancers in grass skirts, a surfer and a volcano.

Adam Tabura, with his cooking background, took on the role as the truck’s chef. Felipe was the food truck driver and the sous chef, while Lanai Tabura took care of the sales and marketing as well as hustled for customers outside the truck.

Felipe joked that the first thing Lanai Tabura did was “name himself the general manager.”

“He’s the oldest one that’s why,” Felipe, 38, added, laughing about the 43-year-old Lanai Tabura, who is also a comedian.

With two funny men on hand, there were plenty of laughs.

Felipe and Adam Tabura chuckled remembering Lanai Tabura shouting to them from outside the truck, “Are you ready? Are you ready?” as they waited for customers.

“There were funny moments. There is sad moments. There were irritating moments. It was pretty much a marriage where you secretly hate each other,” Felipe said about the experience. “It made us better friends, I think.”

Adam Tabura called the competition an emotional roller coaster.

At first, he was hesitant to be on a reality show, saying that, unlike his brother, Lanai, a radio and TV personality, he hates the limelight.

But he convinced himself to go, saying he could spend time with his oldest brother and Felipe. He also was motivated by being able to compete on a food show on the Food Network.

At first, Adam Tabura said it was hard getting used to the constant rolling of the camera and confessed he cussed a lot and got irritated with himself.

But his brother and Felipe were able to help with some camera training.

Overall, the men said they are pleased with their experience.

If he were to sum it up in one word, Felipe said, he would call the competition “amazing.”

While Adam Tabura said: “It was a ‘bad ass’ experience on all levels.”

He enjoyed traveling and meeting different people as well as bonding with the other competitors with whom he still keeps in touch.

Competitors include those who specialize in hot dogs, fusion California cuisine, cheesesteaks and Indian tacos.

Adam Tabura said they encountered many people with Hawaii ties across the nation. People from Guam and others with island roots also supported them, he said.

Nearly two decades after his heroic deed on a Lanai beach, Adam Tabura is grateful that the drowning victim’s family, the Proctor family from Iowa, didn’t just take his first response when asked if he wanted a reward.

Just having graduated from high school and admitting he was naive, Adam Tabura just asked for some money when he was approached by the Proctor family.

He actually didn’t expect anything in return and didn’t think much of his rescue.

When asked by the victim’s wife if he wanted anything, Adam Tabura replied “How about you give me 100 bucks and call it good.”

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at