Kaafi Tuinukuafe grew up in Tonga, where he frequently spent hours with his mother in the kitchen while she prepared a variety of native delicacies and told him stories about their family history. Although he didn’t realize it at the time, assisting her in the kitchen, learning about various spices and ingredients, would help define his career path later in life.
His mother also owned and managed a guest house, and when Kaafi was older, he often assisted her in preparing meals for the residents. One particular resident, a Peace Corp volunteer named Sharon, caught his eye and ultimately became his wife.
Kaafi and Sharon eventually moved back to the United States, settling in Ann Arbor, Michigan where he studied hotel and restaurant management and culinary arts. From there he began working in catering and restaurants, which varied from barbecue to fine dining.
In 2015, Kaafi and his family moved to Bainbridge Island where Sharon took a position at Bainbridge High School teaching chemistry and forensic science. Kaafi took a job with Whole Foods in Seattle, and while there, he created an original luau menu, which was distributed on a nationwide basis. However, working for a large company lost its appeal and he decided to return to the construction field, which he had previous experience in. It was during that time, that he and a friend, who also owned a pizza oven, began talking about creating their own 100% sourdough pizza dough. When the lockdown began, Kaafi continued to experiment with his Neapolitan sourdough pizza recipes.
By 2021, the pandemic restrictions were easing and he began to do small catering jobs, which included private parties and small venue events. Much to his delight, his catering business took off and One Two Kai Kitchen & Catering was born. When I inquired as to the name, Kaafi gave me a slightly embarrassed smile and explained that while in Ann Arbor he played rugby, and was an enthusiastic player. That enthusiasm earned him the nickname of “One Two”—as in one-two-punch—from his teammates. His wife Sharon thought it would be a great name for the business and Kaafi added on the word “kai, which is Tongan for “eat”.
Kaafi draws on many of the recipes handed down through his family, which often included seafood and barbeque specialties. However, he is always experimenting with various ingredients and flavors to create his Pacific Islander and Japanese inspired cuisine, as well as dishes found in the Pacific Northwest. In addition, Kaafi has also worked with chefs from India and other cultures which helped him expand his culinary experience. This in turn allows him to provide a wide variety of imaginative vegetarian and vegan plates, and specialty meat dishes. To learn more about Kaafi’s menu, which can be customized for catered events, click here.
Although his sourdough pizza began as a bit of a “side gig”, it has taken off as well, and he’s constantly experimenting with different toppings and ingredients, as he noted, “You can put just about anything on a pizza.” He uses two Gozney Dome Pizza ovens on custom made portable stands that he built at BARN (Bainbridge Artisan Resource Network). The ovens are versatile and they allow him to cook not just his pizzas, but also bake sourdough loaves, naan, and other menu items.
One Two Kai Kitchen & Catering can be found at the Moonlight Market in the Bainbridge Town Square*, as well as regular pop-up events at Bainbridge Vineyards. Click here for pop-up dates at the vineyard and other locations.
Kaafi’s most recent pop-up was at the Bainbridge Creative District’s Bridge Festival on September 10th. He was honored to be invited to participate in the event and enjoys being part of the island’s creative community, and especially the support provided by the BCD.
Although the pop-up events keep Kaafi busy, he really enjoys catering private events and parties, interacting with the guests and sharing his new and innovated delicacies to delight the palate. Kaafi uses the freshest ingredients available and sources them locally, including the seafood and beef used in his dishes.
Going forward, Kaafi plans to just keep doing what he’s doing—providing delicious food for events and venues throughout the island and the greater Kitsap area.
*The Market is only held seasonally during the First Friday Art Walk from April through October—the upcoming October 7th Artwalk will be the last of the year for Moonlight Market.
*Images provided by Kaafi Tuinukuafe
This article originally appeared in my monthly feature for Arts & Humanities Bainbridge Currents Online: https://www.bainbridgecurrents.com/stories/article/chef-kaafi-tuinukuafe-one-two-kai-kitchen-catering-pacific-islander-cuisine-with-a-pacific-northwest-twist/
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