Waimea Chef Edwin Goto Has Always Helped Others; Now He Needs Our Help
Special to The Hawai‘i Herald
A few months ago, I shared a story about three Hawai‘i Island “community spirits” in The Hawai‘i Herald’s Big Island issue (July 5, 2019). One of the people profiled in the story, Chef Edwin Goto, began his culinary career at the age of 17 and then climbed the ladder of success, working in some of Hawai‘i’s finest resorts, only to find true happiness in the lush and rolling hills of Waimea, where he owns and operates two restaurants in the Parker Ranch Center — Village Burger and Noodle Club.
While his culinary journey is nothing short of amazing, the heart of Edwin’s story focused on his altruism and his aloha for his community.
I know about Edwin’s generosity. I know it firsthand. A few years ago, I produced an episode of the national PBS series, “Family Ingredients,” hosted by Chef Ed Kenney. The episode featured award-winning composer and recording artist Kuana Torres Kahele and took us to Kuana’s paniolo (Hawaiian cowboy) country roots in Waimea. For one of the show segments, we needed some cooking equipment so that Kuana and Chef Ed could cook up a pä‘ina (dinner party) for Kuana’s parents and other family members, including several prominent Waimea paniolo. If we could pull it off, it would be a great show.
I had a long list of cooking equipment that I needed to round up for that pä‘ina segment. That’s when I saw Edwin’s pure heart. He had nothing to gain from helping us do this episode, but he went above and beyond to help us. He drove out to our filming site and dropped off a grill, pans, knives, cutting boards, cooking utensils and serving platters that he pulled out of storage. And then, when we were done filming, he came all the way back to pick up the equipment. The segment went flawlessly with Kuana and Chef Ed Kenney cooking up a fabulous local “cowboy spread,” much to the delight of our discerning guests. Edwin went out of his way to help our crew film a fitting close to an episode that got rave reviews from the PBS executives in Virginia.
I am just one voice in a chorus of many people who have similar stories to share about Edwin. He has always been there to help others, unconditionally. But, now, he needs our help.
Shortly after that Hawai‘i Herald story was published, Edwin was diagnosed with a rare disease called Raynaud’s Syndrome, which generally afflicts women more than it does men. As many as one in 10 people are diagnosed with primary Raynaud’s. Those symptoms are often mild. But, only one person in 100 is diagnosed with the more severe secondary Raynaud’s, which Edwin is battling.
According to the National Health, Lung and Blood Institute website, Raynaud’s is a rare disorder that affects the arteries — the blood vessels that carry blood from the heart to different parts of the body. People suffering from Raynaud’s experience a narrowing of their blood vessels, thus reducing blood flow to the fingers and toes.
Raynaud’s normally affects people who live in colder climates, so doctors told him that it’s rare to see a secondary Raynaud’s case here in Hawai‘i with its tropical climate. The illness has restricted blood circulation to Edwin’s extremities to the point where his fingers turn blue. Cut wounds from work-related accidents haven’t healed and he’s still suffering from gangrene in two of his fingers as of this writing. Edwin described the pain in his feet, ankles, elbows, knees and hips as “excruciating and constant.” On a scale of 1 to 10, he said the pain is between 7 and 10-plus. Prescription pain medication offers some relief, but not enough.
For now, the only relief for his symptoms are the hyperbaric oxygen treatments he receives at Healthways in Waimea. The oxygenated blood transported to his extremities seems to have kept his fingers from getting progressively worse. Edwin has had to purchase secondary insurance to help cover his rising medical expenses. Unfortunately, the insurance does not cover the hyperbaric treatments, which cost $5,000 for 40 sessions out-of-pocket. He goes in for five sessions a week.
Edwin said his symptoms started showing up just as I was finishing up my story on him. His condition deteriorated rapidly in a month’s time. For now, he cannot work and needs a cane or a wheelchair to get around. His doctors are puzzled and still have not determined the primary cause of his illness.
Fortunately for Edwin, he has the unwavering support of his wife, Dore Centeio, and their 16-year-old daughter, Helena. Dore spends her waking hours caring for Edwin and helping with the restaurants, as well as running her own small business — all that on top of her parenting duties. When not in school, Helena helps at home or wherever help is needed. Together, they are getting through this very challenging period as best they can. As Edwin put it, “Family is everything.”
Edwin’s support system extends to his restaurants — he still goes in to check in with his employees. They are his extended ‘ohana. He said he is fortunate to have great managers and employees who have stepped up to fill the void in his absence. After hearing about Edwin’s plight, one of his former employees, Tasha Kunishige, came back to manage his Village Burger restaurant. She was quoted in the West Hawaii Today newspaper as saying, “Chef Edwin is really well loved by all of us here and the community. Whatever we can do to continue to get the business going and get him better, we’ll do it.”
Edwin has been in the culinary field for nearly 40 years. Celebrity chefs and food shows have glamourized the profession, but it is a physically demanding job. A dedicated chef is on his or her feet all day, working with sharp knives and searing hot pans that demand their total attention. When the restaurant is busy, especially during lunch and dinner hours, the pace can be grueling, getting food orders out to their customers promptly and cooked to perfection. Edwin said managing and working at his two restaurants began taking its toll on him as he got older.
If there is a silver lining to his having been diagnosed with Raynaud’s Syndrome, it is his realization of what his work means to him and the support he and his family have received.
“My life-altering illness has made me reflect and look back on my life. I was happy. Although a lot of the work I did was menial, I loved it and I want it back,” he said.
Edwin and Dore are actively searching for anyone who has experienced symptoms similar to Edwin’s. They were recently referred to a rheumatologist in Los Angeles who might be able to help. They are hoping that the doctor can shed some light on the cause of Edwin’s condition and help bring his symptoms under control so he can regain some normalcy in his life.
In the meantime, Edwin’s medical expenses continue to mount. Dore’s sister, Bernadette Ululani Centeio, started a GoFundMe campaign to raise money to help cover Edwin’s rising medical costs and travel expenses. People have responded with generous donations and words of encouragement. Edwin and Dore are deeply touched by the community’s kindness and generosity. For Edwin, who is accustomed to being on the giving end, the outpouring of aloha has been nothing short of humbling.
State Sen. Lorraine Inouye wrote: “I pray all goes well with Chef Goto in his continued battle with this dreadful illness. Stay strong. God speed.”
BethAn Nishijima, owner of Nori’s Saimin and Snacks in Hilo, wrote: “WE LOVE ED, BE STRONG, I’M PRAYING FOR YOU, I KNOW YOU WILL BEAT THIS!!!!!!!
And, “Team Lana‘i,” a group of cooks who worked with Edwin when he was the executive chef at The Lodge at Koele and Manele Bay on Läna‘i, wrote: “As a person, he means a lot to those he worked with and became friends with. As chef, he is in a league by himself.”
Those are just a few of the many comments that speak to the respect and love the community has for this man. Edwin was deeply moved by the outpouring of support. “My eyes would just well up with tears,” he said. “It’s difficult for me to read through all the comments from everyone. It’s too overwhelming.”
If you are able to help Edwin with a monetary donation, go to https://www.gofundme.com/help-chef-ed-goto-get-medical-treatment. I hope you will share this information on your Facebook page or by any means possible. If you are more comfortable writing a check, make your check payable to Edwin Goto and mail it to Edwin Goto, P.O. Box 437446, Kamuela, HI 96743.
Your donations are not tax-deductible, but sometimes, giving from the heart to help someone in need who has always given to the community from his heart shouldn’t have to be tax-deductible.
Dan Nakasone is a Sansei Uchinanchu from Wahiawä. He is a marketing and advertising professional and served as a producer/researcher for PBS’ award-winning food and culture series, “Family Ingredients,” which was based in Hawai‘i and hosted by Chef Ed Kenney.