ʻUlu Ambassador: Mark “Gooch” Noguchi - Cofounder Pili Group & Chef Hui

Mark “Gooch” Noguchi - Cofounder Pili Group & Chef Hui

Born and raised in Mānoa Valley, Mark “Gooch” Noguchi spent his early 20s dancing with Hālau o Kekuhi in Hilo – an experience that left a profound sense of respect for the land and its resources. He is a graduate of Kapi`olani Community College and the Culinary Institute of America. Although Mark has owned restaurants and led many professional kitchens, he still refers to himself as “just a cook.” 

Mark is an alum of TOWN Restaurant and Chef MAVRO on Oʻahu and is the former co-owner and chef of He`eia Kea Pier General Store & Deli – a revitalized Windward O‘ahu institution where his hyperlocal sourcing of product within an ahupua`a (traditional Hawaiian land division) garnered international attention.

From 2012-2014, Gooch was a founding partner and resident chef of TASTE TABLE, a pop-up project that jump started the vibrant gastronomy scene in Kaka`ako. In January 2015, he expanded his brand in Kaka`ako with lunch eatery MISSION Social Hall & Cafe on the grounds of the historic Hawaiian Mission Houses museum. Although small, this café reconfirmed Mark’s commitment to sourcing locally and telling the story of ingredients to create a deeper connection to the meals they served.

Mark can also be seen on the Cooking Channel's Unique Eats as a commentator and on CNN’s Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown’s Hawai‘i special with Anthony Bourdain on the Hawaiʻi episode. His jovial humility and dedication to community empowerment through food and education has put him at the forefront of Hawai‘i’s food community.

Mark and his wife Amanda Corby Noguchi now own Pili Group – a non-traditional food concept focused on the connection between community, education and food. In 2013, Pili partnered with Hawaiian Airlines on LunchBox – a café serving healthy, locally-sourced meals to Hawaiian Airlines staff.

Pili Group’s Chef Hui started as a grassroots network in 2017 as a way to deepen connections between the culinary world and the community, is now operating as a full-time nonprofit serving communities statewide. Since the beginning of the pandemic, Chef Hui has been on the frontlines, working intimately within communities to create systems and solutions for building a more equitable and culturally-relevant food system in Hawai’i.

While Chef Hui focuses heavily on the types of projects this group was founded on, such as Farm-To-Table month, Hawai’i Seafood Month and championing canoe crops such as ʻulu and kalo, the team’s ability to work collaboratively within communities to respond to COVID-19 programs continue to draw the spotlight.

Mark now serves as a Food and Sustainability Curriculum Specialist at Punahou School, linking students and faculty to experts outside of education who collaborate on sustainable food and living projects. His innovative approach connects students to food via the scientific knowledge and cultural wisdom from which it springs, enlivening the curriculum and engaging students in a way never before seen at one of the world’s finest private schools. In recognition of the way he interweaves food, place, community and kuleana (responsibility) to better Hawai‘i, Gooch was named an Omidyar Fellow in 2019.

Like the intention that infuses his cooking, Mark’s personal motivations are rooted not in chefdom but in heritage. He counts family - his two daughters and his beloved wife - as his greatest accomplishment.

When Mark was a student at the University of Hawaiʻi in Hilo, a classmate shared an ʻulu he baked with a whole stick of butter.

“That was a holy shit moment,” Mark said.

That same year Mark’s girlfriend at the time made him ‘ulu chips with garlic salt, which is now his favorite way to eat ‘ulu.

“I cook from an `āina-based perspective,” said Mark. “It’s important to know where our food comes from. It’s an intimate connection that not only keeps me grounded - it defines who we are.”

Gooch's Recipe: Okinawan Sweet Potato Muffins

See Featured Recipe

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