Nadine Kam, followed by readers of both the Honolulu Star-Bulletin and Honolulu Star-Advertiser for her spirited coverage of the local restaurant industry, fashion and music, died Tuesday night in Waipahu after a battle with cancer. She was 63.
Kam joined the Star-Bulletin as a copy editor in 1988, becoming a page designer and advancing to assistant features editor and then features editor in 1998.
But she likely was best known around town, both by the restaurant industry and the diners who supported it, not for these positions but for a role in which she hoped to fly under the radar as a reviewer, unrecognized by the restaurateurs.
For years at the Star-Bulletin and later the Star- Advertiser, Kam wrote “The Weekly Eater,” a review column in which her byline ran with a photo of her face concealed by a hat and sunglasses. That anonymity enabled her to provide readers an assessment of the meal and service provided to the general public. She continued to write about food and restaurants for the Star-Advertiser’s weekly Crave section until falling ill earlier this summer.
During her newspaper career, Kam also chronicled the developments in island fashion, music and myriad aspects of island living.
For example, Kam was a reporter and writer in a special project on the classroom climate, absenteeism and student discipline in public schools.
Her editor on that piece, Mary Poole-Burlingame, recalled that she capitalized on her petite stature and youthful appearance by going back to her alma mater of Waipahu High School to observe and report from a student’s perspective.
Kam’s willingness to venture off the well-traveled path sometimes surprised even her friends. Food writer Melissa Chang remarked on her interest in singing with a rock band.
“We had no idea,” she said. “We went out to karaoke and she grabbed the mike, and we all turned around and said, ‘Who is that?’”
Another member of Kam’s foodie “posse” is food writer and publicist Sean Morris, who said the two friends shared similar dining tastes and often cast about for new places to try. Typically, he said, she saved her impressions for the reviews.
“She was such a gifted writer,” Morris said. “You never knew what the story would be but it was fun being part of the process.”
Frank Bridgewater, retired editor of the Star-Advertiser and the Star-Bulletin before that, remembers Kam as “a valued and talented staffer for the Star-Bulletin and Star-Advertiser for many years.”
“Her restaurant reviews and food coverage had a large, loyal following, and her stories were written in a casual way that was always entertaining, interesting and informative.
“Nadine was also a great ambassador for the newspapers while she was out many nights each week gathering information about food, fashion and music for her stories,” Bridgewater added.
Chefs took notice, too. Colin Hazama first encountered Kam when he was cooking at RumFire Waikiki at the Sheraton Waikiki, but observed she was known at industry events on the mainland as well.
“For someone small of stature, she left a big impression, and big words that impacted people,” Hazama said.
Betty Shimabukuro worked with Kam throughout her career in the Star-Bulletin’s Today section and through her editing of the Star-Advertiser’s Crave section.
“Nadine had as much passion for fashion as for food, and for many years carried both her ‘Weekly Eater’ column every Wednesday and production of a lively Style section every Thursday. For a few years she even ran the entire Features section. She made music, too. And danced,” Shimabukuro said.
“She never became a snob about food and was as likely to champion a tiny shop in Chinatown as a fancy-pants restaurant in Waikiki. Maybe more so. She admired creativity, clean flavors and beauty on the plate. She respected chefs who respected their ingredients.
“Bottom line, she never stopped moving, and didn’t seem afraid of anything. As journalism changed, she went big with social media, taking up blogging and video production, building a brand with herself centerstage. Never shy. Never timid.”
Nancy Arcayna, a former Star Bulletin and Star Advertiser reporter, said, “Nadine’s unwavering support, encouragement and dedication to my success illuminated my path, both professionally and personally. She always had my back and celebrated my victories, big and small.
“Her departure is a reminder that in life’s unpredictable journey, having someone who is always there to cheer for your success is truly priceless. I’m completely heartbroken over the loss of my dear friend who shared meals, abstract art and hip-hop dance classes and spontaneous outings with me as well as always pushing me a step farther than I thought possible.”
Kam earned her journalism degree at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. She was married to the late Honolulu Advertiser writer Christopher Neil.
She is survived by her mother, Phyllis Kam; sisters Natalie, Darlene and Sandra Kam; and brother Nolan Kam. Funeral arrangements are pending.