Odd Restaurant Jobs in Honolulu
Chefs receive most of the attention, but there are also many lesser-known, yet fascinating, restaurant jobs. Meet some of the crew at local dining spots who have positions you may never have heard of.
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With a job description that few in the restaurant industry have, Tracy Solomon is paid to think about the things that don’t always cross restaurateurs’ minds.
“Not many places have a position like mine,” said Solomon, who is the sustainability coordinator for Kona Brewing Co. “A lot of chefs and managers don’t have time to do what I’m doing.”
What Solomon is doing is updating an incredibly wasteful industry with sustainable practices. She rid the Oahu brewhouse of Styrofoam, helped coordinate the reuse and refurbishing of restaurant furniture and oversaw a switch from chemical, industrial cleaning products to biodegradable alternatives, which total more than 100 gallons a year. She’s also focused on some of the more elusive ways in which restaurants can be environmentally harmful.
“Nobody really thinks of this, but a lot of restaurants produce hazardous waste,” says Solomon. “For example, in six months, you can collect 50 pounds of batteries. If you think about all the batteries in computers, all of the auto-flushes in restrooms, as well as complex fluorescent lights, we have well over 100 lights, and all of those lights and batteries, when they go out, you want to properly recycle them. That’s a big one, and it makes a big impact.”
While her job is unusual, it’s also an unusually good fit for Solomon, who was raised in the restaurant industry—“I’ve been the dishwasher, I’ve been working in the kitchen, I’ve been the server, I’ve been the hostess,” she says—then academically and professionally trained in natural-resources management.
“I’ve never worked anywhere before where you had low-flow water fixtures, Energy Star appliances, biodegradable cleaning products,” she says. “It’s still new for restaurants to switch over to these things, and it represents a whole different approach, from every angle, of how to better the business practices.”
If Solomon’s passion for what she’s doing isn’t enough, there are other perks of working for Kona Brewing Co.
“I get to taste the beer all the time,” she says. “The beer? It usually speaks for itself.”
Kona Brewing Co., 7192 Kalani‘ana‘ole Highway, 394-5662, konabrewingco.com. Hours: daily, from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. A second location, on the Big Island, is at 75-5629 Kuakini Highway, 808-334-2739.
Dave Newman’s career began with an ambitious lie. He was a teenager, and working as a waiter for a catering company, when his frantic supervisors told them they needed a bartender, right away, to stand in for someone who didn’t show.
“They go, ‘Does anybody know how to bartend?’” remembers Newman. “I was 19 at the time, and I go, ‘Oh, me!’ So they’re like, ‘Get behind the bar.’ I had no idea. It was so embarrassing. People would order a Cuba Libre, and I was like, ‘What is that?’ They’re like, ‘It’s rum and Coke with a lime.’ Stuff like a Cape Cod, just vodka and cranberry, no idea. But I loved it. From that point on, I wanted to be behind the bar.”
Two decades later, Newman has what he wanted and then some. After a long stint at Nobu in Malibu, Calif., he now runs the bar at Nobu Waikiki, where he’s the mastermind behind an array of drinks with impossibly creative and intricate components. Take the tiny, translucent purple pearls he calls Chambord Caviar, for example.
“It’s made with Chambord and a type of baking sugar called agar, and it takes a really long time to make. You add agar to any spirit basically, you heat it up, you drizzle it into cold flaxseed oil and then you rinse it off. We take a Japanese cucumber, hollow it out and use the Japanese cucumber as a cup and fill this into it.”
It’s not unusual for components of Newman’s cocktails to require several days of preparation, like an orange that has to be dehydrated, then marinated, for days before being served.
“Two days,” he says. “And that’s just for one garnish.”
It’s not just the preparation that requires such meticulousness. Newman uses fine-tuned techniques for a wide range of cocktail preparations. For one drink, a raw shishito pepper is sliced in two. Half goes directly into the drink, while the other half is sprinkled with white granulated sugar.
“We take a blowtorch and we brûlée it,” says Newman. “We roast the back of it so it’s actually warm when you get it.”
Approaching cocktails with culinary sensibilities—from blow-torched sugar to airy foams and beyond—is a method that’s exploded in recent years, and one that Newman has gladly embraced.
“I love to cook,” he said. “I think in the last decade, that’s become more a part of bartending than it ever has before. Whatever you want to call it: gastronomical bartending or mixology, if you don’t have some basis in the kitchen, it’s going to be a lot more difficult for you.”
Newman says the creative freedom chef Nobu Matsuhisa gives him makes it easy to flex his culinary muscle. Newman imports blood oranges from Chile, and has experimented with everything from curry oils to beets. In the end, that perfect cocktail may take mere minutes to drink. Newman says if he’s done his job, an air of effortlessness hides the unquantifiable effort behind each creation.
“Think about it like going to see a play,” says Newman. “You don’t see the rehearsal, you don’t see the creative process of somebody writing the play. You see the finished product. And hopefully it’s polished and looks good. The typical diner at a restaurant? You’re probably seeing 20 percent, if that, of what’s really there.”
Nobu Waikiki, 2233 Helumoa Road, 237-6999, noburestaurants.com. Hours: weekdays from 5 p.m., weekends from 5:30 p.m.
Adrienne LaFrance is a Honolulu-based freelancer, and hosts trivia nights at Manifest, 32 North Hotel Street, each Tuesday at 6 p.m.