9 Things Hawaii Chefs Wished You Knew


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BY LESA GRIFFITH; ILLUSTRATIONS BY VIDHYA NAGARAJAN

The restaurant world from Honolulu to Hoboken was riled up when, in 2009, The New York Times published a column titled “100 Things Restaurant Staffers Should Never Do.” It was like an emancipation proclamation for people who give their money to eateries: “Never refuse to seat three guests because a fourth has not yet arrived,” “do not interrupt a conversation—especially not to recite specials,” “never say ‘I don’t know’ to any question without following with, ‘I’ll find out.’” Cooks, restaurant owners, critics and eaters let comments fly on Twitter—“Hurrah!” or “He’s never been a server”—and at least one Honolulu restaurateur tacked them up in the kitchen.

Is the customer always right? We turned the tables and asked Hawaii chefs to dish on what they wish diners knew.

#1 Reservation protocol

“The best time to dine is early or late in the evening,” says Johann Svensson, chef de cuisine of BLT Steak. “It’s easier to get a table, and there are fewer people—so less hassle. Service is on time at those times.” On a Friday night, what’s a good time to snag prime real estate at BLT Steak? “Nine o’clock,” he says.

Chef after chef cited boors who try to name-drop and elbow their way to star treatment. Jon Matsubara, chef de cuisine at Azure, wants you to know that “the proverbial ‘you attract more flies with honey than vinegar’ will always work better in your favor. Everybody, regardless of industry, likes to accommodate people who are polite.”

If you have a habit of making multiple reservations at multiple restaurants, and then choose where you want to go the night of, don’t think you’re getting the last laugh. An online database called Open Table lets restaurants track all sorts of stuff. Birthdays, favorite dishes, number of times visited, and other notes. The industry is small, so if you make a habit of shafting reservations, they’ll know sooner or later.

“I wish people knew what happens when they ‘no show’ on a reservation or cancel at the last minute,” says Paul Feng, chef de cuisine at Chef Mavro. “The obvious is that somebody who wanted that table or that time is mad. Also, it means we throw food away that local farmers have gone to a lot of trouble to grow and deliver to us. And staff get sent home early and make less money.

  

#2 Know your sauce

Pasta is practically its own food group in the U.S., yet people know surprisingly little about the intricacies of this Italian staple, says Keith Endo, chef de cuisine at Vino.

Endo makes his own pasta and, for him, there are few things more disheartening than people complaining that there’s not enough sauce atop his handcrafted noodles. “I wish people knew that pasta is supposed to be very simple. I ask the servers to let them know it’s not about the sauce. Of course, you can have more sauce if you want, but, really, it’s about the flavor and texture of the pasta.” Endo notes how he changes the ratios of semolina flour, water, salt and sometimes egg to suit the many types of pasta he makes, and dreams of people appreciating the subtle differences.

Even though Thai food is one of the most prevalent cuisines on the island, Kenny Usamanont, sous chef and owner of Haleiwa Eats and Rajanee Thai Cuisine in Mililani, still has to explain the difference between red, green and yellow curry. For the record, “It all comes down to the chiles,” he says. “The red are dehydrated chiles and the green are fresh, and yellow is turmeric inspired. Even if we make curries mild, the green is always spicier because it’s fresh.”

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