Chai Chaowasaree to open Chef Chai, a healthier, butterless restaurant in the Honolulu Pacifica



Chai Chaowasaree still doesn't like vegetables. But that's not stopping him from opening a new, more health-conscious restaurant, banning butter from the kitchen and focusing on herbs and spices in lieu of fat and salt.

Chai's Island Bistro closes December 31, finishing up a 15-year lease at Aloha Tower. Chaowasaree hopes to open Chef Chai at the Pacifica Honolulu by February 2013.

"Twenty five years ago, when I opened Singha Thai, there were only five Thai restaurants here," Chaowasaree says. "Then, fifteen years ago (when he opened Chai's), no one was doing live music in restaurants. Now that that's popular, it's time to reinvent myself again. I know health consciousness is a big topic in dining out now … When you eat out, you don't have a lot of control over what you eat. You end up eating a lot of fat without noticing. I believe in moderation."

Chaowasaree wants to give diners healthier options at Chef Chai. There will be meat on the menu, but only the leanest cuts—so filet mignon, not ribeye, chicken breast, not thigh. Some of the menu items he's planning on include apple kim chee summer rolls with grilled gochujang shrimp; soft tofu, broccolini and walnuts in a coconut ginger broth; and braised rainbow trout with roasted chili ginger cream and zucchini linguini.

Interestingly, Chaowasaree says it's his cooking for Hawaiian Airlines that really opened his palate to more herbs and spices. "At 30,000 feet in the air, you lose the flavor of salt," he says. "I use spices to counteract that."

So even with his eye toward healthier eating, why does Chaowasaree still not eat his vegetables? "I guess my palate just can't handle it," he says. "But I eat a lot of fruit everyday. I don't eat fat. I turn 50-years-old this year and my doctor said everything is perfect—my liver, my kidney, everything. So I don't see a reason why I need to change anything."

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