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Next Food Network Star: Waimea boy Phillip "Ippy" Aiona?


Phillip "Ippy" Aiona, left, on Food Network Star.

Courtesy of Food Network

Will the next Food Network Star be a Big Island local? Waimea boy Phillip "Ippy" Aiona (who at age 23 is also the youngest contestant ever on the series), certainly seems to have a shot. Aiona made it on the show with a casting video that shows him cooking in his mother's Italian restaurant, Solimene in Waimea, and then setting up an imu to roast a pig.

It's the perfect summation of Aiona's experience, having grown up in his dad's plate lunch eatery, Kamuela Deli, which the family sold to start Solimene, where he is currently executive chef.

On the show, as he presents a warm mushroom salad in a pistachio vinaigrette, he says, "My father is Hawaiian, my mother is Italian from New York. I love to fuse my two cultures together on a plate." The judges love his dish, but they criticize him for being a little laid back, too "Hawaiian," celebrity chef Giada De Laurentiis and team leader says (the contestants compete on teams, led by Bobby Flay, Alton Brown and De Laurentiis).

(In a show that regularly caricatures people, where a Latina woman is never mentioned without the adjective "fiery," don't expect this show to be subtle.)

Through a blend of editing and Aiona's own personality, he's certainly charismatic and quotable: "Before I became a chef, the only thing I ever wanted to be was a pope," he says. His three favorite things? "Anchovies, mom, girlfriend." When he's not in a chef's coat, he's wearing aloha shirts.

Before the final episode of Food Network Star airs in July, viewers will vote online to determine who will receive their own Food Network show. Aiona is currently in the lead, with 22 percent of the vote.

But whether Aiona gets the show or not, he's already planning on opening his own restaurant, in as little as four months. The plan: A gastropub called The Dancing Pig, "taking local produce and transforming it into something whimsical," Aiona tells Biting Commentary. He's looking at locations in Kohala, where he expects more ambitious eaters and tourists, versus Waimea.

You can watch episodes of Food Network Star online, and I'll be curious to try The Dancing Pig when it opens.

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