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A New Chef de Cuisine at Chef Mavro Restaurant is Stirring Things Up

Mavro is one of Hawai‘i’s most singular chefs. But when you’ve got French Laundry veteran Jonathan Mizukami as your new chef de cuisine, things are bound to change.


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Mizukami and Mavrothalassitis meet on Sundays to talk about the menu and the week ahead.
Photos: olivier koning 

In the back storeroom of Chef Mavro hang dozens of hoshigaki, shriveled blood-orange Maui-grown persimmons that have been peeled and strung over the rafters to air-dry. The result of this labor-intensive, weekslong process will be dense, chewy confections that taste similar to dates yet more delicate and subtle.

 

This isn’t something you’d see in most restaurants, even one run by avant-garde chef George Mavrothalassitis.

 

“Did you see them?” he asks me, eagerly, showing me a photo of the hanging persimmons he had recently uploaded to Instagram. “Crazy, no?”

 

It wasn’t his idea. And, to be honest, he doesn’t even know what dish these dried fruits will be part of in a few weeks.

 

But he does know this: Whatever his new chef de cuisine, Jonathan Mizukami, wants to do, including hanging persimmons from the rafters or fermenting cabbage to make choucroute garnie (a French sauerkraut) in a 10-gallon ceramic crock, it’ll be good. Really good.

 

“Oh, my God, what I learn from Jonathan,” Mavrothalassitis says, sitting with Mizukami in one of the upholstered booths in his award-winning restaurant one morning. “He is the next generation. He is the future.”

 

At first glance, these two chefs couldn’t be more different. 

 

At 71, the gregarious Mavrothalassitis, who hails from coastal Marseilles in France, exudes exuberance. He passionately describes, most often with his hands, the correct way of making bouillabaisse, his eyes gleaming behind black-rimmed glasses. The clean-shaven, Maui-born Mizukami, 36, sits politely and listens as Mavrothalassitis blames, with unabashed contempt, the beloved Julia Child for screwing up the recipe by adding scallops, mussels and clams to a dish traditionally made only with fish.

 

“When people put lobster in it, it’s just to make it expensive for tourists,” Mavrothalassitis scoffs in his very French way. “Even just the flavor of the lobster screws up my bouillabaisse. Julia Child. Her recipe book is full of shit.”

 

“I have both of them,” Mizukami chimes in, with a low-key smile.

 

Mavrothalassitis looks at him, somewhat surprised and slightly disappointed, then shakes his head.

 

And then you see it. That kolohe twinkle in Mizukami’s eyes. The look of someone confident enough to prod the impassioned Mavrothalassitis in just the right spot. And then you think maybe, just maybe, these two might have more in common after all.

 

Their first meeting seemed serendipitous.

 

Mavrothalassitis worked with pastry chef Jose Calpito on this trio of desserts using quince, a bright yellow fruit similar to a pear. 
Photo: Steve Czerniak 

​Mizukami had been working for 10 years at The French Laundry, the renowned, three-star Michelin restaurant in Yountville, California, most recently as sous chef, under the esteemed chef and restaurateur Thomas Keller. Two years ago, he decided he wanted to come back home. So he put in his notice, with no job prospects, and jumped on a plane back to Hawai‘i.

 

It just so happened that Vintage Cave’s executive chef, Chris Kajioka, was leaving his post to pursue new opportunities. The exclusive restaurant’s then-general manager, Charly Yoshida, heard Mizukami was back in town. By that October, Mizukami had been named the new executive chef at Honolulu’s most expensive restaurant.

 

It was during the time Mizukami was at Vintage Cave that Mavrothalassitis went there for dinner and was blown away by every dish that emerged from the kitchen.

 

“The food was fantastique,” Mavrothalassitis says, still savoring the memory of the dishes. “Jonathan’s food was totally exceptional. It was one of my best meals in a long time.”

 

When Mizukami was thinking about venturing out on his own, he met with Mavrothalassitis at Chef Mavro to talk about what it takes to run a successful restaurant in Hawai‘i. After all, if anyone knows how to do that, it’s James-Beard-Award-winning Mavrothalassitis, one of the 12 founders of the Hawai‘i Regional Cuisine movement, who runs the only independently owned restaurant in the state to earn the American Automobile Association five-diamond status every year since 2008.

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