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.
(page 2 of 4)
RIGHT: A MIZUKAMI CREATION: A HUDSON VALLEY FOIE GRAS PARFAIT TOPPED WITH A PINOT-NOIR GELÉE AND PRESERVED BLACK MISSION FIGS, AND PAIRED WITH TOASTED BRIOCHE.
PHOTO: OLIVIER KONING: JONATHAN MIZUKAMI DISH: STEVE CZERNIAK
After Mizukami left that meeting, Mavrothalassitis felt a pang of disappointment. He would have loved to hire Mizukami but didn’t have any openings in his kitchen. “I was really sad, you know,” Mavrothalassitis says. “When we talked, we understood each other. We spoke the same language.”
As fate would have it, a few months later, Mavrothalassitis’ chef de cuisine, Jeremy Shigekane, resigned, leaving the position suddenly open. Mavrothalassitis knew exactly which chef he wanted to fill it.
Mizukami didn’t hesitate to take the job.
“[Mavrothalassitis] is a great chef,” he says, confessing his favorite dish at Chef Mavro has been the signature, seasonal salt-crusted onaga. (It’s one he’s learning to prepare himself.) “I have much respect for him.”
There was one challenge, though. Shigekane had quit 10 days before Mavrothalassitis was about to embark on an unprecedented three-week vacation. (Unprecedented because Mavrothalassitis rarely leaves his restaurant.) The pair had only worked together for about a week before Mavrothalassitis left, leaving Mizukami to execute the menu on his own.
Mavrothalassitis wasn’t worried. He knew Mizukami, with his impressive culinary chops and experience in some of the best kitchens in the world—including Spain’s three-star Michelin restaurant El Bulli, Alinea in Chicago and Per Se in New York—could handle.
“He is from The French Laundry. I love his precision,” Mavrothalassitis says. “He’s even more precise than me.”
Every Sunday at 11 a.m., the two meet at the restaurant, at Table 12, to talk for an hour or so about everything from upcoming dinners to new dishes on the menu.
“Between his craziness and my craziness, we have a lot going on,” Mavrothalassitis says, laughing.
From these meetings, the two have come up with some of the most innovative dishes to appear on tables at this award-winning restaurant.
The popular egg “osmose,” which was first created by Mavrothalassitis, was recently modified by Mizukami. The local eggs are still stored with Piedmont truffles—recently, it’s been fresh white truffles from Alba—in a hermetically sealed box so the eggs are naturally infused with the truffle aroma. But, instead of creamy potato mousseline, the poached egg is paired with a white-truffle potato déclinaison, or variations, in the form of confit, purée and crispy “pomme Maxim’s.” (The pickled shallots and fresh truffle shavings are still part of this decadent dish.) And the Australian Tajima wagyu dish is another fusion from the creative minds of both chefs. The high-grade beef medallions are served with roasted carrots and creamed broccolini, topped with jus made from sharp and citrusy sansho peppers, the punchy unripened seedpods of the Japanese prickly ash. The quiet star of this dish, however, is Mavrothalassitis’ rissolée potato mochi that my husband called gourmet tater tots. (It’s a compliment.)
But when you look over the latest menu, it’s obvious—and quite amazing, frankly—how much Mizukami has contributed to the carefully constructed lineup over which Mavrothalassitis has always had so much control.
The opah belly is the most pronounced example.
Mizukami even surprised Mavrothalassitis with his juniper-berry-cured opah belly, paired with red beets, pickled Japanese cucumbers and dill pudding.
Photo: Steve Czerniak
First of all, I have never seen opah on Chef Mavro’s menu. Ever. And Mavrothalassitis, who has garnered a reputation for preparing fish, doesn’t normally work with the peritoneal cavities of fish. So this was already something new and different.
“When Jonathan told me about the dish, I said, ‘What? Opah? I don’t serve opah. And the belly? No way,’” Mavrothalassitis says, laughing. “But it’s interesting, it’s something different, and it’s my favorite dish on the menu.”
And then the preparation is something new. The opah belly is first cured in a brine of juniper berries, coriander and black pepper for five hours. Curing makes the fish firmer while keeping it moist. It’s given a juniper-berry crust, then finished in the oven and served with red beets, pickled Japanese cucumbers, dill pudding with crème fraîche, and a coffee-flour, rye-bread crumble that adds a nice texture to the dish. The result is a very approachable piece of fish that’s packed with flavors from the brine.
“I never dare to do what he does with fish,” Mavrothalassitis says.
But Mavrothalassitis isn’t the only one learning in this relationship.