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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Photo: olivier koning
Mizukami has been absorbing the business side of operating a restaurant, discovering the unique demands and desires of Hawai‘i diners, and experimenting with local ingredients he didn’t have access to while in California. Mavrothalassitis, who pores over projections and sales figures at his restaurant, is open about his failures, too, particularly the now-defunct Cassis Restaurant and Wine Bar in downtown Honolulu, which didn’t survive a year in the cavernous, 13,000-square-foot space in Harbor Court. (The enormous size of the restaurant ended up being its biggest downfall.)
And, despite years of honing his skills in some of the most respected kitchens in the world, Mizukami is still learning new techniques from the seasoned Mavrothalassitis.
“Like making aioli,” Mizukami says, smiling. “I’ve never done it this way before.”
Mavrothalassitis learned to make aioli from his Italian grandmother, who used a mortar and pestle instead of a whisk to beat together garlic, egg yolks and extra-virgin olive oil. Using a whisk, Mavrothalassitis says, makes the olive oil turn bitter. (“Don’t ask me why,” he says. “I have no bloody idea.”) This more traditional method results in a silky, creamy aioli that’s so thick the pestle can stand up in it.
Mizukami has long admired Mavrothalassitis and how he has been able to run this quaint, upscale, 68-seat restaurant for the past 28 years, changing the menu whenever he feels like it and using whatever ingredients he wants. But now, working alongside him has fueled an even greater regard for the zealous chef, who’s long been a champion for local agriculture. (About 80 percent of the produce and nearly all of the fish used in the restaurant are locally sourced.)
One day, Mizukami was in the office at the restaurant and saw a copy of Art Culinaire Magazine from 1990. One of the stories was on the Hawai‘i Regional Cuisine movement and featured Hawai‘i chefs, including Mavrothalassitis.
“One of his recipes was lobster with saffron-vanilla sauce,” Mizukami says. “It’s one of the classic recipes I learned at The French Laundry. The recipe was very similar, using mussel stock as the base.”
Mizukami did the math: Keller had purchased The French Laundry in 1994, and Mavrothalassitis was using a saffron-vanilla sauce four years earlier.
“To say the least, I was impressed,” Mizukami says.
For the first time ever, in nearly three decades, Mavrothalassitis says he has found someone he trusts fully, giving Mizukami more creative freedom with the menu than he has anyone else. This is no small thing from a chef so closely linked to his eponymous restaurant.
“He’s so good. It’s the first time I’ve let somebody express himself,” says Mavrothalassitis, who isn’t planning on retiring soon but has lately enjoyed time away from the kitchen. “I love my job, but I’m 71, and this is the next generation. He’s going to kill everyone.”
Another Mizukami dish: the roasted Keāhole lobster tail with a house-made choucroute garnie.
Photo: steve czerniak
Of the dozen dishes on Chef Mavro’s winter holiday menu, about half were created by Mizukami.
There’s the Hudson Valley foie gras parfait, which features a foie gras mousse under a thin pinot-noir gelée made from the wine reduction used to cook the Black Mission figs that accompany this dish. It’s also served with a Marcona-almond purée and a slice of buttery, toasted, house-made brioche.
There’s the roasted Keāhole lobster tail with a house-made choucroute garnie, kabocha confit, charred Brussels-sprout leaves and a kabocha-and-lobster-bisque purée.