Two Skinny Chefs
Felix and Oscar. McGarrett and Dano. Starsky and Hutch. Chai and Beth-An? Well, why not? Every successful TV duo is a study in contrasts, and these hosts of Hawaii’s hottest new cooking show, Two Skinny Chefs, are no exception.
Chai Chaowasaree is one of Hawaii’s leading chefs, known for the high-end fusion cuisine served at his Aloha Tower restaurant, Chai’s Island Bistro. Beth-An Nishijima packs in customers at her casual Hilo eatery, Nori’s, which is famous for saimin, sushi and specialty snacks. Chaowasaree, who moved to Hawaii from Thailand nearly 20 years ago, is easygoing, soft-spoken. Nishijima, who grew up in Honolulu, is not.
But the unlikely pair have been close friends for more than a decade, after being introduced by former cooking show host Hari Kojima. Earlier this year, Chaowasaree and Nishijima began hosting their own show on KGMB.
“We’re so opposite in a lot of ways, but we’re actually a good combination,” says Chaowasaree. “Beth-An is very strong, very bubbly, very local—she gives energy to the show. I’m very laid-back, teaching people to cook. But because we’ve known each other for so long, we can play around. Anything goes.”
Chaowasaree and Nishijima didn’t want to rehash the traditional in-studio, cooking-show format. Instead, they decided to take their show on the road. Each episode, they visit internationally renowned chefs at their Mainland restaurants, such as Ming Tsai at Boston’s Blue Ginger, Ron Siegel at Masa’s in San Francisco and Jean-Marie Josselin at 808 Las Vegas. Chaowasaree and Nishijima then bring back their guest chefs’ recipes to Hawaii and prepare their featured dishes using local ingredients.
Two Skinny Chefs also explores food in its earliest stages, visiting several Hawaii farms. The show even features entertainment segments filmed on location, including a Celine Dion concert at Caesar’s Palace.
In case you’re wondering, the production’s title is a take on the Food Network’s Two Fat Ladies. It’s also a good-natured dig at the hosts’ pal Sam Choy, known for warning diners to “never trust a skinny chef.”
If you’re curious about how Chaowasaree and Nishijima manage to stay, well, two skinny chefs, in spite of all the obligatory taste testing for each show and managing their own restaurants … it’s just pure luck. “I eat at midnight, I drink a lot of soda and eat a lot of meat and carbohydrates,” admits Chaowasaree. “I love desserts, and I don’t work out. But I don’t use a lot of butter or oil, and I take the skin off the chicken and fish. So I guess it adds up.”
As for Nishijima, “She eats a lot,” Chaowasaree says. “We go on location together, and she can eat a four-course meal, no problem. She doesn’t gain a thing.”
Don’t hold it against them. The show is worth watching. Chaowasaree fields most of the cooking, offering handy tips along the way (if you’re out of lobster stock, consider using oyster sauce, if you don’t mind a more Oriental flavor). Nishijima asks the questions, putting in her two cents wherever there’s opportunity. In the lobster episode, she tells Chaowasaree to use two of the plump tails instead of one. “That should be enough for me,” she laughs.
“Some shows, we look like two chickens squawking at each other,” Nishijima says. “We’re really comfortable together, so we take turns bantering back and forth and grumbling at each other. People don’t know that with all this cackling we do on the show, that’s how we really talk to each other—but that’s good. We’d probably drive each other crazy if we didn’t know each other so well.”
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