Iron Chef winner Masaharu Morimoto has expanded his restaurant locations to include Honolulu, recently opening his new upscale Morimoto Restaurant inside of the new Waikiki Edition. When asked what drew the chef to Hawaii, his response is first sentimental and then practical. “I got married with my wife in Waikiki in 1978,” he explains, “and when the opportunity came to me a few years ago, I couldn’t resist the idea of opening a restaurant in Hawaii because I knew I could use fine local seafood.”
Morimoto’s menu may seem somewhat untraditional as far as Japanese cuisine goes, but the chef reminds diners that even ingredients typically used in Japan are borrowed—two examples being shoyu (thought to originate in China) and curry (which comes from India). With nods to Italy, France, and Southeast Asia, Morimoto combines fish such as hamachi with traditional wasabi and less traditional crème fraiche—the French version of sour cream. The fusion-inspired menu lends to unique combinations and presentations, which are best presented during the multiple-course chef’s choice dinner called omakase ($110/person). For á la carte options, tartare, carpaccio and sashimi dishes line the appetizer pages, and well known entrees include “Duck, Duck, Duck” (duck prepared three ways, $28), “Angry Chicken” (the organic spicy chicken that was an Iron Chef award winner, $29), and the 16-ounce Wagyu rib-eye steak ($85).
Morimoto is also developing relationships with the state’s fishing industry and local farmers. General manager Craig Kahila says the goal is to eventually purchase 60-70 percent of the food for the restaurant from local sources. Organic coffee bean grower Kona RainForest Coffee, for example, sells its blends exclusively to the White House and Morimoto. And Nalo Farms is one of several farms that is dedicating land to grow specific fruit and vegetable seeds that Morimoto has brought back from Japan in order to cultivate locally. “Chef is very protective of the environment,” noted Kahila.
Since Morimoto resides with his wife in New York, the day-to-day operation of the kitchen is in the hands of Chef Jojo Vasquez. No stranger to Iron Chef, Vasquez once competed on the show himself. He’s spent the past five years as the chef de cuisine at The Banyan Tree restaurant at the Ritz-Carlton on Maui. Despite living off island, however, Morimoto promises to visit Hawaii and the new Waikiki restaurant often.