HRC Chef Profiles
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In 1991: A restaurant in a Kailua-Kona Bowling Alley; about to open Sam Choy’s Kaloko, which would win a James Beard Award in 2004.
In 2011: Chef/owner, Sam Choy’s Kai Lanai, Kona. Sam Choy’s Breakfast, Lunch & Crab on Oahu licenses his name.
Update: Choy is perhaps the most well known of Hawaii’s chefs, with five cookbooks, a television show, a frozen food line with ConAgra, and a national reputation as Hawaii’s culinary ambassador. He now guest chefs around the world, and is in demand as a keynote speaker.
Does he still call his food Hawaii Regional Cuisine? “I call it Hawaii Heritage cooking, though it’s really Mom and Pop.” Choy’s Chinese father, Hung Sam Choy, and his Hawaiian-German mother, Clairemoana, owned the Hukilau Café in Laie. Weekends, young Sam would be put to work catering luau for as many as 800 visitors on Hukilau Beach.
Favorite Memory: “I still remember cooking at Shep Gordon’s house during the first meetings at the Maui Prince. It’s amazing how many people in that kitchen went on to become superstars.”
In 1991: Executive chef, Maui Prince Hotel
In 2011: Executive chef, The Carlyle, Palm Beach, Fla.
Update: In 1995, Dikon left the Islands. He had a restaurant in his wife’s native Ecuador, a brief retirement during the dot-com boom and a return to work after the dot-com bust. After nine years as executive chef of the PGA National Resort in Florida, he is now food and beverage director of The Carlyle Palm Beach, an upscale retirement community. “Sometimes I wish I stayed in Hawaii,” he says. “HRC just mushroomed. Everyone’s success has been great to watch, and the food, well, the food there is now just incredible.”
Does he still call his food Hawaii Regional Cuisine? “Oh, no, they’d string me up. I cook a lot of Jewish food, though they love my Asian-style short ribs.”
In 1991: Roy’s in Hawaii Kai, open for three years
In 2011: 32 restaurants, including the new Tavern at Princeville
Contribution to Hawaii Regional Cuisine: In 1991, Yamaguchi was the movement’s rising star. “We all expected him to be famous,” recalls Peter Merriman. He could have gone it alone, especially after becoming Hawaii’s first James Beard Award winner. Instead, he dedicated himself to the HRC movement, working with the other chefs and encouraging farmers.
Update: Yamaguchi turned French technique and Asian ingredients into a cuisine that Hawaii hadn’t tasted yet, but for which it was hungry. Then he took it nationwide. “Every city I go to,” says Gary Strehl, “there’s that purple sign that says Roy’s. The kitchen is humming, the flavors are there.” There are seven Hawaii restaurants, 23 on the Mainland and one each in Guam and in Japan.
Does he still call his food Hawaii Regional Cuisine? “I call it Hawaiian Fusion, though people can call it what they want.”
Favorite memory: “There was a reason we had fun. HRC was all new, so everybody was excited to help each other out. I used to like to hang out and cook with Jean-Marie at Pacific Café. I’d go over and cook with Peter Merriman. That was the fun part.”
In 1991: Chef de cuisine, CanoeHouse, Le Soleil, Mauna Lani Bay Hotel
In 2011: Chef/owner, Alan Wong’s, Pineapple Room, Alan Wong’s Tokyo
Contribution to Hawaii Regional Cuisine: When Hawaii Regional Cuisine is put into the food dictionary, Wong’s picture is likely to go next to the entry. Even his peers tend to think of Wong as the definitive HRC chef.
Favorite Memory: “Those first couple of years, being together. Having a cookout at the Maui Prince, one of the few times we were guests at the party instead of providing it. The sailboat ride off Waikiki. Being in the jacuzzi at Shep Gordon’s house with Sam Choy chopping vegetables into it. Just really getting to know one another.”
In 1991: Executive chef, Halekulani; chef, La Mer
In 2011: Chef/owner, Chef Mavro
Contribution to Hawaii Regional Cuisine: Even before the organization began, Mavro gathered many of the chefs who formed the HRC movement to cook at a 1989 charity event at the Halekulani. To HRC, Mavro brought his exacting French technique and passion for Hawaii seafood.
Does he still call his food Hawaii Regional Cuisine? “Yes. Perhaps Hawaii Regional/French.”
Favorite Memory: “I’d never made bouillabaisse in the United States. During the first meeting I found beautiful nohu at the fish auction. I spent the whole day cooking bouillabaisse. Crazy, instead of drinking beer on the beach. Roger Vergé was there, and he said my bouillabaisse was the best he’d ever tasted. It made my year.”
In 1991: Executive chef, Ritz-Carlton Mauna Lani
In 2011: Chef/owner, Padovani’s Grill; owner, Padovani’s Chocolates
Update: After the Ritz-Carlton, Padovani moved to the Manele Bay Resort on Lanai. In 1998, he returned to Waikiki to open Padovani’s Bistro & Wine Bar, which also briefly had a location in San Francisco. In 2007, Padovani began a restaurant called Elua with Donato Loperfido, a restaurant that was transformed this year into the new Padovani’s Grill.
Does he still call his food Hawaii Regional Cuisine? “Some dishes, yes, like poke, hearts of palm, green papaya, oysters mignonette with ogo. And my chocolates have Hawaii flavors: ginger, apple banana, Waialua and Kona coffee, pineapple, mango.”