HRC Chef Profiles
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1991: Promoter and manager in music (Alice Cooper, Blondie, Kenny Loggins, The Gypsy Kings, Luther Vandross) and in film (Raquel Welch, Ben Vereen, Kiss of the Spider Woman, The Moderns, Far North, Betty Blue).
2011: Manager, Alice Cooper (and a few projects he’s not talking about yet).
In the Kitchen: The chefs cooked in the kitchen of Gordon’s Maui home during the first meeting. He recalls: “They were all wearing shorts and chef jackets, and I look at the picture now, and they were all babies.”
Favorite memory: “One magical night. In 1992, I took the chefs to the launch of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Planet Hollywood. The chefs were all there wearing their HRC jackets, Wolfgang Puck even wore one. The guest list was a Who’s Who of celebrities. The food was great, Kapono sang and Elizabeth Lindsey danced hula. For one night, HRC owned Hollywood.”
In 1991: Executive chef, Hawaii Prince Hotel
In 2011: General manager, Courtyard by Marriott, Jacksonville, Fla.
Contribution to Hawaii Regional Cuisine: Strehl was the quietest of the HRC chefs and the least self-promoting. However, he threw the weight of his hotel behind the movement, hosting several events to showcase the other chefs. He was also an accomplished chef. “Some of his meals were so great they brought tears to your eyes,” recalls Shep Gordon.
Favorite Memory: “I miss those days. The HRC chefs were great people. You meet many high-end chefs who are stuffy and standoffish. These were just all guys you wanted to have a beer with.”
In 1991: Chef/owner, Avalon
In 2011: Chef/owner, Mala Ocean Tavern, Mala Wailea and Honu Seafood
Contribution to Hawaii Regional Cuisine: In 1988, Avalon was the first of the chef-owned Hawaii regional restaurants, serving everything from tableside guacamole to wok-fried whole snapper in black bean sauce. Ellman was a prime mover in getting the HRC chefs to publish a cookbook, and his towering tiki-style, chili-seared salmon graces the cover of that book, The New Cuisine of Hawaii.
Update: Ellman has started and sold a number of restaurants: Avalon, the Maui Tacos chain and Penne Pasta. He’s not done. His Mala Ocean Tavern in Lahaina was such a hit, he opened a second location, Mala Wailea, in Wailea Beach Marriott Resort. This year, he’s opened Honu, a Lahaina seafood eatery.
Favorite Memory: “When Wolfgang Puck came and cooked with us at the Big Island Bounty event [held at the Ritz-Carlton Mauna Lani, August 1993]. Wolf being there validated us, and we were all there, me, Bev, Sam, Jean-Marie, Roy, Alan, loud and proud.”
In 1991: Chef/owner, Haliimaile General Store
In 2011: Chef/owner, Haliimaile General Store, Joe’s Bar & Grill, Gannon’s, Celebrations Catering
Contribution to Hawaii Regional Cuisine: Relatively new to the restaurant business, Gannon brought an openness to the group, a willingness to experiment, a flair for comfort food, and an insistence that the revolution stay focused on what the restaurant customer would like to see on the table.
Does she still call her food Hawaii Regional Cuisine? “Yes. I do pure Americana at Joe’s, but at Haliimaile and Gannon’s, I do American with Asian overtones. Hoisin, oyster sauce, ginger—Mainstream America comes here for those flavors.”
In 1991: Chef/owner, A Pacific Café, Kapaa
In 2011: Chef/owner, Josselin’s Bar & Grill, Poipu
Contribution to Hawaii Regional Cuisine: Helped put Hawaii on the world culinary map by winning the National Seafood Challenge in 1989. A Pacific Café was one of Hawaii’s earliest chef-driven restaurants, and Josselin one of the movement’s most creative chefs. Josselin’s cookbook, A Taste of Hawaii, was the first from one of the Hawaii Regional chefs.
Update: At one time, Josselin had seven restaurants across the state, including Pacific Cafés on Oahu and Maui. His empire contracted in the late ’90s. For a number of years, he was focused on his restaurant, 808, which brought a taste of Hawaii to Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. However, he continued to live on Kauai, and once again has a Kauai restaurant, in the new Kukuiula Village.
In 1991: Executive chef, Hotel Hana-Maui
In 2011: Consulting and planning a Big Island cooking school
Latest Achievement: A year at the Bristol Buenaventura Hotel in Panama, helping create another regional cuisine, Panam-Asian. “Oh, my gosh, they are where Hawaii was 20 years ago. Applying high-end technique to incredible, tropical ingredients.”
Favorite Memory: “I fell in love with all those guys. Alan Wong was like a hero to me, Gary Strehl was the nicest man in the world. It was great to be with them, going out to the farms and researching the ingredients.”
In 1991: Chef/owner, Merriman’s Waimea
In 2011: Chef/owner, Merriman’s Waimea, Merriman’s Kapalua, Merriman’s Fish House and Downstairs Café Kauai, Merriman’s Market Café Waikoloa, Monkeypod Kitchen by Peter Merriman; operating partner, Hula Grill Kaanapali
Contribution to Hawaii Regional Cuisine: Although many can claim credit for the idea, Merriman was the prime mover in putting HRC together. He made the calls and invited the chefs to the first meeting, became president of the organization and introduced the chefs to many of the Big Island farmers.
Favorite Memory: “I view Hawaii Regional Cuisine as one of the more important things I’ve done in life. It all seemed to work out just perfectly. I’ll never forget serving Waimea country greens in lilikoi vinaigrette, wrapped in rice paper, at the James Beard House, while Auntie Irmgard and Puamana were singing. How great was that?”