ChefZone’s New Gourmet Corner Gives Us Kid-in-Candy-Store Vibes
Truffle butters, balsamic pearls, Himalayan salts that taste like eggs: The locally owned culinary warehouse store is going upscale.
The best time to wander into ChefZone’s gourmet foods corner is during a product sampling. I stumble in at the second best time—after a sampling, when my curious questions lead to sips of 12-year-aged balsamic vinegars from Modena and tiny spoonfuls of translucent balsamic pearls flavored with white truffle, lemon and fig. All this amid displays of caviar, duck foie gras mousse, caramelized onion jam and truffles in too many ways to remember.
If you know ChefZone only as the restaurant industry’s equivalent of Costco, with everything from compostable cups to gallon jars of Kewpie mayonnaise, the warehouse store has been revamping. The walk-in refrigerated section has more local brands (Metrogrow micro greens, Hanalei Taro hummus, Kunia Country Farms Mānoa lettuce and so on); meat cases hold coils of merguez lamb sausage; freezers display macarons and individually packaged spumoni ice cream bombs. And since earlier this year, a corner known as the Specialty Showroom has edible finds for cooks and non-cooks.
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White shoyu from Japan. Villa Manodori olive oils and vinegars. Finishing salts mined from present-day Iran (white flecked with blue) from near the Himalayas (ashy and tasting of egg yolks) and from local ‘alaea salt beds. Fruit purées of calamansi, mango, liliko‘i and more to mix into cocktails and mocktails. Saffron. Truffle butters. Local chocolate for baking.
Most reminiscent of Eataly in New York City are all-in-one packages of pasta, polenta and paella pre-loaded with seasoning packets and dehydrated mushrooms and other ingredients. You add everything to a pot or pan, cook and serve. As I said, this place is for cooks and non-cooks.
If the grownup kid in a gourmet candy store vibe feels familiar, it is. The two people driving the selections are former Tango chef-owner Goran Streng and Becky Choy, whose Strawberry Connection store in Kalihi was a specialty food destination through the 1980s and 90s. They’re still building the selection—Streng says that eventually, this gourmet foods room will be crammed with nearly triple the items there now.
You’ll need a membership—which you can get free and on the spot. Here’s a taste of what we found.