Hawai‘i Chocolate: Philippe Padovani Makes Magic With Chocolate

Padovani’s Chocolates is the best-kept secret in town.
Photos: Steve Czerniak

Philippe Padovani calls himself the Donald Trump of chocolate.


“I shake up this town. That’s my French part,” he says. Outspoken, brazen and with an impressive résumé spanning 45 years in the food industry, Padovani has achieved worldwide recognition as a chef and founding member of Hawai‘i Regional Cuisine. He’s blunt about his competitors’ flaws and those he considers his enemies, but he’s built his reputation on exceptional quality. He even jokes about how, when he realized years later that he had turned down Alan Wong’s application to be a cook at the Halekūlani back when he was chef, he told Wong, “Well, you weren’t good enough, that’s why!” (The two are friends now.)


But Padovani doesn’t helm restaurants anymore. He runs Padovani’s Chocolates.


On the second floor of Dole Cannery, Padovani says his shop is the best-kept secret in town. Dozens of flavors, from green tea to macadamia nut, sake to soju, mai tai to Mānoa honey, are all made by hand just a few feet away in a narrow space between the storefront and storage. “This is not your standard chocolate,” he says, in an accent that mixes French and Australian, the two countries where he grew up. And how could it be, when the man making it—tempering the chocolate, filling the molds, creating and piping the ganache—has been studying food since he was 15? “You gotta know cooking to be very creative,” he says, which made his transition from award-winning chef to award-winning chocolatier a simple one. 


Philippe Padovani pours all his own chocolates in his shop.


Padovani remembers thinking, “Who makes chocolate in town? Really makes it?” So he combined his expertise with his brother, Pierre’s, and the two opened the Dole shop in 2006, after Padovani’s Restaurant and Wine Bar closed. And while the chocolate itself is not local (Padovani uses Valrhona—“not because it’s French, but it is No. 1 in the world”), it takes skill to give it the right taste and snap when you bite into it. (He’s tried to use local chocolate before, but he says there just isn’t enough of it—yet.) “On a scale of 1 to 10, it’s a 20,” he says of everything he makes. “When it’s a 7, that’s all my competition. It’s gotta be a 20.”


Between the two of them, the Padovanis have about 70 recipes for their chocolates—including Pirie mango ganache, which they make with fresh fruit from the Damon Estate, and wild liliko‘i ganache—detailed in binders. Some unique chocolate confections are so secret they aren’t even on display—they’re for VIPs only. He doesn’t want just anyone coming in and stealing his ideas.


But, as intimidating as he can be, Padovani is extremely buoyant, friendly and proud of his shop, which also sells delicious Italian sodas, coffee drinks, macarons and macaroons (“It’s not a macaroon, it’s a congolais. But if I say ‘congolais,’ no one’s gonna know what I’m talking about”), bread, pastries and more. “We always try to be No. 1,” he says. “With nothing, we make magic.”


This story is part of The Everything Guide to Local Chocolate in our December 2015 issue. Click here for more.