Hawaiian Airlines’ Launches New Featured Chef Series

Dinnertime in the sky is about to take you to cloud nine.
Jon Matsubara, Andrew Le, Chai Chaowasaree, Lee Anne Wong, Wade Ueoka, Sheldon Simeon
PhotoS: Courtesy of Hawaiian Airlines 


When we think of airplane meals, our mouths don’t exactly water. (Wilty eggs and sad-looking spaghetti are not exactly our bag.). Obviously, we don’t fly Hawaiian Airlines often enough. One of the few airlines that still offers complimentary meals in coach, Hawaiian knows food is central to local culture. And when it comes to its first-class menus, in fact, it’s a real art.


The Hawaiian Airlines team started reaching for the sky in on-flight dining five years ago, when they brought chef Chai Chaowasaree onboard to give menus an infusion of his unique Hawai‘i Regional Cuisine expertise. Now, they are spreading the aloha even more by bringing in additional partners in the form of some of Hawai‘i’s hottest new up-and-coming and creative chefs to whip up a first-class menu for Mainland-bound Hawai‘i flights. New-wave stars will rotate every six months and include Lee Anne Wong, Wade Ueoka, Andrew Le and Sheldon Simeon.


First up on the roster is Jon Matsubara, chef de cuisine of Japengo Restaurant. Matsubara’s offering of local-inspired flavors, with a commitment to locally sourced ingredients (as Chai points out, you’d be hard-pressed to find another airline that serves short ribs cooked in $15-a-bottle local wine) hit flights yesterday, and we got to sneak behind the scenes at the airport and take a peek at (and taste of) them.



These menus include brunch, lunch/dinner and a late snack. And like we said, this ain’t your momma’s airline food. Matsubara was looking to give guests a taste of what a local would eat, so you’ll see a lot of jazzed-up familiar flavors and dishes. Brunch starts with a pineapple coconut muffin and fresh fruit with liliko‘i mascarpone as a first course, followed by some hearty scrambled eggs alongside an extra salty (we have a feeling our dulled in-flight tastebuds will appreciate the kick) beef patty, rice and mushroom gravy.


Vegetarians will be excited to know that the lunch and dinner veggie options are just as appealing as that of the meat-eaters. The app options are a fresh mozzarella, beet, watermelon and tomato salad, or an intriguing ramen salad that won us over for its unconventionality: ramen noodles with pipikaula, fish cake, cucumber kim chee and soy ginger vinaigrette. A main course of short ribs, or Portobello mushroom and lentils, and dessert, finish it off.


For a late snack, it’s an ultra-fresh, ultra-satisfying taro poke with seaweed, tomato, sesame and inamona that we wish we could buy by the pound, followed by imu-style kālua chicken on Hawaiian sweet bread, with Kona coffee barbecue sauce.


Chai’s still treating those Hawai‘i-bound Mainland travelers right, with brunch and dinner menus that have those signature multicultural influences that have made Chai an Island institution. Think vegetable fried rice, an asparagus frittata and—our favorite— a hearty, flavorful guisantes, with tender chunks of meat atop bamboo rice.