Spago’s Maui, Four Seasons Resort, Wailea
Wolfgang Puck opened up Spago’s Maui over ten years ago and the restaurant recently underwent some gorgeous yet subtle renovations. They keep it real for residents with their all year long kama’aina deal offering buy one entree and get one free with your Hawaii ID. Chef Cameron Lewark keeps amazing trend setting cuisine coming out of the kitchen and I caught up with him to see how he makes the magic happen there.
Jen Russo: What kind of creative license do you get to take with the dishes here at Spago? How different is Maui’s Spago from the Spago in Beverly Hills and Vegas?
Cameron Lewark: I have some creative range, but we like to keep our staple dishes on the menu. We change the menu nightly, based on fresh and local ingredients that come from the water or the farm. I wait to be inspired by the local produce and the fresh fish that come in that week. I usually try to do research on particular regions of the world to give me more inspiration. Each of the individual restaurants share common dishes, but they can be very different based on available fresh product. So in Maui, we use local Hawaiian fish which non of the other restaurants have access to.
JR: What are some of the culinary techniques you are working with?
CL: Asian food done the French way.
JR: How often do you see other chefs visiting and dining in here? Does Chef Lee Hefter (from Spago Beverly Hills) or Wolfgang Puck (Spago Founder) ever drop in?
CL: Wolfgang usually comes two times a year, and Chef Lee comes four times a year or every quarter. On occasion you see other local chefs come to dine with us.
JR: What is that like working with celeb chefs?
CL: I love to learn new ways of cooking as well as the creative thought that goes into other chef’s dishes. I am driven to study and understand different culinary techniques.
JR: Take me through the creative process, is there a method that you always start with or is it different every time?
CL: My creative process is different every time. It is very hard to put into words it just happens. Its tactile, I see it, touch it, smell it before I decide.
JR: You learned to cook and moved up in the kitchen in LA, was ‘Farm to Table’ a popular phenomenon then as it is today? How has it changed what chefs do these days?
CL: I did not get to see many farms in LA, it was not until I became the chef in Maui and started to get involved with a farmer named Michael McCoy. (Michael McCoy’s farm is Fresh Island Herbs) I started working with him about ten years ago and ever since then I have always used the mantra ‘from farm to table.’ It’s different when you know who is farming your produce and picking them, and then serving them the same night.
JR: What is the biggest challenge in the Spago Wailea kitchen?
CL: The biggest challenge is satisfying every need of each guest. I want to make everyone happy. Each individual has their own needs and at Spago, we cater to each and every one of them.
JR: What do you do in your free time? Do you explore Maui? Or is it all work and no play?
CL: Honestly I dont have much free time due to work, but when I do I love to golf, paddle board and relax at home. I have seen most of Maui and its one of the most beautiful places on earth. There are so many great places on Maui one could not see them all in a life time.
JR: What are your favorite things to make right now?
CL: I love to make ice cream and fresh sorbets.
JR: Do you still do much pastry?
CL: Yes. I started my culinary career in the pastry department, so I have a deep understanding of preparing pastry.
JR: When you teach servers about food what are the most important factors?
CL: Here at Spago, we like to take our servers on field trips to local farms and fisheries. The servers can visually see where the product comes from. This lets the servers really get behind the product! This is one of the most important things we do here. It starts in the hiring process. We look for people that are passionate about food. If you have passion it is very easy to instill the knowledge.
JR: The servers here at Spago’s cultivate a dining experience that seems organically developed, but there is a lot of planning behind the scenes to make this happen. How stressful is the action in the kitchen?
CL: Admittedly it can be extremely stressful, but as I get older and more experienced the stress tends to lessen every passing year.