Interview with Jurg Munch, Owner of Lahaina Grill
Lahaina Grill, 127 Lahainaluna Road, 808-
I recently caught up with Jurg Munch, Owner of Lahaina Grill. Lahaina Grill celebrates 20 years at their fabulous Lahainaluna location. Munch had a lot to say about what makes things tick at this amazing Lahaina bistro, cherished by residents and visitors alike. Munch is a gracious owner, and I found out its all about his attentive and hard working staff. Lahaina Grill celebrates their 20th anniversary on the 20th of each month, offering 50% off of your entrees.
Jen Russo (@jenrusso): Tell me about your journey as a Chef?
Jurg Munch: I had an interest at an early age, my father and mother both enjoyed food and entertaining. I got my start as anapprentice in Zurich, Switzerland at the Hotel zum Storchen. After that I worked at the Hotel Jungfrau Victoria inInterlaken and the Restaurant Chez Max in Zurich.
I always had an interest in Asia and Asian food which brought me to an opportunity in Hong Kong in 1980, as aSous Chef at the Excelsior Hotel, a Mandarin Oriental property. I returned to Switzerland to earn my degree inHotel and Catering management at the Belvoirpark Hotel School in Zurich and after that to Macau as ExecutiveChef for the opening of the grand Oriental Macau hotel.
In 1986, I started at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Hong Kong as Executive Sous Chef. After a short while Ibecame Executive Chef. This job came with a huge amount of stress, 8 restaurants to oversee and we were serving 3,000 meals per day, catering to 8 in-house restaurants, employing a crew of 120 chefs. I remember on holidays we served over 2000-lbs of turkey! That was definitely a sight to see.
After 17 years at the Mandarin, my wife Linda and I took time to travel and wound up on Maui, now, 13 years later, it is home.
JR: Are you executive chef of Lahaina Grill? If not who is? Who else is working as chef in the kitchen?
JM: Our executive chef is Arnulfo “Arnie” Gonzalez and he has been with us for 18 years, I am the chef/owner and Ijust marked my 10th year at 127 Lahainaluna Road. He gets all of the credit as far as I am concerned night afternight. Our sous chef Uriel Perez is very talented as well, he has been with us for just over 8 years and continuesto wow us with his creativity in the kitchen.
JR: Do you have a favorite dish on the menu?
JM: I have really been enjoying a recent addition, our “Certified Angus Beef Dry Aged Bone in Ribeye”, we areconstantly testing and blind tasting the meats for quality improvement. This meat is so much tastier, for steak fans there really is nothing better.
At home, I tend to cook very clean with few ingredients and try to eat fairly healthy, so when I go for complete comfort food I indulge with our Marcho Farms Center cut Veal “osso buco” which is a slow-braised veal shank in a cabernet sauce, it just falls apart with a fork, no knife needed.
JR: Since locovore is a hot button these days, have you changed your menu in anyway to include more local ingredients or has that been a focus of your menu all along?
JM: One of the reasons I loved Maui and Hawaii from the beginning was the access to the fresh fish, and farm fresh ingredients, which has really expanded in the past 10 years. This is a huge priority to our team and in our menu planning, we always try to source local ingredients.
JR: What does contemporary bistro cuisine mean to you? What are current trends in bistro cuisine?
JM: Our team strives to create a dining experience where you can have a classic bistro setting with comfortable, familiar food and then we try to add fun, contemporary dishes to keep it interesting while using the best local,seasonal ingredients.
We have recently seen an increased demand from our guests for prime meat, steaks and dry-aged meat. Chef Arnie and I have worked to seek out exceptional suppliers to add these new cuts to our menu:Certified Angus Beef Dry-Aged Bone-in Ribeye Chop, and Certified Angus Beef Dry-aged New York Striploin.“Comfort food” and the old classics (escargots, osso buco, french onion soup, braised short ribs, etc…) seem to be in high demand with our guests and around the current culinary world.
How do you keep contemporary? How do you balance having 20 years of past recipes with people’s expectations for the familiar dishes they have loved before, while still turning out new and interesting dishes?
We have kept old favorites from day one and improved and refined those old stand-bys, but honestly, my favorite times in the last 10 years are when Arnie and I get going and spend hours in the kitchen trying new things, new ingredients, new ideas. When they hit the specials board and the guests enjoy the flavors, that is the icing on thecake.
Foie Gras is controversial to some. How do you feel about the controversy? Why do you keep it on the menu?
Our guests return to find this “favorite” on our menu, I know that globally there are ingredients which are controversial but I really feel that each person decides what they order to eat and others do not have to order it.
Lahaina Grill is well known for their service, going above and beyond. What is the key to this success?
Our whole team really works hard to prepare for our guests, we want to transport each person to a place wherethey can sit back and enjoy a spectacular evening and connect with our staff in a more personal way. I like to meet as many guests each night as possible, we are always so flattered by our repeat guests who return year after year and share their family’s most special celebrations with us.
Your dishes play on different shapes and often the food presented takes on a new texture just from changing the shapes you present it in. How does shape and presentation play a part in your menu and recipes? What kind oftechnique is this?
Chef Arnie and his team work hard to create food that tastes wonderful, and the presentation really is part of the overall dining experience. When you see a plate of food which has been prepared and placed with intention you already are anticipating the first bite and how it might taste. Beauty is part of a great meal.