127 Lahainaluna Road, Lahaina
Recently, I caught up with Jurg Munch, owner of Lahaina Grill. Munch had a lot to say about what makes things tick at his West side bistro, which is celebrating 20 years in business by offering 50 percent off entrees on the 20th of every month.
Tell me about your journey as a chef.
I had an interest at an early age. My father and mother both enjoyed food and entertaining. I got my start as an apprentice in Zurich, Switzerland at the Hotel Zum Storchen. After that I worked at the Hotel Jungfrau Victoria in Interlaken 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 a sous chef at the Excelsior Hotel, a Mandarin Oriental property. I returned to Switzerland to earn my degree in hotel and catering management at the Belvoirpark Hotel School in Zurich and after that to Macau as executive chef 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, I became executive chef. This job came with a huge amount of stress—eight restaurants to oversee and we were serving 3,000 meals per day, catering to eight in-house restaurants, employing a crew of 120 chefs. I remember on holidays we served over 2,000 pounds 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.
Who’s the executive chef at Lahaina Grill? Who else is key in the kitchen?
Our executive chef is Arnulfo “Arnie” Gonzalez and he has been with us for 18 years; I’m the chef/owner and I just marked my tenth year at 127 Lahainaluna Road. [Gonzales] gets all of the credit as far as I am concerned, night after night. Our sous chef, Uriel Perez, is very talented as well; he has been with us for just over eight years and continues to wow us with his creativity.
Do you have a favorite dish on the menu?
I have really been enjoying a recent addition, our certified Angus beef dry-aged bone-in ribeye. We are constantly testing and blind tasting the meats for quality. 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 cabarnet sauce; it just falls apart with a fork, no knife needed.
With the rise of the locavore movement, have you changed your menu in any way to include more local ingredients?
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 ten years. This is a huge priority [for] our team and in our menu planning; we always try to source local ingredients.
What does contemporary bistro cuisine mean to you? What are some current trends?
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 new cuts to our menu. Also comfort food and the old classics—escargots, French onion soup, braised short ribs—seem to be in high demand with our guests, and around the current culinary world.
How do you balance 20 years of recipes and people’s expectation for familiar dishes with a desire to innovate?
We have kept old favorites from day one and improved and refined those old stand-bys, but honestly, my favorite times 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 the cake.
Foie Gras is controversial. How do you feel about the issue? Why do you keep it on the menu?
I know that globally there are ingredients that are controversial, but I really feel that each person decides what they order, and others do not have to order it.
Your dishes play on different shapes, which often lend texture and nuance. Talk about this technique.
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 that 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.
To read more, visit MauiTime’s food blog, mauidish.com
Got a hot food scoop? Contact Jen Russo at 808-280-3386 or fax to 808-244-0446.