On Maui, our food scene is tight-knit. You start life with a giant food festival in your honor celebrating your first year, where all your family’s cooks throw down. All the uncles hunt and harvest, aunties bring their specialties. As we grow, meals are social events, but they’re also personal–your heart goes into what you make. We never grow out of eating and sharing together as a social event.
This culture permeates our farm-to-table community. Our journey to become more self-sufficient has brought us closer ties to where our food grows, how we harvest it and how we prepare it. In every aspect of the local restaurant industry, family infuses itself into the flavor of every ingredient and dish from the ground to the kitchen to the table. Destination dining truly starts at the family table.
This issue delves into the family stories of our county’s chefs, farmers and restaurateurs to find out how their ohana finds a way into your food. Enjoy!
Executive Chef, Ka‘ana Kitchen, Andaz
Both of my grandmothers influence and inspired me. On my dad’s side, my grandmother is Hawaiian-Chinese. She married my grandfather, 100 percent Filipino. She had to adapt her style to fit my grandfather’s palate. His sisters taught her their Filipino dishes. I can remember her making Chicken Adobo, Pinakbet and my favorite–Balatong. Her cooking was warm and soulful. She only had four burners, but she would make, like, six dishes. She could really plan out her whole meal. I would always be the one taking the covers off the pots and tasting everything. Very early on, she taught me how to make her adobo. The one secret ingredient in her adobo was cinnamon.
My grandmother on my mother’s the other side was 100 percent Japanese, and my grandfather was 100 percent Irish. Some of my favorite memories in the kitchen was my grandmother making St. Patty’s Day corned beef and cabbage.
I believe in being open to anything, being able to talk about your dishes. I think there are a lot of chefs that try to keep secrets from each other, but the fact of the matter is everyone copies everyone. You get inspired by eating in other restaurants and following other chefs on Instagram or looking at other chef’s menus online.
I think the most valuable thing I’ve taken with me is that feeling that even though I make grandma’s adobo, mine will taste different from hers. It’s a valuable lesson. If I publish a recipe, I’m okay with sharing it. Not everyone has the team I have to execute it. You can go ahead and try to make it, but chances are you will have to come to Andaz to experience it.
Supervisor, Hana Ranch Farm Stand
In Hana, we’re all family. We come together as a community when someone’s in need of any kind of help. I work with 100 percent of my family at Hana Ranch, we work as a team and we treat each other like family. My mom has been the inspiration in my life. When I was growing up she would make us clean her garden with her. My mom likes to get down and dirty. Working in the farm and creating a meal isn’t like going to the grocery store and buying things to cook. We would plant things in our backyards and use that to prepare food with whatever beef, pork or canned goods we have in our cabinets or freezers.
When we do go out to eat family-style, it’s going to be a BBQ down at Hana Bay.
Chef, Star Noodle
My grandmother was one of my first mentors in the kitchen. She always had fresh rice and something delicious on the stove to eat after school. She’s probably the most memorable relative that’s influenced my cooking career. Although she can’t cook anymore, I still imitate her cooking. When I was growing up, she was my main caretaker and always fed me fresh farmed veggies from the backyard and fresh meat from a local farm. At a very young age, I was learning to enjoy and embrace her techniques and traditions.
Today, much of our food is imported despite the efforts made by our elders to carry on supplying local food for future generations. My family and I are trying to keep our gardens and family pig farm a living practice. This way of life was passed on to my grandmother, and then to me. For me, that’s where all the recipes started–with tradition and exceptional local products. The staple foods of Hawaii and the region’s influences were the beginning of this cuisine. Most of our dishes at Star Noodle are family-style, as our theme is small plates and family-style dining. We like to promote sharing because the intimacy helps with having a good time.
Chef de Cuisine, Molokini Bar & Grille, Makena Beach & Golf Resort
My father’s played a huge role in where I am today in my culinary career. I was born on a farm in New England; my family raised and taught me about respect for meat and produce and importance of quality. My father was also an engineer for a large computer company and he traveled a lot for his career. This gave him a chance to accumulate a wealth of culinary knowledge, which he shared with me. If my father wasn’t traveling, you could find him in the kitchen with me by his side.
Having grown up with a mother who battled cancer, cooking and eating healthy was a lifelong mission for her and a huge part of my introduction to the culinary arts. Overall health consciousness and dietary knowledge, such as the importance of using the right kind of oils in the correct manner or how vital whole grains and raw vegetables are for a healthy lifestyle, has been passed on to me and affects how I cook at the restaurant and in my own kitchen. Hands down, the richest dish on the menu would be the vintage natural beef filet and butter poached lobster with Kumu Farms carrots, garlic mashed potatoes, port wine demi-glace and lemongrass butter. Although a strong seller, it’s not exactly the first pick for people who are overly health conscious… but it’s nothing a little post dinner exercise can’t fix.
Food & Beverage Director, Travaasa Hana
It’s hard to name just one person that inspired me but if I had to it would be my stepfather. My Hawaiian side of the family (my mother’s side) and my mainland family (my stepfather’s side) were all hunters, fishermen and farmers, and have influenced the way I cook and eat. My family believed that the best ingredients are gathered and grown on your own. That’s the only way you know their true origins. My family always used the freshest ingredients and this is what I bring to the kitchen. I also like to keep an open dialogue with all of the staff (kind of like an older brother), to keep things moving in the right direction. Family-style menus are great for conversation and guest interaction. Guests ask more questions and are more apt to learn the whole scope of the menu’s preparation.
In Hawaii, I like to eat at traditional Chinese restaurants like Dragon Dragon. Sadly, they closed, so I’m in search for a new favorite. I also enjoy Longhi’s Lahaina for family-style eating.
Owner, Zing Maui
People who work together in the restaurant business form strong bonds because you have to be able to work together as a team and be able to rely on each other and still have fun, even when things get a little hectic. Here at Zing, we work together–husband, wife and mother. We all grew up growing gardens and using the veggies and fruits for cooking and canning. We also had great family values instilled that include taking care of and respecting the Earth and nature. Working with family can be tricky at times, but to our advantage we know each other well, know what to expect from one another and know we can count on each other. We have a great team and our employees are our ohana, too.
Ryan and Nikole McElroy
Owners, Chez Meme Bistro & Bakery
Our family has a tremendous influence on the quality of our food. We’re constantly working to ensure that we’re only serving items that are really, really good. If we don’t think it meets our high standards, we won’t serve it. In fact, Ryan’s dad, Duke McElroy, grows most of our mangos, papayas, tomatoes, avocados, and other fresh ingredients. That’s why you only see them on our menu when they are in season. Our “Maui Meme,” Sharon McElroy, creates the jams that we serve and sell at Chez Meme. Her most popular jam is the Mango Ginger, but she recently created a Papaya Ginger and a Hawaiian Tropical jam. Customers who purchase our jams often write us to let us know that it feels like Maui in their kitchen.
Our favorite family-style restaurant is Thailand Cuisine in Kihei. We order several dishes and pass them around.
Owner, Lahaina Grill
My Italian grandmother was a big inspiration for my interest in cooking at an early age. Our family at Lahaina Grill truly have grown up together–many of our staff have worked together for more than 20 years. Since we’re celebrating 25 years this year, it’s amazing to look back at how many of our ohana have been here together and many have worked here and moved away. Then they return to Maui and are back in the family! When my daughter was first born, we paid close attention to what we fed her and what we cooked for her: organic, locally grown as much as possible. This translated into the food that we serve at the restaurant. Researching and sourcing the best ingredients has always been of the utmost importance. Many of our guests enjoy sharing the “From the farm” section of our menu. It’s a fun way to try different fresh vegetable side dishes and share with the table.
We enjoy going to Star Noodle with our family and also Japengo at Hyatt Regency Maui. We order up a lot of food (too much sometimes!) and everyone jumps in.
Chef, Sugar Beach Events
It wasn’t a family member who inspired me, it was a restaurant family member. My first serious cooking job was in an Italian restaurant where we made everything from scratch. I had the privilege of working with the director of Culinary Development and I knew I was where I was meant to be. I really learned to love Italian food and I have hints of it, as well as items from my Southern roots, on my menu offerings. It also helps that I’ve made it a habit to travel to Italy every two years to work on my craft.
When you share a passion with people, I think it naturally brings you together. As much time as we spend at work and as close as the quarters are, it’s always best when employees develop bonds. We all take our jobs seriously and realize the impact we can have on the most important day in a person’s life. We want that impact to be nothing less than amazing. In catering, family-style is definitely a trend–it’s very nostalgic. We can do most anything on our menu family-style. Our clients are interested in the idea of people coming together over dinner and creating new friendships. I think it makes people feel at ease.
I always go to Sansei for a family-style experience. We usually take a group of friends and order more sushi than we could ever consume, but that doesn’t stop us from trying every time.
The Manapua Bakery
Growing up, my father owned a deli. I spent my childhood in the kitchen watching my dad and his sisters cooking. One aunt in particular always stood out, as she was a true baker in my eyes. [Fellow owner Keone Smith’s] mother was an amazing cook who prepared meals in the country side of Hana for large family gatherings. The common denominator in both of our childhood stories is that our family cooked as a labor of love and took great joy in seeing the smiles of people who ate their food. In a family, everyone has their place. Much like a kitchen, in order to have a properly functioning family everyone has to do their part. Like a family with teenagers, not every day is sunshine and candy. Our inspiration is the family tradition of waking up on a Saturday morning and grabbing a box of Manapua to share with any family passing through. Keone’s childhood favorite was Aiea Manapua. Working with family in the kitchen helps to keep things light during stressful moments, knowing at the end of the day we all care for each other and genuinely enjoy each other’s company.
For family dining, our family likes Saeng’s Thai Food. We enjoy the atmosphere and variety of the menu. We’re also dying to try Poi by the Pound and Aria’s!
Bret Scott Pafford
Chef, Gannon’s Pacific View Restaurant
While growing up, my grandparents had a fully operating family farm that included everything from livestock to garden vegetables. Grandmother was passionate about jarring homemade tomato sauce, green beans, pickled peppers and many others. She was all about preserving the harvest for the winter months ahead. I always think about that, especially when I’m painstakingly shredding a sack of horseradish for pickling. Of course, now jarring has been replaced by vacuum sealing, but it’s the same principle.
At Gannon’s, we have a large number of share plates. These dishes are presented on larger plates and easily can be passed around the tables. My personal favorites are the kung-pau calmari and the raw-raw. The later dish is made with honey yuzu and avocado oil with shredded jicama and green apple and beautiful slices of fresh Ahi and Hamachi that are quickly dipped in citrus. Before shingling with avocado, it’s seasoned with crunchy black Molokai sea salt. It’s all prepared on a frozen glass plate.
If my family is eating out, we go to Saigon Café in Wailuku. I like the oxtail soup and the black bean whole fried opaka.
Chef/Owner, Hali‘imaile General Store
My inspiration for everything in my world of food is my husband, Joe. He’s been my biggest fan from the beginning of my life with food. Because of Joe’s work, he traveled constantly and was subject to meals of pizza and burgers and fast food on the road. When he came home, I would cook three- and four-course meals for him. I was consumed by food magazines and cookbooks for inspiration: Lamb Tajin from Morocco, Bouillabaise from Marsaille, paella from Barcelona. He kept me on my toes and gave me the incentive to want to cook outrageous meals. It gave me great knowledge of flavors and flavor combinations. If it weren’t for him, I would probably not be a chef. Joe and I have been known to run a menu at a restaurant, take only a few bites of a dish and send it away so that we can truly understand the food.
You cannot work in this business as hard as everyone does and not form some kind of family unit. I always say our employees are our extended family. At the Hali‘imaile General Store, we are not really serving family-style menus but we do encourage our guests to pick menu items to share so they get the full culinary experience. My favorite way to dine is to order items that sound great off a menu and share with whoever is at the table. I think everything on the menu is great for family, but the popcorn shrimp seems to leave the kids wanting more. The presentation with real popcorn wins over the kids every time.
Christopher Malik Cousins
Chef/Owner, Farmacy Health Bar
My mother is the most influential person as far as educating me to the values of nutrients in food and being aware of what you put in your body. She never ate anything without examining it thoroughly, finding out where it was from and how it was grown. She warned me 25 years ago about eating organic and the importance of having an alkaline bloodstream. She made me all sorts of extremely healthy food and when I wrote the menu I took my favorite items. My stepfather Inoch is also a major influence and a lot of his Caribbean-style has rubbed off. And I would probably still be working for someone else if it wasn’t for my oldest son. When he was young, I realized that I was never around to see him–I was always working. That’s why I changed to do something where he could be included in my life.
I have two other shops that are ice cream and shave ice. They are both wonderful but when I would frequent them with my children to do chores I would inevitably have to give them treats. I knew that if I was to open a health-based shop then we would eat better as a family and this has been absolutely true. We drink sugar cane juice and have acai bowls instead of ice cream and shave ice and the results have been amazing to my children. Also, every boy seeks his mother’s approval and although my mother seemed happy for me with my ice cream success, I never felt as if she was truly proud. Now I feel as if I accomplished that goal with Farmacy.
When we go out as a family, we like to eat at Choice Health Bar and Honu. We also seem to end up at Cafe O’Lei a lot.
Chef, Tiki Terrace Restaurant, Kaanapali Beach Hotel
My dad, mom, wife and sister are all great cooks and I gather a lot of ideas from them. My wife has a knack for very tasty and healthy foods and she influences me to eat healthy. My dad and mom provided me with great flavors and great comfort food. As for my sister, she can make anything from using cheap canned goods to roasting the best pot roast. She could make anything very tasty and good. Boy, she could cook. I guess you could say that it’s these people who inspired me. When creating dishes, I think back to my upbringing and the traditional family gatherings when we all would bring food. The food was simple and natural. It’s not necessary to overdo it.
What inspired me to have a family-style menu were the many travels to the Livermore Wine Festival. There I got an opportunity to cook and dine in a terrific upscale Chinese restaurant called Uncle Yu’s. The volume and the consistency of how the food went out and how people enjoyed it was a WOW! for me. That gave me an idea to offer a new family-style menu at Kupanaha Magic Dinner Theater. Guests at the magic show can now have that same experience I did. It seems to break the ice and put everyone at ease doing something in common. It reminds me of great times at home growing up at the big family table.
Executive Sous Chef, DUO Steak & Seafood and Ferraro’s Bar e Ristorante
My wife is a very clean eater and is also pescatarian. I love to cook vegetarian dishes for her, and she’s always open to try something new. A lot of things I have made for her in the past have inspired similar flavor profiles in our restaurant. My family has inspired me to new levels of having fun with food. My daughter Lucy (9) has always wanted to cook her own things. She makes her own “maccy cheese,” egg omelette muffin sandwiches and Pasta Alfredo. Also, my family inspires me to work hard and gives me energy to do what I do, day-in and day-out.
When people come to our restaurants in groups, we want them to have fun, kick back and relax. One example that we recently implemented at DUO is serving oysters in a fishing tackle box full of ice. We like to keep diners amused and give them something they didn’t expect.
We have a Kale and Strawberry Salad with agave lime dressing, fresh citrus, steamed tempeh and Kula strawberries that’s on our Wellness Menu. The entire Wellness Menu, in fact, is nutrient-rich. I collaborated with our spa’s clinical nutritionist to provide some truly healthy options. It’s available nightly at DUO in addition to our regular a la carte menu.
When we eat out as a family, we like to go to Fabiani’s in Kihei.
Outreach Team Leader, Down To Earth
I was inspired by my great aunt to cook. She brought our family together through Italian cooking. I have since “vegetarianized” her recipes. Aunt Gloria loved to feed people as much as she loved to cook, and I’ve inherited that gene. She was the glue that kept us all together, and she put so much love into her food. This is always my first ingredient in the recipes I share at our cooking classes at Down to Earth.
I cook healthy and delicious food for my family at home. When I’m wanting a night off from cooking, we eat at Down to Earth, where I feel great about the ingredients and the food made from scratch with love. For families looking for something good, I suggest the Mock Chicken Tofu wrap. I also love the Life Foods Burger with extra pickles.
Corey A. Waite
Chef, Monkeypod Kitchen
My father inspired me with his work ethics and attention to details. Unfortunately, my father did not have a diverse palette growing up, but he made me taste different things. In college, I expanded my taste buds. Over the years, my wife has guided me to educate our children in the importance of a family meal. Having kids and making sure that they’re satisfied in any restaurant helps their parents enjoy their meal.
Our restaurant serves many items that are easily shared items and are quick to prepare. Families love that part. It’s a great comfort in being able to exchange conversation while partaking in a wonderful meal. Our salads and pizzas are very healthy and use local farmers in Maui to showcase this. Most of the ingredients are organic or vegan.
I love the fact that our restaurant has several family members working together. They have a strong sense of teamwork and commitment. “Finish each day strong,” my father always said. To this day, I work towards that.
Marcus D. Whisenant
Chef, Leoda’s Kitchen and Pie Shop
It’s hard to pinpoint just one person in my family who’s inspired me. Both of my grandmothers were wonderful cooks. Growing up, I always used to hang out in the kitchen with them. I also had an aunt who would let me help her out in the kitchen. She bought me my first real chef’s apron and toque when I was young. That’s a great memory.
You’re with your coworkers pretty much more than your family, especially in this business. You form bonds and friendships with one another. I think what makes this happen is that this business can be stressful at times and it’s comforting that someone right next to you will make sure that your day gets better.
My wife is the executive chef of Hoaloha Bakeshop. We work closely together because the Bakeshop supplies Leoda’s with our daily bread and pie products. With that being said, at times it can be a challenge balancing work and our personal life–especially since we have a seven-month-old. We try to not to talk about work issues outside of work but we both really enjoy what we do.
China Boat is our go-to family-style restaurant.
Owner, Maui Preserved
My grandfather and my mom are my biggest family inspirations. They both started passing their knowledge to me at a young age. My mom would take me to work with her in restaurants and at family dinners, which were typical red sauce Italian Sunday meals. The biggest lessons from them had to be respect for your ingredients and putting your heart into every meal for your guests. For me personally, I was raised in restaurants that my mom worked in. Her friends and co-workers were my babysitters, the kids were all raised together and mealtime was a huge bonding experience for her and me.
Our products at Maui Preserved are always best enjoyed with family. Our biggest goal is to bring Maui’s harvest to your table. Maleta–my wife–Veronica (our two-year-old) and I probably eat at home more than ever. When we go out, I’d say that more often than not it’s at Flatbread Company in Paia.
Gevin S. Utrillo
Chef, Japengo, Hyatt Regency Maui
From an early age, my dad has inspired my culinary career. Even after long days working in the hot Lahaina sugar cane fields, my dad would return home each night to prepare a wonderful dinner for his wife and three sons. He cooked all sorts of foods using the freshest produce, seafood and meats. I always try to cook for my family when I’m not at Japengo. It’s what my dad did for my family, and I want to continue that tradition. Now that my kids are old enough to help out in the kitchen, I involve them whenever possible, keeping safety in mind. For our family, holidays are a special time as we have themed gatherings and meals.
Japengo allows for family-style options as our portions are generous enough for sharing. We value the ohana and want dining at all our restaurants to be enjoyable for families. The richest item on our menu is the Durham Ranch All Natural Rib Eye, served with a lobster-corn potato croquette. But I recommend Japengo’s Vietnamese Style Kurobuta Pork, served with sweet potato hash, Hamakua mushrooms, bacon, edamame, Maui onion and peanuts. It’s a family favorite.
My favorite family restaurant is Tiffany’s in Wailuku. I love to go with my family whenever possible.
Chef, Tommy Bahama
My earliest childhood memories are of cooking with family and friends. I remember, as a young child, making breakfast and lemon meringue pie with my dad. By the time I was eight years old, I was making full meals at home. There was always some type of family party or gathering, seemed like every week. I also learned a lot from my aunts, uncles, cousins and family friends. Our gatherings were always large, fun and entertaining. When I graduated high school, my mom pushed me to go to culinary school. I had always been good at cooking, but I never thought, when I was growing up, that I would be a chef. This didn’t become my aspiration until I met my wife. Three children later, I look back at a great life and look forward to a prosperous future.
Chef, Honu Seafood and Pizza
My mom and my grandma have inspired me in the kitchen. They were both good cooks. They didn’t make anything fancy but knew how to work with what we had and it was always good. Our family entertained a lot and I would always help in the kitchen because I liked to eat. I watched more cooking shows than cartoons growing up, so in time I developed a passion for food and feeding people. My wife and daughter have supported my work and long hours. Having good support at home allows my creative mind to flourish. My wife holds me down this way, gives me a good foundation.
At Honu, our Mac and Cheese has three cheeses, choice of shellfish and is finished with truffle oil. It’s a unctuously cheesy carb bomb to the gut. Our Osso Bucco–pork shank braised in demi glace, finished with tomato basil Beurre Blanc and served with Marscarpone-anson mills grits–has decadent, simple clean flavors. For families, I recommend trying the whole fish. It’s an experience that’s sure to make an impression on anyone, no matter what age or where you’re from. The fish is wok-fried, with black pepper soy sauce that we make and is served with a quinoa and vegetable medley.
When we eat, we go to a lot of mom and pops like Sam Sato’s and Tasty Crust. Kobe’s is probably our favorite. My mother in-law works there and we know everyone so it’s like eating at home.
Marketing, Aina Gourmet Market, Ainagourmet.com
Aina is a way of life. We are always here and always open. Our family give us ideas of what they’re looking for while here on Maui. That’s a source of our inspiration. Our customers become family. Hesitant at first, they have coffee with us in the morning as a guest. They come back for smoothies as acquaintances. They join us for lunch as friends. By nightfall, they’re eating gelato and purchasing their new favorite bottle of wine here as family. The next day, we’re sharing and bonding over our adventures to Hana, our favorite beach, tales of our kids–all over a cup of coffee.
It could be an Aina coffee or a pastry by the pool, a sack lunch to Hana, a day at the beach with smoothies or wine for sunset with toes in the sand. Everything from Aina could be served family-style. Our salads made fresh everyday, as is the guacamole, Maui Onion dip, fresh fruit smoothies and sandwiches. Aina is a family. We work in a tight space, producing wonderful and amazing things. From the baristas to our chefs, we all know and care for one another, just like an ohana.
E. Chewy Cereceres
Chef, Charley’s Restaurant and Saloon
My family is Mexican and most events and holidays revolve around food and its communal qualities. We all participated–even the kids–in preparing meals. My grandmother was always the ringleader of this kitchen circus, and she made sure everyone had a task that fit his or her skill set. She made you feel like a valuable contributor, even if you were just cleaning beans.
When my family was starting out, I used to make much more extravagant dishes and even test out menu ideas on my wife and young son. That’s changed as my son is older and more picky, and we have a toddler daughter. They want food faster and simpler. I’d rather spend time with them on the beach rather than slaving in the kitchen.
Family-style is built into the concept of the restaurant. It takes a lot of training to pull it off correctly. It suits Asian concepts best because of the ease in executing platters of noodles, rice dishes and whole fish. Here at Charley’s, we do family-style with pizzas and smokehouse items.
Terry, Leanne and Chad Covington
Co-owners, Maui Brick Oven
Terry was diagnosed with Celiac Disease in November, 2011. Our sons were also having issues and were also diagnosed with the same thing. We found out how hard it was to find gluten-free items (which you have to do if you’re Celiac) when eating out. So with our family experiences, we decided to open a total gluten-free restaurant. We were living on the Big Island and decided to move over to Maui. Making a total gluten-free restaurant, there’s no chance for cross-contamination. Cross-contamination is a hazard in most kitchens that serve both GF foods and other items that contain gluten like wheat, rye and barley.
Our restaurant is a family-owned and operated. We can depend on each other and know our strengths and weaknesses. Sometimes it’s hard to come home and leave the restaurant issues back at the restaurant, but we’re getting better at it.
Nutritional therapist, Be Nutritious
My mother has inspired me to do the service I do in my life. She was a vibrant, free spirit; a happy and healthy woman who laughed a contagious laugh. She passed at the young age of 46, which mind-boggled me as to why such an exuberant young woman would become ill and die so quickly. This experience has inspired me to learn about disease and its connections between the mind, body, and spirit. I’ve learned that the emotional and spiritual body has a direct relationship as to where and how disease manifests in the body. Through the intelligent use of food and herbs, we can transform our body into a clean and clear portal, which allows for our mind to become more at peace and for “dis-ease” to turn return to “ease.”
Right now, the healthiest and richest item I enjoy to create is my Golden Milk, inspired by Ayurveda. A woman in my life whom I consider family has been concerned with the inflammation and pain in her body as well as her immune system, so I make this Ayurvedic tonic for her. The fresh turmeric (olena), fresh ginger, and cinnamon help with her inflammation, the maple syrup is full of minerals and won’t give her that sugar crash, the black pepper gives it a little kick and the rich warm coconut milk makes it feels like home.
On island, my favorite family-style restaurant is Casanova in Makawao. Whether you’re a vegetarian, vegan, meat eater, elder, child, East Coaster or Cali-girl, there’s something tasty and homemade for you on their menu.
Owner, Cow Pig Bun
As a young boy, I used to spend lots of time in the kitchen with my mom who truly was the inspiration for me to become a chef. I know you’ve probably heard this a hundred times, but that’s the way it was for me. My mother was working full-time and supported three children, so we needed to help her out by doing work around the house. My job was the kitchen and making sure dinner was prepared for all of us. I’m truly thankful for my mom.
At Cow Pig Bun, side dishes are commonly shared and used as family-style dishes–the mac and cheese, smashed potatoes and Brussels sprouts. Our Mac and cheese is rich and gooey, creamy and delicious, and has a bread and herb crumb crust.
We like Indian food, so when the family goes out we enjoy Monsoon India.
Adoboloco all started from my love of Chicken and Pork Adobo, easily one of my favorite meals. My mom showed me how to cook it when I was about 12. She learned it from a Filipino family friend here in Kihei. She grew up cooking Vinha d’Alhos (Portuguese Pickled Pork), which is very similar to the Filipino style Adobo everyone is used to in Hawaii. I’ve been cooking it ever since, and now our kids request it.
All our decisions are based on family and how it will affect the time we have together. We are following the advice of our parents and grandparents–they always told us that time goes quickly when you have kids, so make it count. We all have different jobs to do. Not all of the jobs are fun all the time, but everyone is learning how to do a good job and work hard as a team.
When we eat out with family we like a few places: Tiffany’s in Wailuku, Café O’Lei, Kihei Caffe, Maui Thai Bistro and Vietnamese Cuisine in Kihei.
Pastry chef, Sweet Aloha Baking Company (formerly No Ka ‘Oi Cinnamon Rolls)
Our cinnamon rolls were 100 percent inspired by our daughters and family. After our second daughter was born, I wanted to create a Christmas morning baking tradition for our girls. I thought about cinnamon rolls because I knew they would be something we could make together and bake in the morning while opening presents, creating a wonderful smell and lifelong memories. I had never made cinnamon rolls before, but after doing research on the Internet and talking to chefs I knew, I gave it a try and they were delicious. A Christmas tradition was born. The following year, our nephew was visiting and tried them for the first time. He loved them and made the comment that we should sell them. That sparked the idea for No Ka ‘Oi Cinnamon Rolls.
Our family has affected the decisions we make about the ingredients we purchase. We try to use as many organic ingredients as possible such as our milk, eggs and cinnamon. We could purchase the non-organic version at a much cheaper price, but I only want to use ingredients I will feed my family. The most family-friendly item we sell would be a fresh baked pans of cinnamon rolls. We also sell them unbaked, so the customer can bake them at home and experience that wonderful aroma themselves.
When we go out to eat as a family, we really like Mala and Honu in Lahaina. We like the idea of share plates and always order lots of different items. When the girls were very young, they figured out that what Mommy and Daddy were eating was a lot better then the items on the children’s menu and now they always want the Ahi Bruschetta.
Chef, Cane & Canoe
My father was always striving to be different from rest of the clan. For years, I never wanted my menu or dishes to be same as the next. My father influenced how I command my kitchens, my intensity and militaristic approach. When my parents separated, my mother raised three kids on her own. She always worked very hard, rarely thinking of herself. My mother instilled my drive and marathon work ethic.
For family dining at Cane and Canoe, I recommend the Kobe Rib Eye and Kurobuta Pork Shank as they both make excellent shareable dishes. So do the side dishes such as the Brussels sprouts, broccolini and Kula corn.
My family and I like to take the drive to Paia and dine at Flatbread Company. The booths are large and the food is sharable with healthy options. Once full, we like to walk around Paia town as a way to digest.
Chef, Sansei Kapalua
My dad was my biggest inspiration in cooking. Watching him in the kitchen and mimicking what he did was very important to me. He did a lot of Japanese-influenced food. His mother was a chef and cooked and baked all the time. My uncle was the person who actually gave me a shot in a professional setting–running around the Sheraton Ka‘anapali kitchen at a real young age where he was the Executive Sous Chef and getting me my first kitchen job at Jameson’s Kapalua. Outdoor cooking was always a big influence in my culinary background. It shows in my cooking even to this day. Treating people with respect and understanding different attitudes and mindsets is what I always strive for. My parents are very big on that and have always guided me to be that way and, at the end of the day, living those values makes me strong.
Here at Sansei, just like in any other restaurant or even in home kitchens, we all have our ups and downs. I would be lying if I said that it’s perfect. We argue and we make up and we laugh. We also know that tomorrow’s another day.
Most of our dishes here at Sansei are family-style. We encourage it and live it. During the plantation days, it was an everyday thing and people bonded and it made for a much better atmosphere. When you walk in to Sansei Kapalua, you can tell people are enjoying themselves, the food and each other.
Having a five-year-old and a three-year-old makes it very challenging to go out. With my family, every restaurant turns into a family restaurant. But my favorite would have to be Tasty Crust, home of the best hot cakes in the world. They definitely have something for everyone in our family and we love ordering some kind of noodles, sandwich, plate lunch, special and, of course, the hot cakes, voted number one in the world by me and my family.
Executive Chef, Plantation House
My father was the first person to influence me in culinary as a profession. He started our family catering company back in Chicago in 1985 and it was All Hands On Deck. Seeing that he created meals that were surrounded by special events and happy customers always brought a sense of pride to our home kitchen. I’m a product of his organization–timeliness and sense of urgency all traits necessary for a successful kitchen.
My biggest supporters and critics are my family. We’re passionate about food and I always look forward to sharing meals with them–it’s our quality time. It’s this warmth and connection I want portrayed to our guests, like it’s their dining room. A good meal will leave someone satisfied, but a great meal, attention to service and a warm setting will leave someone with fond memories. If there’s love in the kitchen, food and service, then it will be translated to the guest experience.
If we’re dining out, Sale Pepe has a menu that our ohana loves. You know it’s family run and that’s something we love to support.
Executive Chef, Migrant, Mala Wailea
Bottom line is my parents have inspired me. My dad especially, but both Mom and Dad are amazing cooks. My dad is a welder by trade, but he’s the best chef that I know. Not to the point where he is so technical, but he can take something and make it delicious.
Every time he visits from Hilo we have a big get-together. Last time he came it was my son’s first birthday. We know how much work it is to throw a big party so I thought we would just have a small party at Laniuopoko. Dad said, “No way, that’s your son. We’re going to cook.” So we threw down. We cooked.
Anytime we’re talking, it’s all about food. Our whole life, we’ve been surrounded by food. Growing up, food was the center of everything in our family. I have one older brother and he’s also a chef. He cooks at the Hawaii Correctional Center. He has worked at hotels, independent restaurants–he holds his own.
My dad comes to Maui and tries my food. He likes it. I’m always learning from him, but now, he gets introduced to new ingredients from me. He’s always experimenting. After Top Chef, I needed to figure out what kind of chef I really wanted to be. I know how to cook Filipino food, but I don’t really.
I never asked my dad to really teach me his dishes. Before I would watch from afar. But now we cook together, so I can learn his dishes. For example, I’m learning this dish called Igado. I prepped everything the same has him–cutting boards side by side, same pots, same spoons. When he adds an ingredient, I add an ingredient; when he turns up a flame, I turn up a flame. When he stirs, I stir. At the end of it, we’ve done everything identical, but I still think his dish taste better. It’s uncanny–there’s something he does that makes it so much more delicious.
Chef/Owner, Maui Fresh Streatery Food Truck
My children are the biggest inspiration to my recipes and why I cook. I see so many children that are only exposed to fast food diets of mac ‘n cheese, pizzas and burgers. These dietary habits often come from the adults within the family. The changing menu concept of Maui Fresh Streatery, featuring the cuisines of many regions from around the world, extends from my attempt to expose my own children to the wonderful cultural diversity of food around us.
From the start, we wanted Maui Fresh Streatery to be an influential part of our community. One way we do this is through our Tip Jar donations (given each month to a non-profit organization and those in need). I see the impact this has had on my own children’s understanding of community service and helping others. The spirit of ohana extends from my own family, to those I work with and out to the customers who support us each day.
One of my family’s favorite restaurants to dine at (and we go there usually once a week) is Bistro Manila in Kahului. This unique restaurant, which puts a more formal spin on traditional Filipino food, is run by Cecille and Rey Piros. From the moment you walk in, you’re greeted and welcomed like a family member. You can really tell that the food is cooked from the heart.