When my family and I moved to Hawaii in
1971, the quality of local cuisine did not figure large in our
attraction to the Islands. I had been working in Europe for tourism
guru Temple Fielding, who two years prior had made the cover of
Time magazine as the arbiter of travel for peripatetic Americans.
had made sure that I experienced some of the best restaurants on
the Continent, he utterly failed to turn me into an international
In any case, here
in the Islands we found relatively unexciting popular
Spam was a local
favorite, although restaurant cooks sometimes stretched their
imaginations to include sticky rice, teriyaki chicken, mahi mahi,
macaroni salad and, of course, poi.
This was still
true six years later, when the first edition of my own Hawaii
guidebook was published.
But sometime in
the late 1980s and early 90s, the restaurant picture began to
A group of hotel
chefs began to experiment with fresh local produce, including some
products virtually unknown outside the Islands.
of tropical fruits, nuts, vegetables and fish came to be known
collectively as Hawaii regional cuisine, although some called it
Pacific Rim, Hawaiian fusion or other names.
eventually began opening their own kitchens, each varying their
approach somewhat to reflect their ethnic and cultural backgrounds,
such as native Hawaiian, Japanese, Thai and Korean. Today, theyre
known as Hawaiis high-profile celebrity chefs.
akamai -- or knowledgeable -- visitors follow these chefs
to the dining rooms theyve established.
Heres my personal
list of the current top 10 wearers of the white toque in the
Choy is without a doubt the most widely known and widely
visible local chef. Weighing in at just under 400 pounds, the
jovial Choy can be frequently found on TV as well as at his
restaurants on Oahu and the Big Island. He is known especially for
bringing traditional Hawaiian fare, such as poke, a raw fish salad,
into wider acceptance.
Mavrothalassitis, the chef with a French accent and a
Greek name, is known by the same moniker as his attractive
stand-alone Honolulu restaurant: Chef Mavro. One
memorable dish: Red snapper baked in a rosemary-and-thyme,
rock-salt crust with a fresh herb and seaweed sauce.
Yamaguchi started his first Honolulu restaurant in the
far-out residential neighborhood of Hawaii Kai in 1988. Today there
are 30 Roys, including six in Hawaii, several on
the mainland and two in Tokyo. The New York Times called Yamaguchi
the Wolfgang Puck of the Pacific.
Alan Wong holds court on the fifth floor of an
undistinguished Honolulu office building, he has no trouble keeping
elevator hoppers eager for some of Oahus best seafood
Siu is the owner-chef of 3660 on the Rise
in the Honolulu residential neighborhood of Kaimuki. Diners there
find prize-winning, innovative dishes blending Asian, Hawaiian and
Chaowasaree has two restaurants, one devoted to Thai
cuisine and the other, Chais Island Bistro,
specializing in Hawaii regional fare. The Bistro is downtown, next
to the landmark Aloha Tower, and often features live Hawaiian
" Over on Maui,
Beverly Gannon has established her rustic
Haliimaile General Store with husband Joe. Locals,
along with the rich and famous, find their way there for
specialties like Gannons blackened ahi wrap with sweet Thai chili
Ellman, also on Maui, sold famous eatery Avalon and now
shepherds the super-hip Mala -- an Ocean Tavern.
Ellman has created some delicious small-plate offerings for lunch
and dinner, including some innovative Mexican flavors.
Merriman claims his Big Island restaurant is the
birthplace of Hawaii regional cuisine. His operation also includes visits by patrons to some local
farms prior to dining in his stand-alone Kamuela
Ferguson-Otas Oodles of Noodles restaurant is found in a
modest shopping mall on the Big Island. Ferguson-Otas talent had
been praised by Julia Child, and she offers a variety of dishes,
most involving noodles in one clever way or another.
Bone has been writing travel articles and books from his Hawaii
home for the past 35 years.