Why He's Amazing: Because, at 29, he was handpicked by a wealthy Japanese developer (Takeshi Sekiguchi, who'd never even tasted Kajioka's food) to create Honolulu's first super high–end luxury restaurant—and he's more than up to the task.
Culinary School: The Culinary Institute of America (Hyde Park, NY)
Background: Parallel 37, Aziza, The Dining Room at the Ritz-Carlton (San Francisco); Roy's (Honolulu); Per Se (New York City)
Quintessential Dish: Cabbage with miso crème fraîche
Dedication and Strong Opinions: Two things Kajioka said in the past made Sekiguchi zero in on the young chef: "You sacrifice your personal life for your job," and "I hate that Hawaii[an] regional cuisine is stuck doing Asian fusion."
Early Food Memory: "We didn't grow up with a lot of money," says Kajioka, "but my parents would always take me and my brothers out to dinner. There was this restaurant called Orchid's that did a tableside soufflé…I remember thinking, 'Oh, my god, this is cool.' They were pouring crème anglaise right in the middle—I was five or six at the time—and I thought, 'This is more than just eating, this is an experience.'"
The Vintage Cave Experience: The restaurant is constructed from 150,000 imported, custom-made bricks, has eight tables, 18 original Picassos and two tasting menu options, set at $195 and $295. "Honolulu has never seen anything like this," says Kajioka.
That Cabbage: Kajioka chars sweet cone-shaped Caraflex cabbage in olive oil so the outer layers get crispy and the inner leaves stay tender; he spikes it with miso and lime, then serves it in white dashi. It's the epitome of umami.
Congratulations to Mei Lin, winner of Top Chef Season 12.