F&W Star Chef
Restaurants: Star Noodle (Maui, HI)
Experience: Walt Disney World (Orlando, FL), Aloha Mixed Plate (Maui)
Education: Leeward Community College Culinary Program (Pearl City, HI), Maui Culinary Academy (Maui)
What’s the dish you’re best known for?
Pork adobo. It’s a very rustic, traditional Filipino dish. I give it a refined spin, with braised Duroc pork belly in adobo seasoning that I serve with a mung bean puree.
If you could launch any new restaurant project, what would it be?
An upscale lechón restaurant, serving Filipino whole roasted pig. I’d roast them right in the middle of the restaurant. We’d do lots of small plates to accompany it, like Brazilian barbecue.
Who is your food mentor?
Hands down, my father. He was a welder by trade. But growing up, our house was always a gathering spot. Whenever there was a big party, at our house—my dad was the chef. He still cooks every weekend. He has a couple of lechón ovens that he built himself.
What’s a dish that defines who you are?
Pohole salad, or fiddlehead fern salad. I serve the recipe that my dad taught me at Star Noodle. I grew up in Hilo, which is the rainiest city in the US—we have tons of fiddlehead ferns growing everywhere. We’d pick them by a river in back of my grandfather’s house. In Hawaii you’d only see fiddleheads served at a first-baby party or a wedding, never at a restaurant—and most restaurants serve them as a garnish or side dish. But I serve a whole plate of them. We get most of our ferns from a farmer on the east side of Maui. But when I go back home, I still pick ferns with my father.
What was the first dish you ever cooked yourself?
Top Ramen. Growing up in Hawaii, I remember being no more than five years old and cooking it. I call it the Hawaiian cereal. I’ve eaten more instant ramen than cereal for breakfast, and probably so have all of my cousins and friends.
What is the best dish for a neophyte cook to try?
Perfectly roasted chicken. It’s such a simple dish, but it’s one of the most delicious. You’ll learn a little bit of butchery when you truss it. You’ll learn how to season properly because if you don’t season it enough it won’t taste very good. And every oven is different, so you’ll learn how to gauge oven temperature and doneness.
What is the best bang-for-the-buck ingredient and how do you use it?
Kombu. You typically add it to dashi, but you can add it to any stock. You can cure fish with it. You can pulverize it and mix it with salt and pepper for a seasoning. I like to sprinkle it on seafood.
If you were going to take Thomas Keller out to eat, where would you take him?
I’d take Thomas Keller to the Vintage Cave. It’s a new restaurant here in Hawaii that will definitely be one of the next great restaurants to come out of the US. The 29-year-old chef, Chris Kajioka, is the product of Ron Siegel in San Francisco and Per Se in New York City. This guy is using some amazing techniques. And he’s using the best products not only in Hawaii but flying them in from all over the world. If Michelin came out here, it would be a Michelin-starred restaurant.