Starwood Hawaii Redefines Its Restaurants

The hotel chain advocates fresh island flavors and talented local chefs

By: By Marty Wentzel

Chef de Cuisine at the St. Regis Princeville Resort. Credit: Stephanie Kaluhine-Reid

Chef de Cuisine Colin Hazama from the Kauai Grill at the St. Regis Princeville Resort. Credit: Stephanie Kaluhine-Reid

As the farm-to-table culinary trend takes root in Hawaii, several Starwood Hawaii restaurants — and their creative young chefs —- are setting themselves apart from Hawaii's more established hotel dining rooms.

“Clients are increasingly sophisticated about travel and expect multifaceted experiences that will excite their senses, refresh their bodies, stimulate their minds and allow them to reconnect with themselves and their loved ones,” said Starwood Hawaii regional sales and marketing vice president Cheryl Williams. “Dining in innovative restaurants is an important activity across all market segments. Whether they are traveling for business, romance or with family, visitors want an authentic Hawaii experience.”

Starwood aims to deliver that experience by creating unique culinary concepts, attracting talented up-and-coming chefs and redesigning the ambience of its dining outlets, said Williams. The chefs, many born and raised in Hawaii, were handpicked to match each restaurant’s concept, and they are given latitude to showcase their culinary expertise and talent.

“Our restaurants are competitive with standalone eateries,” Williams said. “When you see local residents coming in and press accolades being awarded, you know we’ve set a new benchmark for hotel restaurants.”

From the Plantation to the Plate
At the newly renovated Sheraton Waikiki, for instance, a dining room called Kai Market takes inspiration from the dishes of plantation workers who immigrated to Hawaii more than one century ago. It offers delicacies from a variety of cultures as it incorporates local farm-fresh ingredients into its dishes. Chef Darren Demayo currently uses about 40 to 50 percent local ingredients on his menus, with an ultimate goal of 80 percent. He and his team pick seasonings from the restaurant’s walls — which are filled with fresh herbs like rosemary, mint, basil, thyme and oregano — to incorporate into the dishes or use as a garnish.

Another Sheraton Waikiki dining room, Twist at Hanohano, is headed by renowned Hawaii chef Ryan Loo. Unveiled in October 2008, the restaurant promises a sustainable menu with contemporary European accents. Loo describes Twist’s philosophy as “the harmony of fresh local ingredients and products and how they are cared for from farm to table.” Equally unique is the menu style, offered as three-, four- or five-course meals so that guests can mix and match from a selection of appetizers, entrees and desserts.

The Royal Hawaiian Hotel’s signature restaurant, Azure, and its executive chef Jon Matsubara — a graduate of the French Culinary Institute — have earned an array of accolades since the restaurant’s opening in February 2009. Azure specializes in fresh island fish roasted in a 1,200-degree ceramic oven that sears in the natural flavors. The fish is then spritzed with a light lemon mist or prepared island-style with soy sauce, ginger and green onion. Clients can taste such Matsubara innovations as Big Island abalone tartine with white wine, Japanese citrus brown butter and Hamakua mushrooms; and Kona lobster tail risotto with arborio rice, saffron and sugar peas.

At the Moana Surfrider, A Westin Resort & Spa, Waikiki Beach, chef de cuisine Rodney Uyehara has launched the Beachhouse at the Moana into the arena of Hawaii destination restaurants. Born and raised in the islands and a graduate of New York’s Culinary Institute of America, Uyehara has an innate appreciation for the many ethnicities that comprise Hawaiian society. Diners can taste the results in such dishes as scallop potato cakes with a citrus buerre blanc and fresh herbs, served with a Waimanalo green salad.

Kauai Restaurants Follow Suit
At the new The St. Regis Princeville Resort on Kauai, celebrity chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten handpicked 28-year-old Hawaii native Colin Hazama to be the chef de cuisine of the hotel’s Kauai Grill. Vongerichten said he counts on Hazama’s expertise in sourcing and incorporating local ingredients and flavors into his dishes. Hazama runs Kauai Grill with Vongerichten’s exact instructions while adding his own touch with fresh Hawaii flavors.

At the Sheraton Kauai Resort, chef Ben Takahashi oversees Shells restaurant, featuring all-natural beef from the island’s Aakukui Ranch. The ranch’s cattle graze on open pastures year-round on a diet consisting of tropical grasses and legumes. Takahashi is leading the Sheraton’s initiative to incorporate ingredients grown on Kauai into the resort’s menus.

As Starwood chefs support sustainable agriculture and incorporate more local products into their menus, Kyo-ya Hotels and Resorts — owner of Starwood’s resorts on Oahu — has made its own commitment to help local farmers. During the 2009 Hawaii state legislative session, Kyo-ya director of operations Victor Kimura lobbied for a new bill to help local farmers achieve food-safety certification. The bill, which went into effect in July 2009, is making it possible for more local produce to be featured on Hawaii’s restaurant menus.

“Gaining food certification is a costly process that many of Hawaii’s finest producers have been unable to afford,” said Starwood Hawaii spokesperson Candice Kraughto. “Thanks to the bill, $140,000 from the Hawaii tourism industry’s fund has been transferred to a pilot program helping farmers gain certification. This is the first initiative ever where the hotel industry has stepped up to help another leading industry: agriculture.”

Moana Surfrider, A Westin Resort & Spa, Waikiki Beach

The Royal Hawaiian Hotel

Sheraton Kauai Resort

Sheraton Waikiki

The St. Regis Princeville Resort