Rediscovering Hawaii Regional Cuisine

Rediscovering Hawaii Regional Cuisine

Where to find food by the original Hawaii Regional Cuisine chefs By: Marty Wentzel
<p>Trailblazing Hawaii Regional Cuisine chef Peter Merriman works closely with farmers and uses only the freshest local ingredients. // © 2015 Charla...

Trailblazing Hawaii Regional Cuisine chef Peter Merriman works closely with farmers and uses only the freshest local ingredients. // © 2015 Charla Photography

Feature image (above): Bev Gannon’s Haliimaile General Store on Maui has built a devoted fan base. // © 2015 Bev Gannon Restaurants

When the Hawaii Regional Cuisine movement (HRC) was launched in 1991, its 12 founding chefs were the rock stars of Hawaii’s culinary world. They developed partnerships with island farmers who provided them with fresh local products. Then, the founding chefs turned those ingredients into fusion-style dishes inspired by cuisines and cooking techniques from around the world.

Eight of the original HRC chefs still run restaurants in Hawaii. Here’s where visitors can taste their talents firsthand.

Alan Wong
President Barack Obama has been known to dine at Alan Wong’s Honolulu restaurant during his holiday visits to his native island of Oahu. Sources say Obama is a big fan of the twice-cooked soy-braised and grilled Kalbi-style ribs with gingered shrimp.  

Wong also runs The Pineapple Room in the Ala Moana Center in Honolulu. Its breakfast menu offers HRC-style eggs Benedict with a kalua pig and taro hash cake, lomi tomatoes and luau leaf hollandaise.

Bev Gannon
Another Maui star, Bev Gannon has three current locations. Haliimaile General Store pleases palates with standouts such as horseradish-crusted opakapaka (also known as the Hawaii pink snapper fish) and wasabi mashed potatoes. Gannon’s at Wailea Golf Club earns raves for its Hawaiian salt-crusted ribeye and the fresh catch with pineapple red curry sauce. 

Opening in spring 2015, Joe’s Nuevo Latino will use local ingredients in Mexican and Central/South American recipes.

George Mavrothalassitis
Chef Mavro, a AAA Five Diamond Award-winning restaurant helmed by George Mavrothalassitis, charms Honolulu diners. It showcases local ingredients in recipes channeling the chef’s French upbringing.  

Among the top entrees is the roasted Hawaii Island lobster with chorizo taro dumpling and sauteed vegetables. For dessert, try the Waialua chocolate bar with poached pear and sorbet. Multicourse menus with wine pairings are ideal for a special occasion.

Jean Marie Josselin
Head to south Kauai for Josselin’s Tapas Bar and Grill, owned by Jean Marie Josselin. It specializes in small servings of internationally-inspired dishes paired with signature sangrias. Favorites include a Kekaha shrimp and duck confit taco with pineapple salsa, and braised pork belly with apple kimchee and lehua honey.  

At his new JO2 on Kauai’s east coast, Josselin continues the culinary ingenuity in items such as seared Hunan-style rack of lamb with chipotle truffle sauce.

Mark Ellman
In Lahaina, Maui, Mark Ellman runs three oceanside restaurants. At Honu, diners can dig into a brick oven pizza with Hamakua mushrooms and black truffle cheese. At Mala Ocean Tavern, organic Asian fried chicken comes with Molokai purple mashed potatoes. At Frida’s Mexican Beach House, Hawaii products sport a Mexican flair.  

Ellman also runs Mala Wailea in southwest Maui, home of soy salmon with local bok choy and mushroom stir-fry.

Peter Merriman
An undisputed HRC pioneer, Peter Merriman played a major role in paving the way toward chef/farmer relationships. His Merriman’s restaurants in Waimea (Hawaii Island) and Kapalua (Maui), along with Merriman’s Fish House on Kauai, all feature the chef’s classics, such as wok-charred ahi with pohole fern salad.  

Also on Kauai is Merriman’s Gourmet Pizza & Burgers, home to an ultra-fresh fish sandwich with Sriracha sauce and local grass-fed beef burgers.

Roy Yamaguchi
This prolific chef has restaurants on four major islands. On Oahu, he runs Roy’s in Waikiki, Hawaii Kai and Ko Olina. On Maui awaits Roy’s Kaanapali, with Roy’s Waikoloa on Hawaii Island.  

Yamaguchi’s classic blackened ahi with a spicy soy mustard butter sauce continues to wow diners. Yamaguchi’s latest venture — Eating House 1849 in Poipu, Kauai — is a casual and creative new addition to the HRC scene.

Sam Choy
Growing up in a small North Shore Oahu town, Sam Choy takes pride in his Chinese/Hawaiian roots. After rocketing to fame with several restaurants, cookbooks and even a television show, he’s now scaling things back at one eatery: Sam Choy’s Kai Lanai on Hawaii Island. 

Clients can taste his devotion to home and heritage in his oriental lamb chops, macadamia nut chicken and seafood "laulau" (steamed fish wrapped in ti leaves).