Where were you born and raised? Hawaii. I went to Kalani High School and then to Chaminade, and then got the “calling” to be a chef (laughs).
Did you always want to be in the industry? My mother has 16 brothers and sisters, so food and hospitality were always huge part of my childhood. There was always a dinner to plan or a celebration at someone’s home. I was exposed to the industry at an early age without realizing it.
As a chef you see a different side to the industry. What prompted your switch to front of house? After I graduated with a culinary degree from Johnson and Wales, I was asked to stay to pursue a bachelor’s degree in hotel management. The college had a small restaurant for students, and I helped teach in the dining room. I was really fortunate to be able to do that.
Front of house is not for everyone! I agree (laughs). You have to be able to listen with your eyes. It’s amazing what people are saying when they are apparently just sitting at a table. You have to know what’s going on with each guest during their evening.
Diner expectations are extremely high at Hoku’s. Our attitude is always that we think of guests as coming to dinner at our home. That’s the highest honor, right? How you receive your guests, how you plan on them coming to your house for dinner, and how much you ‘d like them to come back – it’s all so important. That’s how we prepare to greet guests at the restaurant every night. Favorite restaurants? Town for lunch and Heeia Pier – and I love taking friends who visit to House Without a Key at sunset for pupu. Fumi’s for coconut shrimp, if I’m driving round the island. And I love To Thai For on Waialae Avenue. It’s run by a wonderful woman, Natalie, and her three daughters. Such good food.
With whom would you most like to have dinner? Daniel Boulud. I was fortunate to work with him at Café Boulud on New York. He has such an incredible sense of cooking, and of business. He came to see me once on a stopover in Hawaii, but I’d love to have dinner with him at Hoku’s to let him see what an influence he’s been.
What’s always in your fridge? Chutney, 1 percent milk, prepared dishes like tabouleh salad and roasted rotisserie chicken.
You’re hosting a grand food and wine celebration next month. We’re celebrating everything local by taking Hawaii’s farm-to-table culture and entwining the history of Hoku’s and this remarkable hotel. The James Beard Foundation and some of our best chefs are joining us to celebrate. It’s going to be an incredible month.