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Food & Dining // Table Talk
Jo McGarry

The Fruits Of A Chef’s Tasting Vacation

Keith Endo is in the kitchen at Vino Italian Restaurant, opening a package of Iberico ham and marveling at the creaminess of the fat surrounding this rare and luxurious Spanish ham. He’s recently been on an “eating trip,” the kind chefs take to keep their palates fresh and their kitchen’s inspired. Along with restaurant owner DK Kodama and the group of executive chefs that make up the core of the culinary team, Endo spent days and nights eating. But not without great thought and preparation. There’s a strategy and a plan when you go in search of a culinary must.

“We try to make as many reservations as we can for each evening,” says Endo, explaining the plan. “And we have a conceptual vision of what we want to see and eat before we even get to the restaurants. We make a lot of reservations – up to five a night – and then we systematically eat our way through each menu.”

The chefs are looking for different styles, different presentations and in some cases just different ways of eating. For a long time in Hawaii we equated value with size. Nowadays, we’re eating in a whole new way.

“Portions are smaller and prices are reasonable at our restaurants,” says Endo, “and it allows people the freedom to eat a lot of different dishes.”

Endo takes notes during his culinary trips and then heads back to his hotel room with digital photos and a stream of inspirational ideas. “When I get to the hotel room I can literally have 13 or 14 new ideas spinning around in my head,” he says. “This time when I came back to Hawaii, I had dozens of new ideas.”

Many of them have already made it onto the Vino menu, where regular diners are being treated to a seemingly unlimited offering of nightly specials.

And the chef who takes inspiration from almost everywhere also is experimenting with the kind of pantry ingredients found in sister restaurant Hiroshi’s next door.

“It’s interesting to think of different flavors of Asian and Italian food coming together,” says Endo. ” For example, we recently did a broth that was dashi based, and we added pecorino cheese that really added flavor.”

It’s this search for the unique and unusual that drives him forward and fuels his enthusiasm.

“I want to create dishes with a lot of different styles and flavors that Hawaii people haven’t seen before,” he says. “I want people to have no other reference point so that the experience here is really new. Often when people eat something, they just compare it to what they’ve had before, but what I want to do is to make dishes that people have never tasted.”

And if you’re up for some of that kind of eating, then head to Vino for a taste of the luxurious Iberico ham and its creamy, nutty lusciousness.

The hogs from which the ham comes roam free on grass pastures in Spain, giving the ham a uniquely buttery, full fat flavor. Paired with a light salad, some melon and a simple dressing, it’s a perfect example of the kind of dish that gets Keith Endo and the Vino staff excited.

“We just want people to be able to try this rare kind of wonderful food,” he says.

At $15 per portion, the gourmet salad is not unreasonably priced. “It’s important that our food is accessible to everyone,” he says.

Paired with some of Master Sommelier Chuck Furuya’s incredible wine selections, there’s no better place to enjoy a taste of the season than this vibrant little restaurant just bursting with creativity.

Happy eating!

Jotabletalk@gmail.com

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