Where were you born and raised? Here in Hawaii. I went to the Mainland for culinary school and then worked my way back to the Islands.
What sparked your culinary interest? We always had family dinners and lots of cooking at home, and both of my grandmas were really good cooks, so they influenced me a lot. They definitely started my love of cooking.
So I know you must have some great memories of dishes from your childhood. Yes, in fact my grandma always made this incredible barbecue sauce, and so I took her recipe and I use it for our barbecue wings at Hukilau and here at Pagoda on our buffet. I adapted it, added chipotles and mango to give it some heat and a local touch, and now we have a house mango chipotle barbecue sauce that’s a family recipe.
Since your team took over Pagoda, you’ve changed the menu, the dining room, the nighttime scene – while still keeping the buffet that local people love so much. It must have been hard to take an almost institutionalized kind of menu and make it contemporary. Yes, when we came on board, Pagoda only was open for the buffet at night – no breakfast, no lunches. We did a walk-through the first night, and we were shocked that it was such a local place and yet there was no local food on the menu. Today there’s local product – local fish, Big Island beef, local greens, as much local food as possible on our menu – for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
The restaurant looks completely different at night now. It has more of a bistro feel. Please share some dishes from the evening menu. Right now we have smoked tako ahi, inamona poke, sizzling garlic ahi belly, kalua pig and shrimp spring rolls, boneless kalbi, glazed smoked pork, oysters on the half shell … For dinner, we have a fire-roasted ribeye that’s becoming pretty popular, too.
Do you cook at home? Not too much. I’m not home that much right now. We’re prepping for our turkey-to-go dinners (laughs). That’s a lot of work!
What’s always in your fridge? Lots of vegetables and not much else. My wife doesn’t eat meat.
Favorite restaurants? Lately I’ve been loving Yanagi Sushi … and trying lots of noodle places. I’m on a noodle kick for sure. For special occasions I love to go to d.k Steak House. They do an amazing job.
With whom would you most like to have dinner at Pagoda? My grandparents – they passed away early in my career and didn’t get to see me advance. It would be fun to cook for them and let them taste our food.