Director of Operations, Good To Grill, Honolulu
Where were you born and raised? Kalihi.
What started your culinary path? I was working at Michel’s in the early ’80s as a busboy, and because they were shorthanded, they asked me to work in the kitchen, too. I started dishwashing and then worked my way through everything – including culinary school.
Do you prefer the kitchen or the dining room? I always joke I should have stayed front of house where all the money is! But I do love both. I like people so I enjoy customer service, but I also enjoy the creativity in the kitchen.
Your food has a wonderful comfort level … Yes, it’s really comfort food at the heart of all the recipes. Even when the food gets a little fancier, it’s still recognizable as good, home-cooked food.
What do you remember about your mom’s cooking? That she knew 105 ways to make chicken – and you never got bored with the food (laughs). Her cooking taught me a lot, especially about the variety of dishes you can create from just one protein. And she made terrific fried chicken.
Who inspired you once you started working? Gordon Hopkins (partner, executive chef, Roy’s Restaurants) – I worked with him at Michel’s and he was a master at running a kitchen both back and front of house! He controlled everything and ran an incredible operation. I owe so much to him, because the things I learned in his kitchen have stayed with me to this day.
Where do you like to eat? My favorite restaurant is Tasty Chop Suey on School Street. It’s been there for decades. My father used to take me there when I was a boy, and I think they still have the same photos on the wall. It’s very, very good local-style Chinese food. I love their kau yuk, and they always have nice-sized duck – it’s very consistent and their prices are great.
With whom would you most like to have dinner? Gordon Ramsay would be fun, but the person I’d choose over anyone else would be my wife, Maria. She is a cancer survivor who has taught me that, through determination, strength and faith, no hurdle cannot be overcome.