Bidding Aloha To Beloved Chef Nic Sayada

Il Lupino Chef Nic Sayada, who passed away Dec. 4, had a long, distiguished culinary career. Jo McGarry photo

Amid the holiday festivities comes sad news for the food and beverage industry as longtime Hawaii resident and well-loved executive chef at Il Lupino Nic Sayada passed away Dec. 4 after a valiant battle with cancer.

The ethnic Assyrian grew up in Iran and migrated to San Francisco in 1964. Sayada trained at the San Francisco Culinary School before moving to Honolulu to work at Nick’s Fishmarket. He also was executive chef at The Black Orchid, Maharaja Night Club and Cascada at Royal Garden. Before coming out of semi-retirement to open Il Lupino, he worked as a personal chef and cooked on Air Force One – a life highlight for the chef who always harbored a dream of flying.

Sayada was immensely proud of his Assyrian heritage (which traces ancestors back to Mesopotamia), and used his menus to keep the food of his childhood alive. “My first memories are all about food,” he said last time we chatted. “I remember buying lamb from the butcher with my mother to make stew, remember her roasting eggplant and drizzling it with olive oil to eat before dinner.”

Quince, on the salumi menu at Il Lupino, was from a tree in his mother’s garden.

“At 95, my mother still makes jams and jellies from this tree,” he said.

And during Christmas at Il Lupino, Chef Nic’s heritage could be tasted in a favorite dish of roasted duck served with pomegranate and orange peel over a bed of rice flavored with saffron, sun-dried cranberries and pistachios. “Even on an Italian menu,” he joked, “there is room for food from my heritage.”

He often described Il Lupino as “the one last restaurant I have in me,” and anyone who knew him can attest to the fact that he worked at perfecting the menu with uncommon passion, even in an industry full of driven and fiercely passionate chefs. Once, when he returned from a trip to the emergency room after a suspected heart attack, he told me, “It’s OK, luckily it was only stress from working in the kitchen too much.”

Not sure if anyone else at Il Lupino can re-create Chef Nic’s Christmas duck, but it would be a fitting way to remember the man whose celebrated life by creating outstanding food every day …

No sooner had I finished writing about the generosity of the restaurant industry last week when word came that 3660 On the Rise chef-owner Russell Siu and Side Street Inn chef-owner Colin Nishida were donating more than $40,000 to local charities.

The two chefs, longtime friends, held a golf tournament to celebrate their combined 40 years in business, then celebrated their generous giveaway by throwing a party for recipients at Side Street Inn.

“We wanted to continue giving back to the community that supports us,” says Nishida, who’s recovering from a recent stroke and is under doctor’s orders to take it easy for a while. “We get so much incredible support from our customers, this is our way of thanking the community.”

I asked Side Street general manager Robbie Acoba if another celebratory golf tournament might be in the works. “Maybe next 20th anniversary,” he laughed, then added, “but Colin and them will be 80-something – so maybe not.”

Happy eating!