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D.K. Kodama

D.K. Kodama

Jo McGarry photo

Executive Chef/Owner
D.K. Restaurant Group

Occupation: Executive Chef/Owner D.K. Restaurant Group

You are so busy nowadays, it’s good to catch up with you. You’ve come such a long way since opening that first Sansei on Maui. Yes (laughs), a long way! But that restaurant on Maui was really the perfect place. I would love to go back there, and to that time. I really miss being in one restaurant and having fun with the guests and our staff.

That fun element was always obvious about you. I’m a sushi chef, and with sushi there’s a lot of great color, so right from the beginning we always worked hard to perfect how dishes looked. And that’s where the playfulness comes in.

Did you always think you’d have numerous restaurants? No, not really. We have four Sansei restaurants, a steak house, Vino, and Hiroshi, and we also have Cane and Taro on Maui. It all came about by accident really. (Laughs).

So Vino and Hiroshi, though attached, are both quite different. Yes, Hiroshi and Keith (Endo) both do incredible jobs. Keith’s food is rustic and comforting Italian food, while Hiroshi is cutting edge and contemporary. The thing that ties them together is Chuck Furuya and his wine pairings. His knowledge and his palate are incredible, and his wine choices for each restaurant are amazing.

How do you keep consistency at your restaurants? I go and eat there! That’s really important. And, of course, we have a great team of chefs and staff.

Where do you go when you’re not eating at the restaurants? Mostly the kids get to choose where they want to eat. They like places like Shabu Shabu House, they like CPK … and Roy’s has an amazing menu for kids. They just serve balanced, fresh food. They are a real model for other restaurants in the way they treat kids. There’s no chicken nuggets at Roy’s. I think everyone could learn from them.

What’s the single most important thing you’ve learned in the past 10 years?

I’ve learned so many, but there are two crucial elements: We are in the service business. Just like maids and other people in the industry, we have to please guests and take care of them. There is a line, of course, but our main mission is to take care of people and really service them. I don’t think a lot of people get that about the industry. We have to remember that customers pay us, they pay our bills. Second, I’ve learned that there is nothing as good as quality food. It has to be No. 1. You cannot use mediocre ingredients and have a good restaurant.

Your farm-to-table program supports that. Yes … it works because the food our farmers grow here in Hawaii is amazing. From our own backyards we get incredible food that is flavorful and fresh.