Derek Wong

Jo McGarry photo

Sous Chef, Pineapple Room

Where were you raised? I grew up in Kalihi – the Tamashiro Market block. There was a Chinese grocer on the corner, and my mom would send me there to buy pork belly and butt and all kinds of good things to eat!

What started your interest in cooking? Cooking was just central to our family, like with many local families. But I think the thing that got me hooked was when I was about 9 year old, I made a seafood pasta for my family and their reaction was so great. I instantly was hooked on the feeling of creating that kind of happiness for people. That’s what gave me the idea that food could do that for people.

Nine is pretty young to start cooking for your family. (laughs) Yeah, I’m pretty sure they were just being nice about the food, but it’s what I wanted to do from that moment on.

You’ve worked with some great chefs at Michel’s, Roy’s, Morimoto and now The Pineapple Room. Where do you like to eat when you’re not working? I love izakaya restaurants. I go Gazen Bar and Grill often, and Izakaya Nonbei is close to my house so I go there a lot. And Aki-no-No is very good. I love that kind of izakaya-style food, the ambience of those restaurants … it’s all good.

Do you cook at home? I do. I like to make gnocchi. I get fresh basil from the farmers market in Manoa and make fresh gnocchi with tomato sauce and basil and local mushrooms. It’s great with my favorite wine right now – Obsidian Ridge Cabernet.

What’s always in your fridge? Green onions, bacon, oyster sauce, shoyu and white onions. I grew up eating fried rice, and it’s the easiest dish to put together in the morning.

What are your favorite childhood food memories? Oh, my mom used to make this great pork and pumpkin Filipino-type stew, with ginger and bay leaf and lots of pepper. I loved it. And she’d always make me rice balls. Just little round balls of rice, but I loved to eat them. That’s happiness food for me.

Do you still have that same feeling you had as a 9-year-old when you watch people eating your food? Yeah, it’s really what drives us. Even right now, I’m thinking of how we can make the dinner we’re doing tonight for The Good Table even more special for our guests. We’re thinking that we want to bring the entire cooking experience to their table, not just the food. Thinking how we can make every dish better and better is what we love to do.

If you could cook dinner for anyone, who would it be? My mom and dad. They both have passed away, but I’d just like to be able to cook one dinner for them so I could show them who I have become through my food. They blessed me with a wonderful life, and without them I never would have been able to do any of the things I’m doing now. It would be incredible to cook for them to thank them.