John Iha

Jo McGarry photo

Jo McGarry photo

Executive Chef, Hiroshi Restaurant.

What started your love of cooking?

Like most people I grew up with good local food being cooked at home. But I was at University of Hawaii when food really started to become exciting. Iron Chef and Emeril had just become popular on TV and the world of cooking seemed really exciting and appealing.

Do you have something you remember from your childhood food days?

Oh, yeah, stew and soups. Every grandma has a stew, and my grandma’s beef stew was something I really loved.

Your career has been at mostly finer dining restaurants – L’uraku and Morimoto and Hiroshi. Are you a fine dining kind of guy?

(Laughs) I am a simple spam, rice and eggs kind of guy.

Where do you like to eat?

I eat fast food, convenient food … saimin at Zippy’s … noodles … any of the good local comfort foods.

So many chefs eat fast food and plate lunches. The more fancy the food, the more they are likely to be found in a hole in the wall restaurant!

I think it’s because nobody really likes to eat what they cook, and the more you cook the more you gravitate towards the simplest of foods. Most chefs are about comforting, good food.

How do you define the food at Hiroshi’s?

I’d say it’s all about finding a common ingredient and making it incredibly interesting. So you take a piece of fish – simple – and then you make a sauce. Maybe you use a clam base and add galangal, lemon grass, fish sauce, fresh chili … so it’s interesting, balanced and complex.

What’s in your fridge at home?

Beer, water and ika (squid) for bait.

With whom would you most like to have dinner?

I would like to eat with my entire family as I remember them 30 years ago. That would be cool.

What do you like to do when you’re not working?

Go fishing. I like to catch bonefish. We recently served some at a chef’s table where we served the fish in dumplings. A sea-to-table dinner.

When’s the next chef dinner. I love that sea-to-table idea, especially when the chef is the fisherman!

We have a kaiseki dinner coming up in January, and after that I think we’re going to be have a regular chef’s table.