Kanani Lincoln

Jo McGarry photo

Chef/owner Hale Aina
Caterers and Hale Aina Supper Club (a pop-up dinner concept)

Where were you born and raised? Born on the Big Island. Moved to Maui with my dad when I was about 7, when he opened Fresh Island Fish. And then at 13 I came to Oahu to board at Kamehameha School.

Your family has a long history in the Hawaii food movement. Were they your inspiration? Absolutely. My entire family deserves the credit for inspiring my food! My dad was heavily involved in the early days of the Hawaii Regional Cuisine movement with Fresh Island Fish, and he was a part of the original group that started Kapalua Food and Wine Festival. He was very close to chef Roger Daikon, one of the original HRC chefs, so I was exposed to that scene from a very young age.

When did you start cooking? When I was about 8 I would help out my mom at our restaurant on Maui and it went from there. And my grandma was a great hostess and loved to host huge parties on the Big Island.

Did that inspire your catering company? I think so. I often think of the fun she had organizing parties. And she was a very good cook. She loved to cook Chinese food, so I spent a lot of time looking into authentic Chinese recipes when creating our menus. Lots of the flavors of the sauces are bold and strong. My grandmother really knew how to use them.

You cater to a lot of famous names and at high-end events. I think I can guess the kind of food you like to eat when you’re not working … (Laughs) Yeah, I really like comfort food. I’m a big noodle fan. Love ramen. I was devastated when Ichiriya, a little mom and pop restaurant on Pensacola and South King, closed. Jimbo’s on South King Street does a great job.

With whom would you most like to have a pop-up dinner evening? Any or all of the original 12 HRC chefs, just to talk to them about the landscape before they came along and changed everything. Because my dad was so involved in that era, I think it’s fascinating that they all decided to do something that no one else had done before. There was risk involved for all of them – and that still inspires me today.

What kinds of dishes best represent your food? We do a lot of high-end events, but I think we do a phenomenal luau – that’s my background, and I think we do it as well as any you’ll ever go to. Our lomi salmon, for example, uses Hauula tomatoes, Maui onions and lemon grass chili water. Another example of a dish that people love is our version of summer rolls – they’re mint, shrimp and pickled green papaya summer rolls with lemon grass cilantro peanut sauce. We try to create dishes that people have seen before, then make them unique.

OK, we’re all hungry now. How can we get you to come cater a luau or a party? We just launched a new website: haleainacatering.com.