Nawai Keko’olani

Jo McGarry photo

Executive Chef
Romano’s Macaroni Grill, Ala Moana Center

Were you born in Hawaii? I was born on Guam and I grew up here.

Who influenced you and started you on your culinary path? My mom, without doubt. She had a catering company on Guam, so I was cooking from a real early age. I was helping out in the kitchen when I was young.

What do you remember doing first? We had this one dish that required fresh coconut, and we had to sit on a chair and grind the coconut. I would sit there for what seemed like hours. I didn’t get much out of it, but it was the grunt work. And I was learning the value of that.

What dishes most remind you of your mom? Her desserts. She made great desserts, and to this day I still love to make dessert. Baking is a completely different skill from cooking. To be a great baker is really something incredibly difficult.

It’s great that your mom passed on that passion to you. Yeah, and my daughter Emily is going to KCC to study baking now. It’s something she really wants to do, and I feel real fortunate that I was able to pass that on to her. Another generation with the passion!

Do you have time to cook at home? I do, and I love to. I’ll cook whatever anyone asks for, pretty much, but I like the kind of comfort foods that we barbecue.

What’s always in your fridge? Lemons, for balance, garlic and pretty much any kind of Asian ingredient!

Do you have a favorite restaurant? Michel’s. Chef Hardy does an incredible job. I love to go there when I can. It’s always been my favorite restaurant. The abalone that Hardy does is just phenomenal.

With whom would you most like to have dinner? My wife, Michelle. It’s just one of those things where we are so busy with work and the kids, we just rarely get to go out together. It’s challenging! So she would be the person I’d choose.