Page 13 - MidWeek - July 13, 2022
P. 13

JULY 13, 2022 MIDWEEK 13
           The year 1989 is a spe- cial one for Robynne Mai‘i. Like it was yesterday, she recalls being a freshman navigating the halls of ‘Iolani School. But far more notably, this was the year she ate at Roy’s for the first time.
Fête owner
Robynne Mai’i has
all the ingredients of a culinary star: a bustling restaurant, a healthy mentorship with young cooks, and now, the award for Best Chef: Northwest and Pacific from the prestigious James Beard Foundation.
  Well, now, Mai‘i can add 2022 to her list of favor- ite years (alongside 2016, which is when she and hus- band Chuck Bussler opened their foodie brainchild, Fête, a new American eatery in Chinatown) after winning the James Beard Award for Best Chef: Northwest and Pacific. She now has a seat at the (dinner) table along- side previous winners and local culinary legends Roy Yamaguchi, Alan Wong and George Mavrothalassitis, who she’s been looking up to and dining at their restau- rants for decades.
time has passed, Mai‘i is still reeling from that day. Her word of choice to de- scribe how she feels about it all is “surreal,” and with too many “pinch me” moments to count, her arm will soon have a red mark that mimics a stove burn.
she was surrounded by her favorite people.
   “I remember thinking to myself, ‘This is so fancy and so delicious!’ ” says Mai‘i cheerfully. “I remember the first time I ate at Alan Wong’s and (Chef) Mavro’s, too. Then, having gone to culinary school at Kapi‘ola- ni (Community College), hearing about them and just knowing that they really are the definition of Hawai‘i re- gional cuisine.”
Loved ones from all over the country accompanied her — including Bussler, her parents and siblings, and former and current em- ployees — which, she says, added to the already im- mense pressure of winning. But, since it was, in fact, her name that was called out to the room filled with Amer- ica’s top culinary experts, it was all the sweeter that
“I think the first emotion was disbelief,” says Mai‘i about her reaction to win- ning. “It all happened so fast and then I realized that my husband and our chef de cui- sine Emily were screaming.
“I’m still processing what this actually means,” she continues, “because I do know that it is a broader recognition of what we’ re doing. I understand that comes with a lot of respon- sibility as well. There are lots of emotions.”
 The award ceremony took place in the Windy City last month and, although some
Besides being one of very few Hawai‘i chefs to win this award (the last one was
Fête owner/chef Robynne Mai‘i (left), who recently won a James Beard Award, had her chef de cuisine and kitchen companion Emily Iguchi beside her at the Chicago ceremony. PHOTO COURTESY FÊTE

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