Page 16 - MidWeek - July 13, 2022
P. 16

16 MIDWEEK JULY 13, 2022
 Mai‘i: The First Native Hawaiian Woman To Win ‘Best Chef ’ Award
Mavrothalassitis in 2003), Mai‘i is also the first Na- tive Hawaiian female to be named.
“You work so hard and you know that you’ re do- ing good work because the restaurant is open, and peo- ple are coming to eat ... and your mom and friends tell you you’ re doing a good job. But it’s something dif- ferent when a body that’s outside of your immediate community recognizes the hard work,” shares Mai‘i. “We want to continue do- ing the good work, but I also feel a heavy respon- sibility to make sure that we do more. That doesn’t mean opening up more restaurants or making it bigger, it’s just about being responsible for contribut- ing to the community and giving back to the commu- nity and making sure we’ re
mentoring young cooks.” P roviding a space in the line for budding culinarians — who, Mai‘i says, come to her from all over but most often from her alma mater KCC and Leeward Commu- nity College’s culinary pro- grams — is a foundational value for Fête as a whole
 Robynne Mai‘i’s recent James Beard Award win for Best Chef: Northwest and Pacific makes her the first Native Hawaiian female in history to hold the title. PHOTO COURTESY FÊTE
“I would see the chef in- structors basically flip out on a weekly basis because something they ordered for the classroom, like an in-
Here also lies Mai‘i’s zest for a challenge and commitment to never find-
and Mai‘i personally.
In fact, it’s the very rea- son why she hired her chef de cuisine and ride-or-die kitchen companion Emily Iguchi, who was aforemen- tioned as part of the vocal
fanfare when Mai‘i won. “We were very lucky that she wanted to work with us, and in the job interview, I asked her, ‘Why would you want to work at Fête when there are so many restau- rants?’” recalls Mai‘i. “She said that she wanted to work in a restaurant where she could mentor young cooks
Fête’s kitchen is more than just a kitchen — it’s also a place for educational exploration for young cooks, thanks to chef/owner Robynne Mai‘i’s commitment to teaching the next generation. SEAN MARRS PHOTO
because she was so lucky to be able to learn from so many different chefs, who were so generous to her with everything they taught her and she wanted to do the same for others. And I was like, ‘OK, you’re hired. We Clove you.’ It completely aligned with everything we believed in.”
ferent cuisines, ingredients and styles. You can spend a lifetime just exploring all the different pockets of New York City to expe- rience certain neighbor- hoods and what they have to offer.”
gredient, didn’t show up,” says Mai‘i. “Sometimes the ingredient was a hard-to-get ingredient ... and I always thought it was interesting that they would order that instead of something they know we can get. Like, why are you going through the exercise of potential disap- pointment and then anger?
could instead be used in a stock, family meals or, at last resort, tossed in the compost pile.
 ulinary education is no stranger to Mai‘i. After graduating
She worked at Gourmet Magazine; taught culinary and pastry arts at a commu- nity college in Brooklyn, where she also developed a culinary degree program; and earned her master’s in food studies at New York University. (Before entering the culinary sphere in her 20s, Mai‘i received a bach- elor’s degree in English and modern dance in Vermont.)
“So, I always wanted to work in a way where ... there’s an understanding of what’s available and practi- cal. When you think about it, it’s how our parents ran their house. It’s not any different. What’s practical, what’s on sale, what’s tasty? It’s the same thing.”
“These are all the things that the guests may not re- alize that we think about,” says Mai‘i. “Nobody wants to know that tons and tons and tons of food has to get dumped. And this is not a Hawai‘i problem, this is a United States problem.
from KCC, the ‘Āina Haina native worked in a couple of different restaurants in Ho- nolulu before taking off for the Big Apple, where she re- sided for the next 15 years.
“It’s deplorable, em- barrassing and borderline criminal how much food is wasted in this country. We like to do our best and one of the things that we’re most proud of is how little waste we have in this kitch- en.
“New York City is just like the Frank Sinatra song — if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere,” she says. “It’s intense, excit- ing, and there’s so much to do, eat and experience. Ev- erything is on a complete- ly different level. That’s when my culinary horizons completely broadened, as I continued to learn about dif-
It was there in the Empire State where she solidified her morals surrounding food waste, something she takes pride in not participat- ing in at Fête.
To walk the walk, Fête sources 75%-90% of its produce locally and accepts fruits and vegetables of all shapes, sizes, appearances and ripeness levels; works with meat companies to purchase cuts that nobody else wants to work with; and teaches employees to never throw something away that
“We’re just a small, lit- tle restaurant, but it’s these principles that we hope to pass along to the cooks who will continue to pass it on. It’s just good habits.”

   14   15   16   17   18