Philip “Ippy” Aiona

Philip “Ippy” Aiona

[media-credit name=”Photo courtesy Ippy Aiona” align=”alignleft” width=”358″]Philip "Ippy" Aiona[/media-credit]

"Next Food Network Star" contestant Philip "Ippy" Aiona Executive Chef, Solimene's, Waimea.

Executive Chef,
Solimene’s, Waimea.

It seems that everybody knows your history since your recent run on “Food Network Star,” so no need to ask where you were born, raised … inspired. I think a lot of people know by now that I grew up on the Big Island with my dad, who’s Hawaiian and ran a plate lunch restaurant, and my mom, who’s Italian and an incredible cook.

What dishes does your mom do best? She cooks a lot … and everything is so good, but at Christmas she makes crab and lobster and clams, mussels, shrimp – you know, the traditional Italian seven-fish dishes – in this incredible diavolo sauce.

Do you compete with each other at the restaurant, just for fun? (laughs) We do. We have soup wars. Her soups are traditional, mine are really out there and different, so we’ll have contests. Hers are usually better than mine.

How do you describe your food? Your Hawaiian-Italian background and exposure to great food and ingredients has created something really interesting. My food is whimsical, I think. It’s creative. And I use classic European techniques because of my Cordon Bleu training and because of my mom. And then, through growing up around my dad’s restaurant, I appreciate local ingredients. So it’s a combination of that.

What’s always in your fridge? Shoyu, I use it in everything!

What local ingredient are you using most right now? Hearts of palm from the Big Island. My friend has a farm over here. I like how it tastes of roasted corn but has almost a root vegetable kind of texture … I love experimenting with it.

Where’s your favorite place to go for dinner? My back porch. My favorite thing is to throw oysters on the grill, with beer and sriracha. And I love to throw Maui onions on the grill – just simple, good stuff. My girlfriend Genna makes the best tacos. So home is a good place to eat.

Do you have food wars with Genna? No. I couldn’t compete. She’s a Cordon Bleu-trained pastry cook. I don’t do pastry.

National TV exposure, particularly on FOOD NETWORK, can change lives really quickly. Did your Twitter network go nuts as soon as you started appearing on the series? (laughs) I didn’t even have a Facebook page when this all started. I’m from a small town on the Big Island. Everybody knows everyone. I didn’t even use my cell phone … so that’s all changed. I have a Facebook page now. But I still don’t have a Twitter account.

If you hadn’t been a chef, what might you have been? Well, from my altar boy days, the only thing I really wanted to be was the pope – or maybe a marine biologist. I guess the pope thing wasn’t that realistic.