Robin Lee

Jo McGarry photo

Head Chef, Nobu Waikiki

Where were you born and raised? Born in Honolulu and raised in Kaneohe.

What started your passion for culinary arts? The love of eating! At an early age I learned to cook things because I loved to eat them. My first dish: Rice Crispy Treats!

Any dishes you remember from your childhood that you’d love to taste again? My grandmother’s homemade Chinese pretzels with chives and sesame seeds, and my grandfather’s “Chang Special.” I’ve made them many times but they never taste the same.

How do you keep creating exciting new dishes? It’s tough at a restaurant where people have such high expectations. I study a lot. I collect cookbooks (six full-sized bookcases and growing). And I try to sample different foods all the time. I recently came back from a nine-day tour of Napa Valley and San Francisco, where I ate at 20 restaurants and had about 140 dishes.

Favorite local restaurants when you’re not working? For Indian, I love Maharani Cafe. Pizza, then it’s JJ Dolan’s. Sushi … well, Nobu, of course. But I also really like Kona Kai Sushi.

What’s a typical late-night snack for you? On the way home from work there’s a Taco Bell, McDonald’s and Jack in the Box! I now walk to and from work to avoid the temptation of the drive-through window!

With whom would you most like to have dinner? Thomas Keller because of all he has done to shape and impact the American culinary landscape; David Chang (of Momofuku, N.Y.) because of his shoot from-the-hip, tell-it-like-it-is narrative and fearlessness, and Anthony Bourdain. I think it would be a great night of storytelling, lewdness and laughter.

What’s always in your fridge? Chilled, plain tap water. I love Hawaii’s water.

If you hadn’t been a chef, what would you be doing now? Teaching. I used to teach fine arts at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. I have always valued education and admired teachers for the dedication they have. There’s enormous gratification recognizing when someone’s eyes have been opened to something they never saw before.