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Restaurant Insider with Anne Lee: Mina’s Fish House

Restaurant Insider

November 24, 2019

Story By: Anne Lee | Photos by: ANTHONY CONSILLIO

Front row, from left: sous chef Jasper Nagun, chef Michael Mina, Anne Lee, manager Taisei Lee and executive sous chef William Perez Ledesma Second row, from left: executive chef Garrick Mendoza, general manager Thomas Kuiper, and fish sommeliers Ryan Houser and Saui Matagiese

ANNE LEE speaks with chef and partner MICHAEL MINA, and Mina’s Fish House executive chef GARRICK MENDOZA

With 48 restaurants currently in operation as part of his Mina Group, world-renowned celebrity chef Michael Mina is showing no signs of slowing down. Constantly traveling between his several restaurants, Mina made a stop to Oahu in October and sat to talk exclusively with Dining Out about one of The Gathering Place’s hottest dining spots, Mina’s Fish House.

For Mina, it’s been a major goal to open his own restaurant in Hawaii since he did an event with local chef Roy Yamaguchi at Roy’s in 1992 — which is when Mina and his previous business partner also opened another restaurant called Aqua, however the duo split up in 2002.

“I fell in love with Hawaii so much that I came back every year after that,” says Mina. “My ultimate goal was always to build a restaurant here in Hawaii, and Aqua being a fish restaurant, I wanted my new restaurant in Hawaii also to be a fish restaurant.”

Not only did the chef fulfill his goal, he also went above and beyond to make Mina’s Fish House a truly unique experience for both visitors and residents of Hawaii, creating a position no other restaurant possesses.

“We are proud to have the only two fish sommeliers in the world, Ryan Houser and Saui Matagiese — we have even patented the name,” he divulges. “The reality is that we wanted our guests to have that experience of enjoying the fish when they sit down to eat dinner and know that it was caught that day. We wanted to be able to give the real story about the fish to the guests in the dining room, and the actual fisherman that caught the fish that day can tell the story in that perspective because the fish sommeliers are always present in the dining room.”

Salmon Crudo ($22)

When chef Mina is not around, executive Garrick Mendoza takes the lead and he has just as much passion as his mentor about the culinary industry as well as making Mina’s Fish House a success.

“I’ve been in this industry since 2000,” says Mendoza. “I started off as a line cook in high school not knowing that I would make a career out of it. I grew up in New Mexico and chef Mina brought me to Hawaii.

“Walking into the location of Mina’s Fish House for the first time was the best day, knowing what my view would be every day coming to work, I was 100 percent excited.”

Black Garlic and Miso Black Cod ($50)

Mina’s Fish House presents guests with dishes that are a combination of traditional Hawaiian fare with a Californian cuisine touch and a light and very refreshing Asian flair. And with the team that Mina has put together, it’s no doubt it’s a widely accepted concept that is winning the hearts of diners across the islands and beyond. Michael Mina shares more about the restaurant, his background and even has some advice for all the future chefs out there.

AL: What does Mina’s Fish House bring to the Hawaii food scene?

MM: There are two aspects we pay attention to whenever we build a restaurant in a new place: the food scene and the food culture. Food scene is more trendy, whereas food culture is where you go and have a real obligation to enhance and not to take from it. Our chefs know how to cook and make the dishes; how to do something that actually enhances the dish and brings more attention to the amazing food culture that Hawaii already has established.

Pan Roasted Mahi Mahi Dorado ($50)

AL: Any special events coming up?

MM: Mina’s Fish House will be serving a three-course menu for Thanksgiving. Mina’s Lobster Pot Pie (brandied Truffle Cream, Baby Root Vegetables, Sea Salt-Dusted Pie Crust) is an entree. The three-course menu is $95 per person with optional wine pairing for an additional $55 per person. Children 12 and under can order off the regular keiki menu.

AL: With 48 different locations, how do you give each their own identity?

MM: It’s all about the chefs and the people that run the restaurants. We have an amazing team of people that give a chef such as chef Garrick a platform to start it, but the reality is that every day, you need to be consistent. A consistently good restaurant is unique and hard to find. The uniqueness is conceptualization, but nothing is unique unless it’s high quality and consistent, so at the end of the day, giving the chef the platform and freedom directionally and same with the front of the house. With every person, you have people leading the wine and beverage program, people leading the service program and hospitality — it’s how they all come together that creates the uniqueness.

From left: fish sommelier Ryan Houser holding a mahi mahi, executive chef Garrick Mendoza, Anne Lee, Michael Mina and fish sommelier Saui Matagiese holding a monchong.

AL: What insight can you share with prospective chefs and entrepreneurs?

MM: The reality is you obviously have to be extremely passionate about it, and understand it’s a marathon. A restaurant every day will be better or worse than it was the day before. Your job as any sort of restaurant leader is to think of every single thing that you can do to make this restaurant better than it was yesterday. But, it’s easier said than done. Sometimes you think you can do everything yourself but you can’t, you need a team that understands the vision, who are all very much on the same page with what you want to accomplish.

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