Restaurant Insider with Anne Lee: Chef ChaiRestaurant Insider
January 3, 2021
Story By: Anne Lee | Photos by: L. TABUDLO
ANNE LEE speaks with founder Chef Chai owner CHAI CHAOWASAREE
Ring in the New Year with a delicious meal from Chef Chai. Owner Chai Chaowasaree has been serving up island fusion-inspired dishes at the Kapiolani Boulevard location since 2013, and wants to welcome everyone to indulge in a festive feast — dine-in or takeout — to celebrate the start of 2021.
AL: What did you prepare for us today?
CC: We are preparing you one of our signature dishes called Crispy Whole Fish with Chili Ginger Sauce. The fish is crispy on the outside and moist on the inside. The sauce is Thai and Chinese-style with ginger, jalapeño pepper and scallions. So good!
AL: Now you are open for dine-in service. What can guests expect when they return?
CC: We are open for dine-in four days a week, 4-9:30 p.m. Thursdays-Sundays.
Our dining room is set according to the CDC guideline of being 6 feet apart, and we also offer outdoor dining as well. In addition, we created four private gazebos for you to enjoy.
AL: Will you still offer take out?
CC: Yes, along with our Wiki Wiki Boxes.
We post Wiki Wiki Boxes updates online at facebook.com/chefchai and Instagram (@chefchaipacifica).
AL: What is the concept behind Chef Chai?
CC: Island fusion at its best. We use all influences of Thai, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese and Filipino, combined with French cooking techniques. The results “wow” many of our guests.
AL: You have had an interesting upbringing. Tell me about your childhood.
CC: Growing up in Bangkok, Thailand, my parents owned a restaurant, so I learned all my cooking from my parents since I was little.
AL: All those culinary experiences you had growing up must have enhanced your palate. What was that one dish or item that you ate that ignited this desire to become a chef?
CC: The Whole Fish is always my favorite, but I also like the Oxtail Soup and our signature Kataifi Prawns.
AL: Who are your mentors?
CC: My mom is always my mentor. She worked very hard for us, sacrificed so much for us, was a strong Catholic, and all that made me become who I am today. You must have faith and believe in God; He will be taking care of you if you believe in Him.
AL: Describe the culinary experience that is offered to guests at Chef Chai.
CC: Dining at Chef Chai is more than just good food. For the ambiance, we now offer both indoor and outdoor dining. There’s a beautiful bar, nice wine list and attentive, professional staff members who will always welcome you.
AL: You created Wiki Wiki Boxes that offer your delicious cuisine for takeout. How did you create the weekly menu?
CC: The Wiki Wiki Box concept is very similar to what we did for Hawaiian Airlines’ first-class meals when I was their executive chef many years ago. We changed the menu weekly. Since we are open for dine-in now, our space and staff are limited, so we need to cut down pickup days to only once a week. Now, you can choose to do a mini box with four entrées, a salad for two and dessert for two for only $75. The standard box is still available at $120 for eight entrées, two salads and two desserts. Perfect for those busy lifestyles, the meal can last in the refrigerator for four to five days. No cooking, no prepping, no trip to the store, no dirty dishes and only takes two minutes in the microwave. Many of our guests said it’s cheaper than going to the grocery store to buy all the ingredients.
AL: What do you love most about Hawaii?
CC: The people and the weather. Local people are warm, nice and generous. They have welcomed me since I moved here 35 years ago.