Island InspiredCover Story
April 25, 2021
Story By: Ginger Keller | Photos by: ANTHONY CONSILLIO
Hoku’s set menus are an embodiment of chef Jonathan Mizukami’s lifelong love for food. Influenced by his Maui upbringing, as well as his time spent working at renowned restaurants, the plates encompass global trends with hints of local flavors.
“I wanted to give guests a sense of place,” says Mizukami. “For certain restaurants, you can put it anywhere in the world and it’ll fit. You can have a French restaurant in New York, San Francisco, Paris — anywhere in the world — and it’ll still be French cuisine. I wanted to create something that can’t be replicated anywhere else but Hawaii because of the locality of the ingredients. Also, the culture of what we grew up with here in Hawaii and certain flavors, like shave ice and poke, I want to share that with people who are coming here. Hawaii is special and I believe that the visitors want a true experience. I want to share that with them and bring them into our world.”
Another driving force for Mizukami is utilizing local ingredients, which, according to him, creates economic sustainability and decreases their carbon footprint.
“We’re surrounded by the ocean, so we should be using fish that comes from our ocean,” he states.
At The Kahala Hotel & Resort eatery, there are currently two seasonal set menus: The Kahala Grand Tasting and Tasting of Vegetables. Both cost $200 for an eight-course meal.
“With a tasting menu … everything is choreographed. It starts with something delicate and light and moves into bigger and bolder flavors.”
The Tartare of Hawaiian Big Eye Tuna is first and features local fish, Regiis Ova Caviar, Bonito Gelée and Scallion Salad. The caviar is a nod to Thomas Keller, owner of the company and a famed chef who Mizukami personally worked with.
Next up is Salad of Oprah Farm’s Beets (yes, that Oprah). Hailing from Haleakala, this root produces more flavors and nutrition because of the atmosphere in which it grows.
“I believe it’s at 3,000 feet of elevation and that area gets very little rain per year, so it’s all about the dew,” explains Mizukami.
Expect goat cheese from the Big Island, puffed rice for added texture, and cucumber and shiso, too.
The seafood and meat dishes, meanwhile, certainly do not disappoint. The Confit of Kona Kahala incorporates Hawaiian hearts of palm, red radish, green apples and Hass avocado puree. The farm-raised fish is cooked for one hour at a low temperature to ensure delicacy.
The “Lobster Luau Stew” pays homage to the food at your typical local family gathering. In fact, when Mizukami tasted the “best squid luau I’ve ever had,” he asked the uncles how to make it and uses those techniques to this day. Another vital component is the curry that coats the shallots — it comes from an 800-year-old Indonesian recipe.
The last headlining course is Grilled Snake River Farms Beef “Papale” (“hat” in Hawaiian), which is “the best kind of meat there is,” according to the chef. This features Gruyère Cheese Pain Perdu, Braised Endive and Maui Onion Jus.
To end the night on a sweet note, guests can indulge in “Pavlova,” an Australian/New Zealand dessert that includes Lilikoi Granite, Crispy Meringue and Vanilla Custard.
“For a lot of times with my food, I like to start with inspirations and then deconstruct it and put it back together,” Mizukami concludes. “When you’re eating it, you have a sense of comfort because it’s somewhat recognizable, yet something you have never had before.”