Restaurant Insider with Anne Lee: Vino Italian Tapas & Wine BarRestaurant Insider
May 2, 2021
Story By: Anne Lee | Photos by: ANTHONY CONSILLIO
ANNE LEE speaks with master sommelier CHUCK FURUYA
I had a chance to enjoy hand-selected wines that master sommelier Chuck Furuya paired with a great meal at Vino Italian Tapas & Wine Bar. In 1988, he became the 10th person in the U.S. to pass the master sommelier exam. Although no longer working at Vino, Chuck felt the most at home here to talk about his journey and his passion for food.
AL: What made you want to become a master sommelier?
CF: When I worked at Alioto’s restaurant (on Makaloa Street), I met Nunzio Alioto. I worked for him as a waiter, then general manager. He shared his knowledge of wines with me, and I took on that career path because of him and his wife Joanne. He still comes to visit Hawaii and is my mentor and best friend.
AL: I believe that you started and led the culture here for sommeliers in Hawaii. Tell me about your culinary journey.
CF: I started in this industry in 1974 doing catering at Spencecliff.
There was a coffee shop in Ala Moana Center, and we used to cater pastries and coffee to the movie sets on the North Shore or wherever they were filming. I was the guy that jumped in the van and drove it out there for breakfast service.
I also worked as a busboy at Bobby McGee’s. This led to my position as a server at Churchill’s Inn in Waikiki Shopping Plaza.
I then went to Rex’s, which later became Faces, lastly known as Scruples on Kuhio. From there, I went to the Kahala Hilton and started as an assistant manager at Maile restaurant. When I left, I was serving as cellarmaster. I was recruited by Halekulani to manage La Mer, and a group of us went over to Waikiki Parc Hotel for Halekulani with Patricia Tam. This led to my stint at Bagwell’s 2424 at Hyatt Regency Waikiki. Basically I worked in a tuxedo for 16-and-a-half years. Between La Mer, Maile and Bagwell’s, those were the best restaurants at the time. That was an incredible time for a young local boy like me. Also, back then, many top-notch restaurants did not have local managers — they were imports from New York, Chicago, Europe — so it was really our generation (Alan Wong, DK Kodama, Roy Yamaguchi, Russell Siu) that were given the opportunity. I was incredibly fortunate.
AL: What made you want to do this interview at Vino?
CF: This restaurant is truly special. The food is tremendous, the wines are so rare, and a lot of research and thought went into putting these offerings together. I went to different vineyards, not wineries — there is a difference. It’s so intentional here, everything on the menu has a reason.
AL: What are the names of the dishes, and what wines did you pair them with?
CF: Crispy Brussels Sprouts ($12) with Wirsching Scheurebe Dry. Oven Roasted Bone Marrow ($18) with Elvio Tintero Rosato. Seared Scallop with Squid Ink Pasta ($14) with Domaine Skouras “Zoe.” Braised Spanish Octopus with Ham Hock Stew ($16.25) — this is one of my favorites — with Cantine Valpane “Rosa Ruske.”
AL: Do you have any favorite wines?
CF: The way I look at it is that I look at my son and appreciate him for who he is, and my daughter for who she is — and not choose a favorite. The same goes for wine and food.
AL: Anything else you want to share?
CF: We started a podcast to educate the younger demographic. It is my show, but it’s not about me. We have younger people on the air with us, talk-story to get people interested, and try wines. Check out Chuck Furuya Uncorked on YouTube and other podcast channels.