Tastes like childhoodCover Story
August 7, 2022
Story By: Kyle Galdeira | Photos by: ANTHONY CONSILLIO
This month marks 45 years since heralded chef and restaurateur Chai Chaowasaree’s parents opened their first restaurant in Bangkok. The momentous milestone has allowed the culinary wizard an opportunity to look back and recount the many memories that helped forge his career path.
“I remember how I used to go to the open market with my mom super early in the morning, buying all the ingredients for the restaurant,” Chaowasaree recalls. “All my success is owed to my mom, who taught me about cooking. Mom will turn 91 this year in October!”
After three-plus decades of adapting and updating previous restaurant ventures in Waikiki and Aloha Tower Marketplace, Chaowasaree continues to perfect his iconic award-winning island fusion cuisine at Chef Chai on the ground level of the Pacifica Honolulu building on Kapiolani Boulevard, across from the Neal Blaisdell Arena. Chef Chai, which also impresses with award-winning interior design elements, serves up a contemporary look and feel, featuring a private dining room and offering seating at the spacious full bar, as well as on the outside patio. “Our restaurant was featured on Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous hosted by Robin Leach and he said about us: ‘Hands down the best Thai in town … dazzling in every aspect, from tantalizing light dishes, first-rate services and beautiful décor,’” Chaowasaree says. “Over the years, we served countless celebrities and movie stars from Justin Timberlake, Carol Burnett and Kathy Ireland to our own football star Marcus Mariota and even the king and queen of Malaysia.”
To honor his family legacy and share his talents with loyal customers, Chaowasaree is offering a Special Childhood Menu ($69 per person, for two or more diners) for dinner three nights only, Aug. 19-21 (seatings at 5-5:30 p.m. and 7-7:30 p.m.), with family-style dishes representing Chaowasaree’s favorites.
The delicious feast includes Grilled Chicken Sate with Thai Peanut Sauce, Royal Shrimp Spring Rolls, Grilled Beef Salad with Lemongrass Garlic Dressing, Shredded Green Papaya Salad with Tamarind Lime Dressing, Creamy Lemongrass Soup with Chicken and Mushrooms, Braised Pork Legs with Five Spice Demi, Crispy Whole Fish with Chili Lime Sauce, Pad Thai Noodles with Tofu and Steamed Thai Jasmine Rice.
“The Crispy Whole Fish with Chili Lime Sauce and the Braised Pork are original recipes from our restaurant in Bangkok,” Chaowasaree explains. “No one makes them the way we do. There are so many flavors and textures; until this day, I still make them for myself. The creamy coconut soup is the dish we served to the prime minister and princess of Thailand.”
For dessert, guests will be treated to Tako, a tapioca pudding, and Bua Loy, a sticky rice dumpling with coconut meat and jackfruit. Diners may also add specialty beverages including Thai Iced Coffee and Thai Iced Tea ($6 each), Singha Beer ($7) and Jungle Princess Colada ($10, $14 with Ketel One Vodka), crafted with blended pineapple, jackfruit, coconut and housemade pandan syrup.
“This Special Childhood Menu draws influences from our family’s award-winning restaurant in Bangkok,” Chaowasaree says. “Many of our customers have asked us to bring back more of our traditional Thai cuisine. Our Thai food is different from any Thai restaurants in Hawaii, and we’re simply the best.”
Guests should make reservations now before this popular three-day-only event sells out by calling Chef Chai at 808-585-0011.