Restaurant Insider with Anne Lee: In-Yo Café and Waiolu Ocean CuisineRestaurant Insider
July 2, 2023
Story By: Anne Lee | Photos by: ANTHONY CONSILLIO
ANNE LEE speaks with Trump International Hotel Waikiki executive chef YOSHI OHATA
The executive chef is an important part of any dining establishment, but when your role is to oversee all culinary direction for Trump International Hotel Waikiki — which was named Forbes Travel Guide’s first five-star hotel on Oahu — the pressure is on.
Executive chef Yoshi Ohata guides six outlets: Waiolu Ocean Cuisine, In-Yo Café, in-room dining, pool service, special events and catering, and the menu for the staff dining room.
Whether it’s a snack at the pool or savory seafood entrées, Ohata has an ability to create beautiful, delicious dishes. I got to learn more about his journey and had the pleasure of trying a variety of dishes, such as the Waiolu Seafood Tower and the Braised Short Ribs, which is my idea of a winning surf and turf combo.
AL: How did you get into the restaurant industry and why did you want to become a chef? YO: I’ve been in the industry for 28 years. I wanted to become a chef because I hated vegetables growing up and I wanted to learn to disguise the taste and make it enjoyable not only for me but for others as well.
Eggplant can be bitter, but I like cooking it like how you would cook Spam for a musubi — with sugar, mirin and soy. You can still taste the eggplant, but now it has a sweet umami coating that hits your mouth at first.
I was born in Japan and came here when I was about 6 years old. I had a bird’s eye view into what it takes to operate a restaurant because my mom operated and owned Kozeni Sushi when we first moved to Hawaii in the early ’80s. Although I was too young to cook, I saw the restaurant as my playground, and I still see the kitchen as my playground today. Kidding, but not kidding.
AL: What items did you prepare for us today to try?
YO: I selected these dishes as they were the newest items that our previous chef and I collaborated on. I would create one of the dishes, then chef Joe would add his twist on it, and vice versa. The in-yo in our restaurant In-Yo Cafe’s translates to the Japanese equivalent of the Chinese yin-yang symbol. Both are present in a circle, with two colors that represent positive and negative. Although opposite, they cannot survive without one another. That is the philosophy we implement with our team.
Today we prepared:
• Chip & Dip ($17) — Kiawe-smoked Kona kampachi, cream cheese, citrus, kiawe-smoked ikura, scallions, and house-made taro chips
• Waiolu Seafood Tower ($165) — ahi poke, Kauai shrimp, Atlantic lobster tail, kusshi oysters, snow crab claws, sashimi, Kona abalone and chef’s sushi roll
• North Shore Roll ($24) — Kona kampachi, garlic shrimp, avocado, garlic aioli, kabayaki sauce and fried garlic chips
• Butter Roasted Lobster Tails ($67) — Atlantic lobster tails, roasted klondike medley potatoes, charred Broccolini and charred lemon
• Braised Short Ribs ($50) — Thaistyle sesame soy, grilled bok choy and kabocha puree
AL: How would you describe your cooking style? Did you have any mentors?
YO: I would say my style is a mixture of my experiences, travels and just growing up here in Hawaii where we have a vast amount of different seafood. Seafood and Asian cuisine are my specialties, but I like to mix flavors that complement each other and give the audience something familiar in a whole new way. My mentors are mostly my former chefs that I worked under — Bill Granger, Julian Biggs and Sam Choy, to name a few.
AL: What is the most memorable event that happened in your culinary journey?
YO: One of my memorable experiences was working at Nick’s Fishmarket under the guidance of executive chef Eugenio Martignago for 10 years. One of the owners was Pat Bowlen, who also owned the Denver Broncos. He was always bringing celebrities into the restaurant. I had the chance to cook for many famous celebrities, athletes and musicians.
I’m a fan of Star Wars, so one of my memorable moments was when I cooked for Mark Hamill, who played Luke Skywalker, when I worked at Hard Rock Café in Honolulu.
AL: If you could cook for one person in the entire world, what dish would it be and why?
YO: I would love to cook for former President Barack Obama. Not only because he is the former president of the United States, but he also has roots here in Hawaii. I would probably make him a Lobster Thermador. It’s a classic dish but very stylish, and I would give it a modern twist.
AL: Is there anything else you want to share?
YO: At Waiolu Ocean Cuisine, we change our menu three or four times a year, so we will be launching a new dinner menu in July.
At In-Yo Café, you can enjoy a wonderful breakfast buffet in an elegant setting with nice ocean and/or city views of Waikiki while sipping on your favorite drink, or you can join us at Waiolu for lunch and dinner to satisfy any seafood craving with modern-style plating and vibrant flavors. You can also watch the fireworks every Friday with dinner and drinks and an unobstructed view.