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Jean-Georges Vongerichten's thoughts on opening Kauai Grill and his perfect meal (1:56)

Jean-Georges Vongerichten In A Kauai State Of Mind

Celebrated NYC uber chef Jean-George and local chef Colin Hazama team up at the Kauai Grill

With three Michelin stars at his flagship restaurant, Jean-Georges Vongerichten is undeniably a great chef. But as he expands his restaurant empire into new corners of the globe, it’s obvious he can’t do it alone. At Kauai Grill, he relies on local boy chef de cuisine Colin Hazama to not only execute Vongerichten’s contemporary American dishes but also to find local ingredients for these dishes as much as possible. 

Colinhazama-1Chef de cuisine of Kauai Grill, Colin Hazama
As part of his training for the role of chef de cuisine for Kauai Grill, Hazama worked with Vongerichten in New York, literally going straight from the airport to sharpening his knives at Mercer Kitchen, Vongerichten’s comfort food eatery. Over the course of a month, he studied alongside the chefs at other Vongerichten’s restaurants: Jean Georges, Nougatine JoJo, Perry Street and Spice Market. “It was…getting used to Chef Jean-Georges flavorings, his palate,” Hazama says. “It was just a great experience being able to see all the different styles at all the different restaurants.”

Hazama picked up flourishes from Spice Market, with its Southeast Asian street food and JoJo—mostly contemporary American bistro fare with slight Asian touches—but solidified his base at Jean Georges, the restaurant awarded three Michelin stars and four stars by the New York Times. There, “I was taught the foundations, the discipline, the organization, how to work with food, how to work with product,” Hazama says. In the East Coast kitchens, Hazama says strong spices and seasonings are utilized, “but they tend to really highlight the natural flavor of produce and vegetables, fruits and proteins.”

LambChili-mint crusted lamb with artichokes and long beans

Back in Hawaii, Hazama worked with Vongerichten and the corporate chef to create dishes that showed-off Hawaii’s natural bounty and tweaked classic Vongerichten dishes to substitute local ingredients for their mainland counterparts. From little things, like substituting long beans for asparagus in a chili-mint lamb entree and using fresh lilikoi in a souffle to replacing a protein in a signature dish—sea-bass crusted with seeds and nuts—with moi, a similarly rich and fatty fish. For a tomato salad, Hazama uses Hamakua tomatoes, Wailea Ag Group heart of palm braised in local coconut water, and finishes the plate with Kauai Fresh Farms’ microbasil and coconut water reduced for a vinaigrette—a dish that’s almost entirely composed of local ingredients.

Hazama developed relationships with local farmers by seeking them out at markets. “Some of them grow products for me,” Hazama says. He rattles off some of the specialty produce: baby chiogga beets, baby red beets, a variety of avocado that he describes as “really rich in flavor”, which goes on top of a bacon-wrapped shrimp appetizer.

HeartofpalmsaladHeart of palm salad, a dish made almost entirely of local ingredients
From a handful of Kauai farms and a small distribution company called Cultivate, which aggregates produce from a spread of farms on the island, Hazama gets Meyer lemons, limes, radishes, oyster mushrooms, young ginger, papayas and apple bananas…he’s prepared to go on and on with his list unless you stop him.

“There’s a lot of great product on Kauai; it’s just never really been discovered,” Hazama says. “I think because it’s a smaller community and smaller island, [farms]…don’t have a lot of restaurants that will consistently be able to buy their product, or farms may not be able to provide for restaurants. It’s tough when you have a hotel restaurant and you need a large bulk of product.” Though Kauai Grill is within the St. Regis Princeville, it doesn’t deal with the large number of covers that other hotel restaurants might. As a result, “it’s kind of unique to be able to work with some of the farms,” says Hazama.


SouffleAn ethereal souffle with fresh lilikoi
In the kitchen, Hazama also functions as a sort of cultural liason between Vongerichten and Hawaii culture. Hazama spent time training in New York to learn Vongerichten’s flavoring, palate and style, but as Hazama has a better touch on the pulse of local tastes, he has input on what dishes make it to the menu. “He (Vongerichten) gave me trust and faith in my judgment on what local people would like,” Hazama says. Still, Vongerichten is undoubtedly the master and Hazama his disciple; Hazama sees the relationship as one he has to much to learn from. And in time, perhaps Hazama, now age 28, will find himself on the other side.


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Comments from Readers

  1. 76ee460cccec3eb71654dae9dcfee4a8
    noel on 4/13/2010 at 12:25pm

    aloha,

    i'm visiting from i can't remember who's site now and its my first time on your blog, i'm enjoying my visit to your blog and reading your posts...this looks like a wonderful restaurant, will have to come and visit soon!



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