NEW YORK – Award-winning chef Roy Yamaguchi wants to showcase the modern Hawaiian cuisine he helped pioneer more than 20 years ago and to share the spotlight with the next generation of chefs.
The Tokyo native, who is based in Hawaii, is known for his blending of classic techniques with Hawaiian and Asian ingredients. Yamaguchi’s original restaurant, Roy’s, won acclaim, and he has since opened almost another 30 Roy’s restaurants around the world.
Yamaguchi started the annual Hawaii Food and Wine Festival four years ago with chef Alan Wong to raise awareness about the state’s fledging food scene and fresh interpretations of taro, a tropical Asian plant, plus other native ingredients.
At this year’s event from Aug. 29 to Sept. 7, Hawaiian chefs will cook side by side with mainland U.S. and international colleagues to promote Hawaii as a food destination.
Yamaguchi, 58, spoke about the evolution of Hawaiian cuisine and the role of local chefs with farmers and fishermen.
What is the new group of Hawaiian chefs doing?
Not everyone is doing what Alan Wong and I did 20 years ago. What you are seeing is more diversity in restaurants today than before. Some of them are doing their Mexican-theme restaurants. Some of them are doing casual Mediterranean. They are doing what they are comfortable with whether you are a native Hawaiian or Polynesian, Chinese or Japanese, Vietnamese or Korean or Filipino. They all make up what Hawaii is today.
Are there any misconceptions about Hawaiian cuisine?
When we opened 25 years ago, people didn’t expect too much from Hawaii. They felt that food was pretty much nonexistent, but today everybody thinks Hawaii has a lot of great seafood and an abundance of great produce and fruits. There is a revitalization of the food scene in Hawaii. What we started . . . has trickled down to farmers growing a lot of great stuff. Now the fishermen are involved.
Why did you feel the need to create a food festival?
With the festival, we brought all these international chefs and ones from the mainland. These chefs are basically our food ambassadors. Because when they go back to their towns or cities or countries where they came from, the visiting chefs work with our products from our land and sea. They come and work with our great taro, great sweet potato, our mangoes and papayas, pineapples and all our fruits that we have along with our beef, pork and our seafood.
What still inspires you to cook today?
The people inspire me. The island inspires me. There are great fishermen, there are great farmers who are coming up with great-tasting tomatoes, great-tasting herbs. There are great ranchers who are making their beef taste better, to make it more tender. We have a lot of younger chefs coming in.
What are your must-haves in the kitchen?
A Japanese mandoline for slicing and a Japanese grater for garlic and ginger. As for ingredients, garlic and soy sauce are what I always have.