Roy Yamaguchi may have grown up in Japan, but the chef often spent the summers of his childhood in Hawaii with his family. After attending the Culinary Institute of America and working in California, Yamaguchi made the islands his permanent home in the late 1980s.
He was part of an enclave of pioneering chefs, including Alan Wong, Bev Gannon and Sam Choy, who changed the face of Hawaiian cuisine. Instead of focusing on European staples, the islands now showcase their abundance of local ingredients through dishes influenced by a wide variety of cultures.
Hawaii is always praised for its natural beauty, but Yamaguchi urges chefs – and travelers – to look beyond the countryside into its nuanced cuisine.
If you think about the past, luaus dominated the tourist scene, and the hotels had continental restaurants that were more European-style. I opened about 32 years ago when restaurants like mine started using local ingredients instead of items from other parts of the world.
The Hawaii Food & Wine Festival, which I started with my wife and Head Chef Alan Wong, just celebrated its 10th anniversary in November. We have returned over $ 3 million to our local communities. The festival shows not only the beauty of the land, but also the people and the types of ingredients.
During the so-called plantation days, immigrants from different cultures – Japanese, Chinese, Filipinos, Portuguese and Polynesians – broke their lunches. Nowadays, those mixed plates can include macaroni salad, two scoops of rice, chicken katsu, fried fish, or pork lau lau.
Why Hawaii rocks
It’s a place where you are definitely happy. The beauty of Hawaii itself and the people who make it beautiful is something to see and live with in everyday life.
Hawaii gets a lot of mention when it comes to how beautiful it is, but there aren’t a lot of people who travel to Hawaii just for the restaurants. We have many restaurants that use the local ingredients whether it is seafood or game. Whether you are driving the Big Island or Maui, there are so many different farmers markets.