A Taste of Hawai‘i with The Islands' Heavy Hitters

It was an epic night of Hawaiian Regional Cuisine at the 2012 LUCKYRICE Festival when several iconic Hawaiian chefs presented dishes like spicy lemongrass oxtail soup and Big Island ribeye to a packed house atop the Hotel Gansevoort. The names (drum roll): Alan Wong, Roy Yamaguchi, Chai Chaowasaree, Vikram Garg, along with world-acclaimed mixologist Julie Reiner. They all made the journey in the name of sharing their local flavors. How local? Vikram Garg brought his own Hawaiian sea water for poaching his abalone dish. We caught up with all the chefs to ask them about their favorite New York City memories (food is involved), as well as their favorite Hawaiian island. (Hint: Everybody likes Kaua‘i a lot).

– Matt Rodbard



Julie Reiner of Lani Kai

Julie Reiner

What is the difference between Hawaiian cocktails and tiki cocktails? People sometimes think they are they same thing… They are sort of intertwined . Both have a take on Hawaiian escapist culture and they use tropical fruit. It’s what people want to drink on the beach. Modern tropical cocktails, which I do at Lani Kai, sort of takes those tropical flavors, but incorporates Scotch or gin—instead of only rum. So it’s a little bit drier and sometimes done as a fizz.

What is your favorite Hawaiian island? Kaua‘i.  The north shore is beautiful. It’s a tropical rain forest. It’s lush and green. It’s what you think about when you think of Hawai‘i. It’s a very spiritual place.

Chai Chaowasaree of Hawaiian Airlines

You are doing the most dishes here! Four in total. Actually, this is very comfortable for me.

What restaurants do you like to visit when you are in New York City? I go to all of the Jean-Georges restaurants. Perry Street, Jean-Georges. I go to Gramercy Tavern and Momofuku.

What do you think of Momofuku? Asian food in Hawai‘i is stronger in flavor and more exotic so it wasn’t that special to me, but it was good.

What is your favorite Hawaiian island? Of course O‘ahu. Itʻs the only island that has city life on one side and country life on the other.


Alan Wong of Alan Wong’s

You used to live in New York in the Eighties. Fond memories? New York is by far the best food city in the United States.

Wild times? (Laughing). I’ve had some very, very good meals here. I worked at Lutèce during a time when French restaurants were king. It’s a different food scene now. There are only a couple left.

What is your favorite Hawaiian island? Kaua‘i. It’s the greenest, the wettest, has the most sand beaches and the people are beautiful.


Roy Yamaguchi of Roy’s

You ran a restaurant in New York’s Financial District that closed soon after September 11. Would you want to open another restaurant in NYC? There are a lot of great chefs here. It’s the pinnacle of great food, and great living. So, of course I want to open here again. It’s a matter of time.

What are your favorite NYC restaurants?  Whenever I come out here, I always enjoy Daniel Boulud’s restaurants. Mario Batali’s places are always great. I like going to delis.

You can’t really get deli food in Hawaii, no?  Matzo ball soup is one of my favorites. Knishes too.

Can you get matzo ball soup in Hawaii? No, not really. No.

What is your favorite Hawaiian island? For me, it’s Hanalei [in Kaua‘i]. It’s very majestic. There’s lot of greenery, farms and trails.

Vikram Garg of Halekulani.

Where do you like to go when you are in New York? We went to Hakkasan and Eleven Madison Park yesterday. I checked out some Indian food on Lexington. New York is the center for food.

What is your favorite Hawaiian island? Kaua‘i. It’s totally green, as in green technology. There is no plastic. People live very naturally. There is great produce to eat and it’s just way relaxing.

Why is Japanese barware so freaking amazing? I love my Yarai mixing glass. They are the right size, not too big and not too small. They are meant to make one or two cocktails only.


Scenes from the Sunset Luau Taste of Hawai‘i