A roundup of world-renown culinary personalities and their likes

AS MORE THAN TWO DOZEN OF THE WORLD’S GREATEST CHEFS, winemakers, sommeliers and culinary entrepreneurs descend upon our little island for the second annual Hawai‘i Food & Wine Festival, we thought we’d bring you a peek into their respective worlds. This small selection of big personalities represent hot restaurant-bar scenes and what is happening on their respective home turf. And a little introspection to boot!

Name: Jonathan Waxman
Current Address: New York, NY
Claims to Fame: Author of A Great American Cook and Italian, My Way; Chef/Owner of Barbuto in NY

Describe your cuisine—what makes it unique? Hard question, I guess I am an amalgam of California, France, New York and Italy with a touch of Mexico and Hawai‘i—sort of a hodgepodge of culinary heritage. My kitchen isn’t complete without: Rosé wine—one cannot cook well without adequate lubrication, and a beautiful Sinskey Vin Gris from Napa is just the ticket. the leading trend(s) in the your city’s culinary scene? I believe that we are seeing a mass migration from white tablecloth dining to casual-rustic. how does this set your city apart from all others? New York is the most international city in America—we revel in our ethnic diversity. an ingredient or dish that you recently “discovered” (or rediscovered): Gnocchi. I always thought gnocchi served in Italy was gummy, gooey and lugubrious in texture. So one night I was cooking for my wife’s fancy cocktail party, she asked where the gnocchi were? I said, just a second, heated a pan of butter and olive oil and sautéed them, and guess what? A new “gnocchi methodology.” Favorite band (music) or song to listen to while you’re cooking: Miles Davis, Tower of Power and Jimi Hendrix. Most exciting thing about cooking in Hawai‘i for you? Coming full circle—I started my career in Ka‘anapali Beach at the Rusty Harpoon in 1973.

Marcel Vigneron hails from Los Angeles. Photo courtesy Marcel Vigneron – Modern Global Tasting

Name: Marcel Vigneron
Current Address: Los Angeles, CA
Claims to Fame: Top Chef and Top Chef All-Stars Contestant; Owner Of Modern Global Tasting

Describe your cuisine—what makes it unique? The style of cuisine I like to cook could be classified as “Modern Californian.” It’s based off of “deliciousness” and “self expression” with an emphasis on local and seasonal ingredients, while utilizing classic and modern cooking techniques to enhance the flavor and texture of food. My kitchen isn’t complete without: Me! I always try to make sure that I am there every day, cooking on the line and tasting everything. Although I would also be nothing with out the other amazing chefs that I have working with me. the leading trend(s) in the your city’s culinary scene, and how does this set your city apart from all others? Taco trucks have really taken off in my city and it seems to be something that is pretty indicative of L.A.! an ingredient or dish that you recently “discovered” (or re-discovered): I have recently rediscovered my love for fresh Thai coconuts. I love the flavor and the nutritional/ rejuvenating properties, not to mention the diversity of the ingredient. Favorite band (music) or song to listen to while you’re cooking: I have been listening to a lot of Empire of the Sun [soundtrack] while cooking, and I’m pretty sure it makes my food taste better. Most exciting thing about cooking in Hawai‘i for you? This is a tough question because there are so many things I look forward to each time I come back to Hawai‘i to cook! I love all of the incredible products, the natural beauty of the geography and of course the local hospitality.

Name: Ming Tsai
Current Address: Boston, Mass.
Claims to Fame: Chef-Owner, Blue Ginger/TV Personality

Describe your cuisine—what makes it unique? There had traditionally been good Thai and Japanese food in and around Boston, but not good East-West cuisine. We’re filling that void. Asian fusion or whatever you want to call it. The Roy’s, the Sam Choy’s of Hawaii, there’s just nothing like it here. At Blue Ginger, we do a pretty good job. My kitchen isn’t complete without: People in it to feed. The leading trend(s) in your city’s culinary scene? The pop-up restaurant thing is still prevalent. Ken Oringer has opened his restaurant on select nights up and turned it into a ramen noodle joint. The Gastro-pub movement is gaining a foothold—Breslin and Spotted Pig are two that come to mind. An ingredient or dish that you recently “discovered” (or rediscovered): Black garlic. They ferment whole heads of garlic in the dark. They’re sticky. And magically have the flavor of black beans. If you add it to clams you basically don’t need anything else. We made a new beurre blanc fondue with white wine, stock, emulsified butter and black garlic. It’s this great umami flavor. I also love Sambal. We have started making, bottling and selling our own, including plum and even cranberry sambals. Favorite band (music) or song to listen to while you’re cooking: I like Little Feat and the Grateful Dead. I like jazz. Anything with soul. And I listen to NPR, too. Most exciting thing about cooking in Hawai‘i for you? The amazing selection of seafood and produce. I’ve never had romaine lettuce like that of Hibara Farms in Kona. The Maui pineapple—you kidding me? Beautiful. I could eat moi every day for the rest of my life. The pigs that are fed macadamia nuts are unreal too. But really, it’s the people. There’s not a nicer group of people on the planet. And they like to eat well.

Name: Tony Abou-Ganim
Current Address: Las Vegas, Nev.
Claims to Fame: One of the very first heralded “Mixologists”

Tell us a recent trend in the beverage industry that you dig. There’s been a resurgence of the fully stocked bar at home. That’s the way it was for my grandparents, everyone knew how to make all the classics. I’d pay $14 for a well-made cocktail at a bar, but for four or five drinks I’d rather buy a bottle and stock my home bar. Talk about the explosion of the mixologist scene: We’re experiencing a flashback to the era of the profession of bartending—albeit with fancier names. You’re really seeing young fellas and women get into the culinary art of bartending. When they bring that enthusiasm and passion, it makes the guests drink better. The leading trend(s) in your city’s drinking scene? Embracing the craft of bartending. Giving bartenders the tools, product and support to execute forgotten classics—that’s the trend. a ingredient or dish that you recently “discovered” (or rediscovered): Bitters. Pre-prohibition bars would make their own bitters, but it got tossed aside. Now you’ve got some people making their own, two or three ingredients they combine themselves. It adds complexity. I call it the “salt and pepper” of drinks. Favorite bar in Las Vegas: Herbs and Rye, Vesper, Downtown Cocktail Lounge, Vanguard are all good ones. Eye Candy at the Mandalay still has an excellent bar program, which I started. What do you have coming down the pipeline? I’ve been in Chicago finishing up a new book called Vodka Distilled, all about straight vodka. It will be out in February. My new line of bar tools drops this month, a partnership between myself and Steelite.

Momofuku Milk Bar’s pastry maven Christina Tosi. Photo by Gabi Porter

Name: Christina Tosi
Current Address: New York, N.Y.
Claims to Fame: This year’s James Beard Award Rising Star Chef Winner—A Tremendous Feat for a Pastry Chef; Co-Author of Momofuku Milk Bar; Pastry Chef at Momofuku Milk Bar in NY

Describe your cuisine—what makes it unique? I would describe the cuisine of food we make at Milk Bar as playfully American. We take a great deal of nods as a bakery, serving up American classics with a twist—a gooey butter cake meets chess pie in our Crack Pie; our apple pie layer cake has all the soothing nuances as Mom’s down-home classic, and the Kitchen Sink Cookie gets a twist in our Compost Cookie—pretzels, potato chips, coffee, oats, graham crumbs, chocolate and butterscotch chips. My kitchen isn’t complete without: The dynamic team of hardbodies that defines milk bar. The leading trend(s) in your city’s culinary scene? From where I’m standing, NYC’s culinary scene seems to be retreating to the simpler nuances of food and presentation. After all, it is about good food and strong, successful flavors and textures. It seems as though the dining scene has moved away from the bells and whistles and homed in on simpler times. Fine-dining chefs are opening up sandwich shops and wine bars, etc. An ingredient or dish that you recently “discovered” (or rediscovered): My favorite ingredient in the kitchen is milk powder! Though it’s typically only used in pastry kitchens in ice cream recipes, I love to use it in savory recipes, bread recipes and baked goods to add texture and a depth of flavor that sugar, salt, acid, etc. don’t achieve. Favorite band (music) or song to listen to while you’re cooking: I love listening to reggae in the kitchen in the spring and summer. I’m also a sucker for Neil Young or Bob Dylan. I’m a pretty peaceful gal in the kitchen. Most exciting thing about cooking in Hawai‘i for you? I’m so pumped to cook with and highlight the produce and that Hawai‘i has to offer: coffee beans, pineapple, farm-fresh eggs, greens, dairy, etc. I can only imagine what our final dish will taste like at the Girls Got Game Sunday Brunch!

Chef Tetsuya Wakuda of Tetsuya’s in Australia.

Name: Tetsuya Wakuda
Current Address: Sydney, Australia
Claims to Fame: Named the Japanese sake industry’s first overseas sake samurai in 2006; His eponymous restaurant, Tetsuya’S, has made the London-based Restaurant Magazine ‘World’s 50 Best Restaurants’ list from 2002-2010; Acknowledged by Charlie Trotter as “…part of an elite group of international chefs that has influenced other chefs through their personal styles and unique approaches to food.”

Describe your cuisine—what makes it unique? Mine is an ingredient-driven cuisine that uses the highest quality and freshest produce. My kitchen isn’t complete without: Good olive oil and salt. The leading trend(s) in your city’s culinary scene? Sydney has just had its first taste of 10 food trucks roaming the city. An ingredient or dish that you recently “discovered” (or re-discovered): Grass-fed Tasmanian beef. Favorite band (music) or song to listen to while you’re cooking: Ottmar Leibert. Most exciting thing about cooking in Hawai‘i for you? Catching up with old friends, discovering new ingredients and trying local Hawaiian cuisine.

Bayona chef/owner and author of Crescent City Cooking, Susan Spicer. Photo by Antoinette Bruno

Name: Susan Spicer
Current Address: New Orleans, LA.
Claims to Fame: Co-Owner/Chef of Bayona, an award-winning restaurant in New Orleans’ French quarter, Owner/Chef of Mondo in the Lakeview area of New Orleans, author of Crescent City Cooking (nominated for best American cookbook in 2008) and inducted into the James Beard “Who’s Who of Food and Beverage in America” in 2010.

Describe your cuisine—what makes it unique? My cuisine is multicultural and contemporary, although not quite envelope-pushing. We tend to use traditional Louisiana ingredients in non-traditional ways—for example, Crayfish Curry rather than Crayfish Etouffée. My kitchen isn’t complete without: the aroma of smoked duck roasting. The leading culinary trend(s) in New Orleans? Lots of small, chef-owned restaurants; preserving and pickling of local produce; urban farming; sourcing and featuring underutilized fish from the Gulf of Mexico, such as tripletail, sheepshead, Spanish and king mackerel, etc. An ingredient or dish that you recently discovered (or rediscovered): Having just returned from two weeks in Spain (Barcelona and up through Priorat and Rioja into San Sebastian), I have a newfound respect for the lowly onion, which I ate in many different forms—from tempura to thinly sliced and caramelized to roasted whole, seasoned with cinnamon and vinegar. Favorite band (music) or song to listen to while you’re cooking: Anything by the Toy Dolls. Most exciting thing about cooking in Hawai‘i for you? Discovering new ingredients and new techniques—have never been to Hawai‘i, so it’s all new territory to me. For my dish, I’m thinking New Orleans-style barbecue Kaua‘i (or Moloka‘i) shrimp with sweet potatoes, collard greens, Maui sweet onions and tamarind.

Brewer-Clifton, Diatom and Melville winemaker Greg Brewer.

Name: Greg Brewer
Current Address: Central Coast, Calif.
Claims to Fame: Winemaker extraordinaire, Brewer Clifton, Diatom, Melville

Describe your style of winemaking—what makes it unique? Our style of wine production is very subtractive. There is a constant reflection on imposing less of ourselves in the process from vineyard to bottle and a pursuit of deliberate simplicity. That directive can really only be successfully achieved when working with raw materials in which one has the utmost confidence. It is a very pure, honest and vulnerable state, which is the driving force behind our energy and efforts in the winery. The leading trend(s) in your region’s winemaking scene? A positive trend is a general tendency to be more minimal in terms of embellishment or interpretation of place within wineries. Restraint can manifest itself in a multitude of ways, all of which are beneficial if the producer’s intentions are pure. Sadly there is also a partisan/divisive trend currently visible, where several colleagues are striving to establish borders and boundaries of what is “classic” or “balanced.” I feel that no one can be the arbiter of such complicated thresholds and that there is room in our industry for a vast array of fruit interpretations. Favorite band (music) or song to listen to while you’re cooking: We only listen to trance music at work (and personally at home as well). Its seamless nature leads to a loss of concern for temporal issues, and its pace encourages a deliberate sense of urgency, which is important to keep activities progressive. I also have always loved the juxtaposition of regulated tempo and electonica coupled with the sensuality of female vocals. For me there is a rapport between that relationship and that of alcohol and acid. What is the most exciting thing about showing your wines in Hawai‘i? The most exciting aspect of the Hawaiian food and wine experience is that the cuisine is so similar to how we operate. There is such respect for the pure interpretation of the incredible resources that you have from land and sea that really resonates with our work. Furthermore virtually every Hawaiian colleague that I have ever met there is so genuinely interested in the harmony of food and wine, and is incredibly knowledgeable and sensitive to that connection. It is without any hesitation, along with Scandinavia and Japan, I can say these are my favorite places to work on the globe.