A MASTER, A PIONEER AND A CHARMING YET WITTY MAN IN THE KITCHEN, CHEF JEAN-MARIE JOSSELIN IS SYNONYMOUS WITH FINE, PROGRESSIVE, INSPIRED CULINARY CUISINE ON THE ISLAND OF KAUA‘I AND THROUGHOUT THE ISLANDS. One of the founders of Hawai‘i Regional Cuisine, Josselin has been at the forefront of establishing the Garden Isle as a mecca for fresh produce, mouthwatering fusion creations and unparalleled service.
With roots firmly planted in France, Josselin found himself on the lush and tropical island of Kaua‘i in the middle of the Pacific (following positions once held in Los Angels and Maui). What started in the early 90s, and continued non-top for close to two decades, Josselin was inspiring minds, craft- ing exciting new dishes and utilizing local flavors to entice both locals and visitors. Meanwhile his humble beginnings in Europe helped him define his purpose, after he was motivated by his grandmother’s homemade cooking as a child. Working in kitchens, finding himself in culinary school, then open- ing his own restaurants, authoring cook books, numerous awards, prestigious nominations and television appearances further ensued.
As progressive as his cooking, Josselin is taking cuisine to new heights with JO2, which opened in 2014, located in Kapa‘a on the eastern shoreline of the island of Kaua‘i. “I wanted to do a restaurant that was truly close to the farmers, the idea was to work with the farmers who are within 15 minutes … which on Kaua‘i 15 minutes is not very far,” he says. “I have several farmers that I like to work with, and I wanted the concept of the restaurant (which I like to call natural cuisine) is to do everything organic and everything without pesticides.”
More than 30 years ago, Josselin was flown to Hana, Maui where the essence of the “farm to table” movement was in its infancy. At the helm in the kitchen of one of the world’s most isolated places in the world, Josselin recalls a specialty truck making its way to and from Kahului every day carrying fresh fruits and vegetables to the region. The master chef visibly shudders when he hears the term “farm to table,” because he believes the depth of his relationships with the farmers he works with is much stronger than a catch- phrase. Josselin aims to create delicious creations that honor local hardworking farmers, pay homage to the produce, create a family within the community and focus solely on natural and whole food.
“There is one farmer that we have formed a very good alliance with, and what we do is we meet basically meet every few months and go over what is going to happen in that time … That way, we are always featuring the seasons.”
Josselin says the idea of JO2 just over five years ago was to craft a “clean restaurant” wherein very little is imported, local food is the highlight, and where guests are introduced to new and surprising flavors. At the moment you may find specialty items including lobster, truffle, foie gras and caviar, but 90% of the menu is locally sourced. Josselin has high hopes to eventually compose a menu that is 100% vegetarian and 100% sourced within a few miles of the restaurant’s front steps.
This transition to a vegetarian menu is one that excites and challenges him. The experienced chef says often people are hesitant to try vegetarian dishes because they are fearful their appetite won’t be satiated nor will they enjoy the taste. However, Josselin says this stigma about vegetarian cuisine is quickly becoming a thing of the past, as the new generation of diners now welcomes vegetarian dishes and are more adventurous to try new things and experiences.
“Some people may think it is not going to be enough food or not something that would fill them up, like a steak,” he ex- plains. “So I wanted to change this idea and try to encourage people to taste veg- etables. When everything is fresh, full of life and full of vitamins, it is very fulfilling, and you don’t need to have more protein or anything else.”
Josselin is proud of the fact that his creation of expertly roasted white carrots can taste and feel just like eating a steak. He adds that when the restaurant first opened, they offered about half a dozen vegetarian items, now that list has grown to 15 out of the 28 offerings. “That just shows you the ratio has highly increased, and with the rest of the menu, there is always a component inside the dish that features a vegetable … that was my dream to do this.”
Much of the growth and change of the menu comes from supply and demand. JO2 has received numerous positive reviews, immense critical acclaim from Island residents, and the restaurant is touted as the best on the island. Meanwhile, the persona of the guest is evolving, as well. Josselin says people want to know where their food is coming from, they are eager to hear who grows it, and they don’t want protein that has been altered with hormones.
With much of his experience on Kaua‘i as the executive chef and owner of A Pacific Cafe in Kapa‘a, which opened in 1990—then a series of restaurants statewide and in Las Vegas, which eventually shuttered their doors—the previous menus showcased a fusion of Asian flavors and dishes. Influences came from Japan, China and throughout the Pacific Rim, but as he reflects, the master chef says it can become taxing to prepare and cook the same thing over and over.
“The mind becomes stale, and it needs to be fed; the mind truly needs to be fed to be creative.” As a result, Josselin took a two-and-a-half year sabbatical, wherein he spent his time traveling the world, highlights included Europe, China and South America. When he returned, he was eager to open a new restaurant.
Challenged to find milk on island to make local cheese and inspired by a local Hindu Monastery, he was struck by the process they used to create meals without the use of meat, eggs or dairy.
“For me, I was like some other people that think you have to have meat or something to help you survive the day, but the men at the temple didn’t need that.”
In the months that followed, he also did some research analyzing Chinese medicine … Realizing food is so important and so vital, like medicine for the body.
“If I am going to cook another 10 years, I am not going to cook like this again with- out trying to do something that isn’t clean. I wanted to do something that is creative enough and people could transition with- out even noticing.”
4-971 Kuhio Hwy. Kapa‘a, Kaua‘i; (808) 212- 1627; jotwo.com