By Nadine Kam
Nadine Kam photos
Fourteen of Hawaii's Rising Star chefs and their mentors share a stage at the Halekulani Ballroom before heading to the lawn to plate up their specialties.
Since 2003, StarChefs.com, the online magazine for culinary insiders, has criss-crossed the country with its StarChefs Rising Stars Revue, showcasing up-and-coming chefs.
Each year, StarChefs.com selects four American markets in which to name its Rising Stars. Candidates are nominated by the StarChefs.com Advisory Board, previous winners, local media,and the StarChefs.com website, as well as through editorial research. Winners are then chosen by the StarChefs.com editorial team.
On Dec. 4, StarChefs members descended on the Halekulani Hotel, where executive chef Vikram Garg had been instrumental in pitching Hawaii as home to dozens of up-and comers. And on stage, StarChefs.com CEO said, Hawaii chefs "blew our minds," as the website's advisory board sampled cooking of 60 candidates on Oahu, Maui and Hawaii island, over what she told me was two 12-day trips over the summer, sampling from about five restaurants per day. The winner's list numbered 14, though the cutoff age to win an award is 40, and they couldn't find a winner for their sommelier award.
Also conspicously missing from the list, to me, was Christopher Kajioka, whose current home at Vintage Cave Honolulu was not yet open at the time of the sampling. But I'm sure there will be many other accolades ahead for the young chef.
During the gala tasting event at the Halekulani, hosted by Garg and co-hosted by Chai Chaowasaree of Chai’s Island Bistro, with beverage pairings from host sommelier Kevin Tomaya of Halekulani, each of the 14 winning chefs presented the dish that won them their award.
After a night of noshing, diners at the event picked their favorite dishes, and the winners, with Michelle Karr-Ueoka, center, pastry chef for Alan Wong's restaurant, named the winner for her dessert of a quadruple-layered Hanaoka Farms Lilikoi Brûlée. StarChefs.com CEO Antoinette Bruno, left, said Michelle has the distinction of being the first pastry chef to win top honors at any of their annual Rising Stars competitions, held in different cities nationwide. The award was well deserved. Coming in second was Mark Noguchi, right, of Pili Hawaii Catering and Taste Table, and in third, next to him, was Andrew Le of the Pig and the Lady. Presenting the Jade's Best Dish Award is Lex Poulos, VP Sales and Marketing at Jade Range.
The 2012 Hawaii Rising Stars Award Winners are:
Christopher Kulis: Capische? (Maui)
Featured dish: Australian Beef Carpaccio, Horseradish Aïoli, Radish, Lemon Oil, Fried Capers and Parmigiano-Reggiano
Andrew Le: The Pig and the Lady (Oahu)
Featured dish: Pho with Betelnut Leaf-wrapped Pork Sausages
Cameron Lewark: Spago (Maui)
Featured dish: Onaga Ceviche, Green Papaya Salad, Kaffir Lime, Coconut, and Passionfruit Flower
Nick Mastrascusa: Beach Tree at the Four Seasons Resort Hualalai (Big Island)
Featured dish: Gnocchi with Oxtail Ragout
Wade Ueoka: Alan Wong’s (Oahu)
Featured dish: Oxtail “Soup” of Oxtail and Corned Beef Roulade, Boiled Peanuts, and Shiitake Mushrooms
Jojo Vasquez: The Plantation House Restaurant (Maui)
Featured dish: Australian Lamb Rack, Eggplant Purée, and Chickpea Cake
Michelle Karr-Ueoka: Alan Wong’s (Oahu)
Featured dish: Lilikoi Brûlée
Elizabeth McDonald: Honu Seafood & Pizza (Maui)
Featured dish: Vegan Chocolate Mousse Cake
Quinten Frye: SALT Kitchen & Tasting Bar (Oahu)
Featured dish: Octopus, Chorizo, Olives, Potatoes, Compressed Grape Tomatoes, Almonds, and Kahuku Corn Purée
Doug Kocol: SALT Kitchen & Tasting Bar (Oahu) for excellence in charcuterie
Featured dish: Pork Rillette and Soppressata
Sheldon Simeon: Star Noodle (Maui)
Featured dish: Hapa Ramen: Roast Pork, Poached Egg, Bamboo Shoots, Kamaboko, Bok Choi, Mayu, and Spicy Miso
Mark Noguchi: Pili Hawaii Catering (Oahu)
Featured dish: Ho’i’o Fiddlehead Ferns, Dried Cuttlefish, Kombu, Octopus, and Tomatoes
Ed Kenney: Town, Uptown Events (Oahu)
Featured dish: Cervena Venison Pipikaula with Bud Bucket Ice
David Newman: Pint + Jigger (Oahu)
Featured cocktail: The Whiskey Thatcher: Rye, Mint, Lime, and Flamed Pernod Rinse
In addition, Alan Wong, whose kitchen produced two winners, and countless other young chefs around town, won the StarChefs Mentor Award.
In StarChefs.com’s long-running tradition, guests at the event were given the opportunity to vote for their favorite dish of the night. As the favorite of the evening's tasters, Michelle Karr-Ueoka will receive a Jade Range 18” commercial plancha. Because she's a pastry chef, wondering if her boss Alan Wong has dibs on the range?
Tickets for the event were $95 to $125, and a portion of the evening’s tickets sales will be donated to the Culinary Institute of the Pacific at Kapiolani Community College.
Next year, StarChefs.com will take their search for rising stars to Philadelphia in February, New York in April, the San Francisco Bay Area in June, and the Carolinas in December.
Christopher Kulis led his restaurant, Capische?, on Maui to win Steelite's Restaurant of Distinction Award. When I took this photo, I broke up the swarm of women around him, and they were like, "You have to be in the picture." I was like, "No, I can't be in my photos," and they were like, "Oh, you have to! He's so handsome!" Then they were all saying how good-looking he was and how he was the most handsome chef in the batch, then all the guys around started getting into it. Chris took it all with humor, and having set him up for that, I quietly slinked away.
Halekulani executive chef Vikram Garg was instrumental in bringing the Starchefs competition to Hawaii. To whet appetites prior to early award announcements, he prepared this Petrossian Royal Shassetra caviar and lemongrass panna cotta.
During the tasting event that followed the award announcements, Vikram also served this spiced sumac-marinated Australian lamb chop over hummus. A favorite with many, but as host chef, his dish wasn't eligible for the Rising Stars vote.
Christopher Kulis's Australian beef carpaccio with horseradish aioli, crisp radish, lemon oil, fried capers and Parmigiano-Reggiano. In addition to his work at Capische?, he recently started Stir, a personal chef company, and The Salt Box, a high-end picnic basket caterer.
Andrew Le's phó ga with slow-poached farm egg and bo la lot. Sublime and so well-balanced.
Andrew also offered a refreshing chilled cucumber salad over paiai.
Michelle Karr-Ueoka's winning Hanaoka Farms Lilikoi Brûlée features layers of lilikoi crémeux, lilikoi sorbet, lilikoi brûlée and cap of tuile sealed over the martini glass rim with a blow torch. But that wasn't all she offered. Sweet lovers also found assorted cookies, vegan chocolate and truffles at her table.
Michelle's husband Wade Ueoka, also with Alan Wong's, presented a risotto-like "oxtail soupe" of boneless oxtail and corned beef roulade, with boiled peanuts, shiitake and ginger-scallion oil. Being Chinese, for me it brought together the best of two worlds, oxtail soup meets cold ginger chicken sauce. Yum!
Nick Mastrascusa of Beach Tree at the Four Seasons Resort Hualalai presented gnocchi with oxtail ragout below, with a display of the simple ingredients, above. It inspired me to try my own experiment with gnocchi for dinner today. I always enjoy it at restaurants, but never tried making it. The gnocchi has been shaped, and a beef ragout is simmering on the stove. Can't wait to see how it turns out in a few hours.
I had Nick's gnocchi at Beach Tree when I was at Hualalai for another event and it was so fabulous. Of course when you're at the restaurant, the plating is much more elegant than at a crowd event.
Quinten Frye of SALT Kitchen & Tasting Bar presented a fiery pupu of tako, chorizo, olives, potatoes, grape tomatoes, olives and Kahuku corn purée.
Sheldon Simeon of Star Noodle on Maui, offered his Hapa Ramen. Again, the presentation left something to be desired when compared to the actual dish, below, which I enjoyed at the restaurant in May. First of all, there's no clue as to why it's called hapa.
Star Noodle's Hapa Ramen features one side black sesame mayu, one side white Star pork dashi topped with roast pork, kamaboko, bok choy, poached egg, bamboo shoots, Napa cabbage and spicy miso.
Pastry chef Elizabeth McDonald of Honu Seafood & Pizza on Maui shared her vegan chocolate mousse cake, made with garbanzo flour and potato starch, with mousse layers of chocolate and silken tofu.