Q&A: chef Alan Wong
Inspired by tradition
Alan Wong is one of the founding chefs of Hawaii Regional Cuisine, a culinary movement that brought back regional cuisine and local ingredients to Hawaii’s food scene. He was awarded the James Beard Award for Best Chef of the Year for Pacific Northwest in 1996, and currently has two restaurants in Oahu—the original Alan Wong’s on King Street, a favourite of President Barack Obama’s, and The Pineapple Room. His newest venture, Alan Wong’s Amasia at Grand Wailea, is his first Maui restaurant.
RECIPE: The Locavore Mai Tai
How did you become a chef?
My first job was as a dishwasher at the age of 15. When you’re that young and working in the kitchen, you never go hungry. After working at every position available in a restaurant, I moved to culinary school to become a better food and beverage director. But I ended up loving the kitchen so much that I stayed.
This is your first restaurant in Maui. Why switch islands?
I’ve always wanted to go to Maui and we finally have the right combination. Grand Wailea is a good place. It’s not far from the airport [and] we feel that people are going to appreciate the kind of food we prepare there.
What is it like to cook for President Obama?
It’s an honour and very flattering. We always have the president come to our restaurant at King Street in Honolulu when he’s home for a vacation. We have also gone to the White House and cooked on the south lawn for Members of Congress [and their families]. It’s a big thrill and you never get tired of that.
What inspires your cooking style?
Hawaii was born out of agriculture; the sugar cane plantation was first and then came the pineapple field. The immigrants that came formed what we consider to be locals today. I like to do go back and take a look at some of those old ethnic dishes and make them contemporary. That was their soul food, and I look to it for inspiration.