Take Five With Chefs Graham Elliot, Lincoln Carson, Michelle Karr-Ueoka, and Rory Hermann
MAUI, HAWAII — This year’s Maui portion of the Hawaii Food & Wine Festival featured an impressive line-up of illustrious chefs.
I had a chance to sit down with four of them last week: Graham Elliott who’s become one of the most recognizable faces, thanks to his stints judging “MasterChef” and “Top Chef”; Rory Hermann, director of culinary operations for Sprout Restaurant Group in Los Angeles, which includes Otium, Bestia, Republique, Barrel & Ashes, and the Rose Cafe; Lincoln Carson, one of the nation’s premier pastry chefs who worked for eight years with the Michael Mina Group, and now has his own Lincoln Heavy Industries Pastry & Hospitality Consulting company in Los Angeles; and Pastry Chef Michelle Karr-Ueoka, who owns MW Restaurant in Honolulu with her husband, Wade Ueoka.
They were all part of the festival’s “A Chef’s Paradise. The walk-around evening repast, held on the lawn at the Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa, featured cocktails, wines, and creative bites.
The chefs talked about their favorite Hawaiian ingredients, their guilty pleasures, and more. Carson and Karr-Ueoka also confirmed that they will be partnering with Michael Mina to open specialty food boutiques in his The Street, a gourmet food hall, in the newly transformed International Market Place in Honolulu. Look for The Street to open sometime in the first half of 2017. It will join Mina’s StripSteak, which opened its doors there earlier this summer.
Q: What’s it been like for you to be on all of these TV cooking competition shows?
A: It’s super fun. I get to be myself on them. I want to educate people about cooking. If you have a contestant on “MasterChef,” the worst thing you can do is s–t on them about making something awful. Instead, I try to tell them how it could be better.
Q: Your favorite Hawaiian ingredient?
A: Passion fruit. The perfume of it is so amazing.
Q: You lived on Oahu for five years. Does it hold a special place in your heart?
A: It feels like this is where I’m from. When I lived here, I just surfed, skated and hung out at the ocean.
Q: Favorite Hawaiian experience?
A: I like just pulling off the side of the road to find guava growing wild or to find a great place to hike.
Q: In your ultimate fantasy, you would move to Hawaii to do what?
A: I would have a little shack and do whatever needed to break even and pay the bills. I’d be shirtless and just wearing flip-flops and shorts.
Q: Your guilty pleasure?
A: Deep-fried Spam musubi. You can’t eat it all the time.
Q: What’s on the horizon for you?
A: I’m working on a kids’ cookbook, re-concepting my restaurant to make it more veg-focused, and maybe doing a restaurant on Macau.
Q: Tell me about how you met Michael Mina.
A: When I externed at the French Laundry in Yountville, I remember asking Chef Keller about some of the restaurants I should eat at. Michael Mina Restaurant was one that he mentioned. And when Michael came to Honolulu, he ate at our MW Restaurant.
Q: What kind of dessert place will you be doing with him at The Street?
I will be doing a shave ice concept with him. I don’t care for traditional shave ice because it’s just ice and sugar syrup. At MW, we do seasonal shave ice such as a Kula strawberry one with strawberries compressed with hibiscus served over sorbet, shaved strawberries and mochi ice cream. I make it taste like gummi bears, which is my favorite thing to eat.
I don’t make traditional mochi ice cream that is shaped like balls. Mine looks like a sausage or roulade before I cut it. I bake the mochi, then roll it up around ice cream, and freeze it. It looks like a sausage. In fact, when I flew from Honolulu to cook for Michael Mina’s Tailgate at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara a few weeks ago, the security people at the airport almost were going to confiscate it. They thought it was a meat sausage. I kept saying, ‘No, no, it’s mochi.’ So they let me keep it.
Q: What kinds of shave ice will you offer there?
A: For example, there will be an affogato shave ice, like the one I’m doing for the festival. The base is Kaluha tapioca, then Vietnamese coffee shave ice that’s like a granita, then mochi ice cream.
I want to create shave ice like no one has ever seen.
Q: What made you decide to move to Los Angeles?
A: I’ve done the East to West move a few times. I was the pastry chef at the Highlands Inn in Carmel, then I went to Picasso in Vegas, then to New York, then to the Wynn for Daniel Boulud’s restaurant, then to San Francisco for Michael Mina.
But I never though I’d live in LA. The first year there, I worked 95 percent of the time, so I only saw it from my commute from Los Angeles to Venice.
Q: What do you like about LA?
A: It’s so diverse. Whatever you are looking for, you can find it there. It also has one of the most supportive chef, and specifically pastry chef, communities.
Q: Why do you think Los Angeles is such a hotbed of great chefs and restaurants now?
A: It’s a conflux of cultures, so chefs can pull from a lot of cultures for inspiration. People go out here and they have money to spend.
Q: Your favorite guilty pleasure?
A: A rye Old Fashioned.
Q. Your favorite Hawaiian ingredient?
A: Rambutan. We got some for my dessert tonight, picked fresh off the tree and still on the branches. To be cooking with someone else’s local ingredients is pretty cool.
Q: The most surprising thing you’ve eaten in Hawaii?
A: Shave ice. I don’t eat a lot of sweets, if you can believe that. I crave salt, and usually a rib eye. Shave ice, though, is pretty bad a–.
Q: What do you love about Hawaii?
A: I really like a fast pace. But you come out here and it just forces you to slow down.
Q: So you’ll be coming to Hawaii more often now that you’re doing a concept with Michael Mina?
A: Yes, I’ll be doing a chocolate concept. It’ll be beautiful chocolates, and a chocolate beverage program. I want to take American candy bars to another level to make them craveable, unctuous and naughty.
Q: Why has Los Angeles become the hottest new dining destination? It used to be all about seeing and be seen, not actual eating.
A: It’s just exploding with food. I think you have a couple of generations of chefs coming together now. It’s become more collaborative, and less competitive.
I think you still get a little of the crowd that still only wants to eat steamed broccoli. But most people would rather be seen in a place with good food, not just be seen. The food has become as important as the scene.
Q: Hawaiian ingredient you’re excited to work with?
A: Ulu (breadfruit). We’re making brisket tonight. It’s easy to do seafood or fruit here. I wanted to dry-smoke beef brisket the Southern way. Then, I made a taro root mille-feuille and ulu truffle mousseline.
I wanted to use breadfruit in a way nobody had in Hawaii. Yesterday was the first time I even cooked with bread fruit. I had the other chefs around me taste it, and they were all saying it was great and asking how I did it. ‘Nailed it!’