Archive for the ‘People’ Category

‘Chef Hunter’ focuses on Merriman’s tonight

December 1st, 2011

Food Network photos
Carrie McCully brings restaurateurs and executive chef candidates together on The Food Network’s “Chef Hunter.”

Attaining executive chef status is a grueling process in itself, made even tougher when cameras are involved. That’s the challenge of Food Network’s new series “Chef Hunter,” which shows what happens when out-of-work chefs head to Kauai, intent on landing an executive chef job with Peter Merriman.

The episode will air at 11 p.m. today, with chefs put to the ultimate test of culinary skill, business acumen and tenacity required to be an executive chef. Beyond the basics of creating a couple of dishes for Merriman to sample, the chefs are given full run of the restaurant for one night and tasked with creating their own menu and serving a packed house of the restaurant’s best customers.

It’s not just made-for-television stuff because of the show’s real-life implications, according to Carrie McCully, a New York- and L.A.-based professional culinary recruiter, who takes her work very seriously.

In a phone interview earlier today, she said, job seeking on the show “is absolutely harder because they have cameras all around and they’re under a tremendous amount of stress. They’re literally going in and creating a menu, sourcing all the products, working with a team they never met before, and serving local patrons of the restaurant. It’s much harder than the average interview.

“I’ve never had one chef who didn’t say that it was the toughest interview they’d had in their life, and it’s been a career changer. Once they experience it, everything else always seems like a piece of cake.”

It marks a big commitment to the hosting restaurant as well, who entrusts the chefs with the premises, all its equipment, and its clientele. Though throughout the process, McCully said she and Merriman, one of the architects of the Hawaii Regional Cuisine movement, were right there to observe the chefs’ working methods.

“It’s important for him to create the right team because he’s often on the road, and has to know this person is capable, so he’s watching every movement the chefs are making,” McCully said, while adding, “Peter is such a professional. He’s had so much experience and has a terrific sense of humor, so it’s really hard to ruffle his feathers. There were a lot of laughs (over the chef’s blunders), like that’s happened before.” (more…)

HFWF’s grand finale

October 5th, 2011

Nadine Kam photos
John Besh of the Besh Restaurant Group in New Orleans and James Beard Best Chef of the Southeast 2006, cooked up Molokai shrimp and andouille and served it over baked jalapeño cheese grits. I’d heard it was very good, but I was too full to try it.

With 15 chefs, plus winemakers, mixologists and dessert purveyors stationed on the lawn at the Hilton Hawaiian Village Resort for “Mauka to Makai: Hawaii’s Sustainable Future,” on Oct. 1, the finale of the spectacular three-day Hawai’i Food & Wine Festival, there was more than enough food and drink for the evening’s 1,100 guests to handle.

I say “handle” because for those who took in two or all three days, could barely manage to sample six or seven more plates, much less sample all the chefs’ creations.

The inaugural festival—one of, if not the biggest food festival held on Oahu—was a major feat for James Beard Award-winning chefs and co-chairs Roy Yamaguchi and Alan Wong, and executive director Denise Hayashi, who drew on their international cred and connections to draw their illustrious roster of chefs. Usually, festivals with this caliber of talent have taken place on the Big Island.

Evening 1 at the Modern Honolulu drew 800 for its focus on “Streets of Asia: Morimoto and Friends, Evening 2 gave way to a Halekulani Master Chefs Gala Dinner Series aimed toward the 270 elite diners who could afford a $1,000 ticket or two. During the days there were chocolate and wine tastings, a food-oriented fast-pitch session with Dave McClure of 500 Startups which provides seed money for entrepreneurs, and discussions of the 21st century table in Hawaii and innovations in the food and farming industries.

When it got dark, Rick Moonen’s fiance, art director turned photographer Roni Fields, guided me to the light for this photo.

Moonen served up striped marlin poke with tropical vinaigrette, hearts of palm, Waialua onion, inamona and lemon balm.

The Hilton’s Great Lawn could barely contain the event, with reserved tables in the center forcing those without tables to crowd the perimeter. I finally got smart and crossed through the central area whenever I had to move quickly. In trying to get photos of all the visiting chefs, I think I sampled just five or six dishes that night, and even had to pass on some of my favorite foods, I was so full. I was amazed when skinny people told me early they had not only made a complete circuit, but tried everything!

I did make it a point to try town’s pig’s feet though, after being told by a couple of people, including L.P. “Neenz” Faleafine how good it was, “and I don’t even like pig’s feet!” she marveled.

To promote sustainability, all the chefs were provided with local ingredients to use in their creations. In addition to the host chefs, the night’s roster featured:

John Besh, John Besh Restaurants, New Orleans
Michael Cimarusti, Providence, Los Angeles
Celestino Drago, Celestino Drago Restaurant Group, Los Angeles
Dean Fearing, Fearing’s, Dallas
Michael Ginor, Hudson Valley Foie Gras & Lola, New York
Ed Kenney, Town, Hawaii
George Mavrothalassitis, Chef Mavro, Hawaii
Peter Merriman, Merriman’s, Hawaii
Rick Moonen, Rick Moonen’s rm seafood, Las Vegas
Michel Nischan, Dressing Room, Connecticut
Philippe Padovani, Padovani’s Grill, Hawaii
Jeffrey Vigilla, Hilton Hawaiian Village, Hawaii
Marcel Vigneron, “Top Chef Bravo,” Marcel’s Quantum Kitchen TV, Los Angeles

Marcel Vigneron, who gained national notoriety in season two of Bravo’s “Top Chef,” and now with his own reality series, “Marcel’s Quantum Kitchen,” presented Big Island moi and pork belly with pineapple poi, sea asparagus, hon shimeji and micro shiso, below.

Marcel accommodated several fans who wanted photographs.

Host property Hilton Hawaiian Village executive chef Jeffrey Vigilla with the wok-fried Kauai shrimp tempura that crowned the kiawe wood-smoked Kahua Ranch beef he was also serving with Hawaiian brown sugar-black rum BBQ sauce, Surfing Goat cheese and kabocha puree, micro arugula and radish. The assembled dish, below:

It was hard to track down Roy Yamaguchi, who was all over the premises as event co-chair, along with Alan Wong. Finally caught up with him as he greeted Deena Nichols, senior vice president of Macy’s West, right, and Laura Townsend, also of Macy’s.

Alan Wong served up Keawa Nui Farms sweet and meaty Molokai shrimp with Sumida Farms watercress, below. He is one busy guy, who will be giving a culinary demonstration and signing copies of his cookbook, “The Blue Tomato: The Inspirations Behind the Cuisine of Alan Wong,” from 1 to 2:30 p.m. Oct. 8 at the Williams-Sonoma store at Ala Moana Center. He’ll also be hitting the road with food historian Arnold Hiura on a “Taste Hawai’i” tour of the San Francisco Bay area from Oct. 27 to Nov. 2, with culinary demos, tastings and book signings. Details are at