Chefs fascinate me. They are super humans capable of melding together flavors that make it possible to travel the world without ever leaving your seat. They are technical masters, slicing and sautéing any number of items seamlessly. They are artists, finding the right colors and style to inject into each dish so that it is so aesthetically pleasing it pains you to take a bite.
They’re just so damn interesting.
So whenever I get the chance, I like to learn more about a chef — not so much their technical background, but who they are as a person. This opportunity recently presented itself with Colin Hazama — executive chef of The Royal Hawaiian, a Luxury Collection Resort — and the youngest person to ever hold that title in the resort’s 90-year history. (He’s only 35 years old, if you’re wondering.)
Hazama got his start as a chef at a young age, inspired simply because he enjoyed eating and spending time in the kitchen with his grandmothers — that, and he kind of had to start cooking for himself.
“My mother wasn’t a very good cook,” Hazama says with a laugh.
His earliest memory of food is when he was about 6 years old. Dining with his family during an outer island trip, Hazama was handed a kid’s menu.
“I kind of took it as an insult,” he says.
Encouraged by his grandfather to order from the regular menu for adults, Hazama requested a lobster tail entrée — and ate the whole thing.
It’s this curiosity with and appreciation for food that continues to drive Hazama today. Most of the time, he gains inspiration from traveling, and from reading about food and trying it at restaurants. But sometimes, Hazama says it comes from eating comfort food and spending time in his own kitchen, cooking for his family.
And if there is one thing he enjoys, it is that there is always something new to learn.
“There’s always somebody better than you in the field,” he says. “It keeps me really grounded. There’s always information that can be gained and learned.”
At this point, it’s probably obvious that Hazama loves food. But he really, really loves food. When I ask him to tell me some of his favorite restaurants, he has a difficult time getting started. Should he list his favorite high-end restaurants or comfort food spots, he asked. So I tell Hazama to just list the first five that come to mind: Sushi ii, Le Bistro, Kirin Restaurant, Alan Wong’s — where he happened to work before — and Hakkei.
As someone who likes to eat, I have to say those are all very good choices. Though, I have never been to Kirin Restaurant — perhaps that will be my next stop?
FOOD TO EAT
To give diners a sense of who they really are, Hazama and the other chefs at The Royal Hawaiian are teaming up to kick off a new culinary series March 31 called Epicurean Journey.
This one, themed Roots & Vines, pays special tribute to each chef’s background.
“I think any chef in the world has a core that really got them inspired and most times, it’s coming from either their mothers or their fathers or their (grandparents) ,” says Hazama.
Each dish, he says, will not only explore philosophical roots, but real ones as well. Expect some type of root vegetable in each course. The vine portion of the meal, he explains, will come from wine pairings that will showcase newer and younger wines that have matching flavor profiles.
The dish Hazama will be putting out sounds particularly tasty. He’s planning on showcasing his grandmother’s oxtail recipe, though this one will be braised in red wine. Accompanying it will be his take on jasmine tea jook (rice porridge) that will be a little less soupy and more like risotto, along with pickled kai choy, lotus root, crispy bone marrow and a ginger watercress pesto.
For more information, call 921-4600.