Chef Chai was more than ready when asked to present his best in regional fusion. The exotic dish he delivered was far more than we’d expected; two spindles of wok-seared jumbo black tiger prawns, encrusted with macadamia nuts, were wrapped in kataifi (a Greek, shredded phyllo pastry) and set atop a rainbow salad with a tangerine vinaigrette. “It’s not Korean, Japanese, Greek or Thai—it’s inspired, and fresh. You can’t call it just one thing,” says Chef Chai. “We served this once at Taste of Honolulu 20 years ago following our Grand Opening, and we’ve been serving it nonstop ever since.”
The world-class Chef Chai Chaowasaree is famous for his unique gift of blending Hawaii’s freshest ingredients with the exotic flavors of Asia. His dishes reflect Hawaii’s diverse people, history, and culture. This hard working chef is best known for his flagship restaurant, Chef Chai at the Pacifica Honolulu, which was named Honolulu’s “Hottest Restaurant” by Zagat, and the winner of multiple awards as the “Best New Restaurant” in Honolulu. If that wasn’t enough to keep his plate full, “Chef Chai” is also the executive chef for Hawaiian Airlines, and recently opened a brand new restaurant concept, Chai’s Waikiki Café & Market. We tracked him down at his Waikiki location to see what we can look forward to on and off the menu.
WM: Congratulations on the opening! What’s the inspiration behind the new concept for Chai’s Waikiki Café & Market?
CC: Waikiki has quite a few fine dining restaurants to choose from, but I noticed there aren’t a lot of options when it comes to having an affordable meal without going the fast food route. That’s how I came up with the idea. I wanted to offer “local-style” recipes made with the island’s freshest ingredients and flavors. You’ll get gourmet quality food, but at a reasonable price. The café’s menu features a variety of local favorites along with healthy choices like fresh salads and vegetarian options. I really wanted it to have a casual atmosphere… a place where you can come in from the beach and pick up a ready-to-eat snack, or order a meal from the counter for lunch or dinner. Enjoy your food at one of the tables in the café or take it “to-go” for your day’s activities.
WM: Can you tell us more about the “market” in the café, and what we can find there?
CC: I enjoy going to the neighborhood farmer’s markets for all of those unique local products you can’t find anywhere else, and wanted to bring some of my favorites to Waikiki, available everyday. In my market you’ll find premium quality, all natural, made in Hawaii products, from assorted flavors of 100% Hawaiian raw organic honey to my signature Golden Pineapple Cake Bars made with local pineapple. It’s a great way to share a taste of Hawaii with friends and family back home.
WM: Your Pineapple Cake Bars are pretty irresistible. Are they sold elsewhere, and what’s the secret behind them?
CC: When I was young, my mother used to make the absolute best pineapple filled cookies. I started tinkering with her recipe and added local ingredients, and that’s how the Golden Pineapple Cake Bars came to be. Maybe the fresh local pineapple and honey are the secrets, but if you want to try them, you’ll have to come visit me across the street from the Hilton Hawaiian Village!
Open Daily from 11:00am – 9:30pm
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[ pau ]