Alan Wong is a household name on Oahu. It’s synonymous with amazing translations of our local dishes into fine dining. He’s managed to manipulate the local plate flavors and presentations into beautiful creations using fresh island ingredients. His cookbook New Wave Luau captures that so well, and tells his story about growing up in Hawaii and becoming a chef, as well as being honored with the James Beard Award for Best Chef of the Year for the Pacific Northwest. His basics appendix in the back is an indispensable source in my kitchen.
The news that Wong is coming to the former Kincha location in the Grand Wailea has long been titillating my taste buds. Amasia will open in spring 2012, and is already making my stomach grumble. Kincha is currently undergoing a $2 million renovation. Amasia will feature a sushi bar and a robata for grilled delicacies. The bar will pour private labels and creative cocktails inspired by its transcontinental menu.
Wong was gracious enough to answer a few questions:
MAUITIME: I love the Pineapple Room and Alan Wong’s on King Street. What makes these two restaurants so successful, yet each unique? Do you get more creative at one over the other?
ALAN WONG: Our successes are largely due to the successes of our people in each restaurant. They make it happen on a daily basis and deserve all the credit. The PR has an advantage of serving breakfast and lunch, so there are more ideas there that sometimes do not translate well in the King Street restaurant. At the Pineapple Room, 75 percent of the clientele are local and we take that into consideration when planning our menu. At our King Street restaurant, our clientele are 50 percent local and 50 percent visitors.
MT: What kind of relationships do you have with farmers on Oahu?
WONG: We consider most of our farmer relationships to be like partnerships. We get to know the farmers on a first-name basis. We like to visit the farms to learn about the products, and we often feature the farmer and products in our quarterly Farmer Series Dinners.
MT: What kinds of fresh ingredients / produce are available to you on Oahu?
WONG: The availability of products is very broad on Oahu. To name some of the produce, there are salad and cooking greens, tomatoes, corn, cucumbers, citrus, bananas, beets, watercress, asparagus and sea asparagus.
MT: Do you foresee that occurring on Maui as well?
WONG: We are very much looking forward to being in Maui, visiting the farms, meeting the farmers in person and getting to see the great variety of products we’ll get to use in Alan Wong’s Amasia. If there are products we need that do not yet exist on Maui or in the State of Hawaii, we will encourage someone to grow it for us.
MT: Have you spent much time on Maui?
WONG: I am quite familiar with Maui but I look forward to spending more time there and experiencing all that the island has to offer.
MT: What restaurants have you enjoyed here?
WONG: I have eaten all over Maui and have enjoyed the fine dining spots as well as the hole in the walls. I think there is a good reason why they say “Maui no ka oi.”
MT: Why are you inspired and excited to open a restaurant on Maui?
WONG: I have worked on Kauai, Oahu and the Big Island, but never on Maui. I enjoy Maui very much and it has been a dream of mine to open a restaurant on every island.
MT: What gets you exhilarated about being a Chef in Hawaii?
WONG: We may not have the four seasons in Hawaii in terms of the weather and what foods are/are not available. But we are luckier because we have two seasons – rain and sunshine – and we’re able to get a vine-ripened tomato year-round. Hawaii is really a paradise when it comes to being able to use a whole variety of ingredients all year-round.
MT: Do you think you will write more books on cooking?
MT: How will this restaurant differ from the menus at Bistro Molokini and Humuhumunukunukuapua’a?
WONG: We have our own distinct style of Hawaii Regional Cuisine. We will feature a unique sushi menu as well as a unique robata menu. We will complement the other restaurants on the resort to give the Grand Wailea Resort guests a varied and exciting culinary stay.
MT: Was there a particular draw working with the Grand Wailea, as opposed to opening your own stand alone restaurant on the island?
WONG: The hotel is wonderful, the people are warm, the location is great and our partnership is a great opportunity to create something awesome together. I’m really excited about being in the Grand Wailea on Maui.
MT: What does the name Amasia mean?
WONG: Amasia by definition is the converging of continents. Food brings people together, at the kitchen table or in the plantation fields in many destinations. I want to create an elevated local interpretation of this cultural exchange. Guests will experience a sense of place, as they see, hear, smell and feel the melding of exotic flavors from around the world, featuring the best of Maui’s bounty from the land and sea.