WRITTEN BY SINEAD BYRNE
PHOTOGRAPHY BY SEAN MICHAEL HOWER
Chef Jojo Vasquez Jojo Vasquez is pure presence. When you talk story with him you can feel the gentle weight of his full attention; his mind isn’t skimming through other thoughts or jumping ahead to whatever he has to do in the kitchen. He’s right there in the moment, listening intently and answering with a steady eloquence that’s as authentic as it is measured. This trait is so prominent that it should come as no surprise to find the same quality at work in his food. His dishes are deliberate, methodical, each ingredient like a carefully chosen word.
Jojo’s early food memories are tied to his father. Although Mr. Vasquez made his living creating anatomical illustrations for scientific and medical communities, he ran a bustling Filipino catering business on the side. As a child, Jojo was frequently called upon to assist his father in the kitchen, and he grew to associate cooking with joyous occasions of all kinds.
After high school, Jojo decided to study physical therapy. He did very well in this subject (as one might expect of an anatomical illustrator’s son), memorizing muscles and body parts with ease, and he was asked to become a teacher’s assistant. One night, while cooking dinner for some tutees, they commented: “You’re really good at this physical therapy stuff, but you seem bored with it.” Food, on the other hand, seemed to ignite him with enthusiasm. Soon thereafter, Jojo left the physical therapy program and entered culinary school, taking his methodical creativity with him and embarking on a career path that would prove to be hugely successful.
From Chicago to Atlanta to LA to Hawaii, Jojo has worked side by side with some excellent chefs (perhaps most notably celebrity Iron-Chef Morimoto) and has gone on to serve as an Executive Chef himself. In his current post as Executive Chef at The Plantation House in Kapalua, Maui Chef Jojo continues to create thoughtful, delicious meals featuring Maui ingredients. Each dish is built with intention. He starts by identifying the heart of the dish and then adds supporting elements to elevate the dish to a point of perfect balance. We are honored to have him share three springtime recipes with us.