Tag: Chef

A Pastry Chef’s Dream

Words by Melissa Chang
Photography by Melissa Chang & Jamie Takaki

When Michelle Karr Ueoka was in high school, she wasn’t thinking about becoming an award-winning pastry chef: She was on the Hawaii golf team, making a name for herself in the golf circuit.

She wasn’t even thinking about it when she got to the University of Hawaii, when she was majoring in Travel Industry Management. But one day, it clicked.

“I was doing an externship at Alan Wong’s, and he asked me if I knew how to cook. I said no, and he thought I was being humble … but I didn’t know how to hold a knife correctly or turn on a pilot light,” she said. “I always enjoyed cooking with my grandmother, even though I didn’t cook. Working there inspired me to learn to be a chef.”

She headed to the Culinary Institute of America, using money she had saved from waitressing at Planet Hollywood Waikiki to pay for her tuition. While there, she decided to apply for a coveted externship at The French Laundry, and sent owner/chef Thomas Keller a toothbrush and a letter saying she would do anything for the opportunity, even scrub toilets with a toothbrush.

She got the externship, of course, and was at The French Laundry for two years until she graduated from the CIA in 2000. She came home to again work for Alan Wong, this time as a chef. (This is also where she met her husband, Wade Ueoka, the chef de cuisine.) Although Alan wanted her to work in savory, she was adamant that she become a pastry chef.

“I had to put myself on the path to my dream,” she said.

For Ueoka, the years of training in savory laid the fundamentals of cooking out for her so she could create the sweet.

“You need to understand how to make the basics first, or you can’t get creative,” Ueoka explained. “For example, there are so many custards … but if you don’t know how to make it, you can’t recreate it. What happens if you add coffee? Or coconut? You have to make a good custard before you can experiment with flavors.”

Ueoka became the first woman from Hawaii to be nominated for a James Beard Award — and being so humble, she had no idea she had been nominated, or that she was the first woman.

The day the nominations came out, her East Coast friends were texting her congratulations and she didn’t know what for. One friend called her to tell her she had been nominated, and she thought he was joking— so she hung up on him. She later apologized when he sent her a picture and a link.

“In my wildest dreams, I would never have thought I would have gotten the nomination. The other James Beard categories are separated by region. Pastry nominations cover the entire U.S.,” she explained. “It was truly an honor and great to share with the team.”

She’s been busy with husband Wade at their self-named MW Restaurant, which opened in October 2013. It’s been a learning experience for them in business and in cooking, and they’re moving forward with a new private dining room adjacent to the venue, as well as offering wine dinners, cooking demos and more.

“You gotta dream big,” Ueoka said, with a big smile. “It’s a journey. We’re striving for excellence, and looking to make things even better.”

Culinary Ink: Collin Darrell

Collin Darrell was only nine years old when he started washing dishes at a local farmer’s market in Philadelphia. (He wanted a new bicycle and wound up making enough money to buy two cars.) From there, he got a job working at a pizza shop— first as a dishwasher, then a pizza maker— and then opened a coffee kiosk at a train station. And he was still in high school. “I think what it did was show me the possibilities,” says Darrell, now 31 and creative director of Grow Culture, a Kaua‘i-based company that links chefs and farmers through innovative events. “I knew the experience was what you made of it.” It wasn’t until he was attending The Restaurant School at Walnut Hill College and running a promotion company that he got interested in wine. He took a wine class taught by a passionate master sommelier, then worked for veteran sommelier Michael McCauley at Davio’s Northern Italian Steakhouse in Philadelphia. “I had this incredibly door-opening experience,” he says. After a stint at James on 8th, he took a job as general manager and sommelier at the now-defunct Cassis by Chef Mavro in downtown Honolulu, learning from Mavrothalassitis about the art of food and beverage pairing. He continues to do this with the pop-up dinners he organizes on Kaua‘i. “The synergy between food and beverages at restaurants are few and far between,” he says. “I really believe in this.”

What is your tattoo?

Darrell has a full sleeve on his right arm of various corkscrews and leaves of Nebbiolo, a red Italian grape variety predominated associated with the Piedmont region.


When did you get it?

He got his first tattoo in 2010 and continues to add to it. He estimates he’s spent at least 25 hours in the chair already.

What was the inspiration?

Darrell chose Nebbiolo grapes because he appreciated the fact that they were so region-specific. “That sense of place was important to me,” he says. And he picked corkscrews because it represented his love for wine and food pairings and it was a symbol of a technological advancement in the industry that’s around now but may not be later. “Plus, they’re beautiful, mechanical devices,” he says. “I wanted something that shows more artisanship and personality. It’s a tool of my trade, the way chefs have knives. It’s the kind of thing you keep in your pocket all the time. It’s really my tool.”

Culinary Ink: Ed Morita

Ed Morita’s career path wasn’t fondant smooth. After graduating from the culinary program at Kapi‘olani Community College 10 years ago, he spent several years working as a pastry chef on the Mainland before returning home in 2007. He did some consulting work before landing a pastry chef position at Longhi’s Restaurant at Ala Moana Center. Then, two years into it, he crushed his right hand in one of the machines. That injury nearly ended his culinary career. But a year ago— after years of rehab, physical therapy and a lot of surgeries— he was named pastry chef at the newly opened Highway Inn in Kaka‘ako. Despite some limitations — he suffered nerve damage— Morita, now 36, has been able to juggle both baking and blogging. And his life has never been better.

What is your tattoo?

On Morita’s inner right forearm are the words, “Match Tough.” Beneath it is the kanji character for “sacrifice.”


When did you get it?

Morita got “Match Tough” in 2001. He had just moved to West Virginia to work at The Greenbriar.

What was the inspiration?

Morita wanted to remember what his mentor, Ernst Hiltbrand, had told him back when he was one of his apprentices at KCC. He told Morita that since he was such a talented baker, he wouldn’t be allowed to bake bread in that first year. “He wanted to make me, ‘match tough,’ which meant a pastry chef doesn’t just bake bread or decorate cakes,” Morita explains. “He had to do everything in the kitchen.”

Culinary Ink: Jeff Scheer

Jeff Scheer moved to Maui 10 years ago after seeing a video his cousin put together of his three years living on the island. “I watched it and said to myself, ‘That looks insane. I gotta check that out,’” he says. “So I got on a plane and was here. I didn’t know anybody, I didn’t know how long I was going to stay, I just came and never left.” A couple of years after moving, Scheer, 33, started Maui Executive Catering, utilizing the fresh ingredients grown on Maui.

What is your tattoo?

He has an artichoke on his left forearm and a lilikoi vine right above it, snaking up his arm, across part of his chest, over his shoulder and down his back.


When did you get it?

Scheer got the artichoke tattoo two years ago and the lilikoi vine six months ago, both done at Pāʻia Tattoo Parlor.

What was the inspiration?

Growing up in Athens, Ohio, Scheer ate artichokes at every special occasion. His grandmother liked to serve it simply steamed with a homemade hollandaise sauce. “It reminds me of something we always had at the dinner table growing up,” he says. “It was always a race to get to the heart!” For his catering business, he works with two farms, both in upcountry Maui about 3,500 feet above sea level, which grow artichokes. “When you’re on the farm, surrounded by artichokes, it fills you with this sort of peacefulness and all your stress goes away,” he says. “There is no noise except for the bees buzzing, and the views are amazing.” He added the lilikoi vine six months ago because he loves its beauty and flavor. “The flavor is so unbelievably intense,” he says. “And when balanced with sweet and spicy things, the opportunities are endless.”

Mushroom “Chicharrónes”



Photography by Dania Katz
Course: Appetizer
Author: Chef Isaac Bancacco


  • Large Saucepot
  • Fine Mesh Sieve
  • Blender
  • Sheet Tray
  • Plastic Wrap
  • Rolling Pin
  • Steamer
  • Parchment Paper
  • Large Pot


  • 1 Tbs. Olive Oil
  • 1 Medium Carrot (Large Dice)
  • 1 Medium Onion (Large Dice)
  • 1 Medium Leek (Halved, Rinsed, Sliced Crosswise Into 1-inch Pieces - White Part Only)
  • 2 lbs. Medium Button Mushrooms (Stems Trimmed And Quartered)
  • 6 Thyme Sprigs
  • 1 Bay Leaf
  • 1.5 Quarts Water
  • 7 oz. Tapioca Flour


Prepare Mushroom Stock.

  • Heat oil in a large saucepot over medium heat. Add carrot, onion, and leek and cook stirring occasionally until softened, about 8 minutes.
  • Add mushrooms, thyme, and bay leaf and cook until mushrooms start to release moisture, about 4 minutes.
  • Add water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer until stock has a pronounced mushroom flavor, about 1 hour. Pick out thyme sprigs and bay leaf, blend then place back on the heat.
  • After stock comes back to a boil, remove from heat and strain through fine-mesh sieve. Reserve stock and pulp.

Prepare Chicharrón.

  • In the blender add tapioca flour, 7 ½ oz cooked mushrooms, and ¾ oz. of mushroom stock, blend until a smooth dough forms.
  •  Place 1 lb. of mixture on a sheet tray with plastic wrap, with another on top. Flatten with a rolling pin till about 1/8-inch thick (3 mm). The dough should be nearly translucent.
  • Prepare a steamer. Steam the dough sheets, still wrapped in plastic, for about 15 minutes. Steaming will let the starch set so it is workable.
  • Unwrap steamed dough, and place on parchment paper. Place pan in the oven and let bake for 60 minutes, or until dough is dry and brittle. Flip the dough sheets occasionally to allow even drying. Once the dough is completely dry and brittle, remove from the oven and let cool. Once cool, break into desired bite-size pieces. (Note: Chicharrónes will triple in size when fried.)
  • In a large pot, fill with oil and set over medium and bring to 355° F. Working in batches, fry crisps until they are fully puffed. Let oil drain on a paper towel and season with salt.
  • To get extra fancy, paint with tempered dark chocolate and serve as hors d’oeuvres.

Summer’s Smok’in Hot BBQ

Story by Sara Smith
Photos by Jana Morgan
Styling by Melissa Padilla of Opihi Love
Florals by Christina Hartman of Wildheart

Chef Jana McMahon makes a living cooking in other people’s homes, so we grilled her on how best to cook in ours. Here are her tips for summer entertaining.

When it’s too hot to cook indoors, take the party outside. For advice on cooking an effortless and downright delicious summer barbecue, we couldn’t think of anyone better to turn to for help than a private chef. Jana McMahon, owner of Chef Jana McMahon has spent the last 10 years cooking for world leaders, movie stars, tech stars and many others. With her quick wit and vivacious humor, it’s possible she’s never met a stranger. Her approach to food, however, is decidedly more austere. She insists: simple, seasonal, approachable.

A private chef brings in raw ingredients and cooks in a home, providing an interaction that is unique (not to mention a valuable tie to the local food scene for the client.). Here at a private home, Jana prepares a fiery summer feast for friends. Her menu is shopped from local farm stands and largely inspired by what she finds, a process she calls “riffing the market.” From there, the ingredients just need to be “dressed with a light hand.”

“Start with quality, fresh local ingredients and don’t set a menu until you see what’s available,” Jana says. “I had asparagus in mind, but found gorgeous purple peas at the farmers market instead. They inspired my entire crudités platter.”

Cooking around a fire provides a main event, Jana says, because it’s “primal and molecular, it just resonates with us.” Jana fearlessly slaps her steaks directly on hot coals, a method called clinching that she tells us more about in the recipe. She serves it up with homemade mustard, of all things. Sound complicated? It’s not.

Smok'in Summer 2014

“Whipping up sauces and condiments is my forte. They define a dish, elevate it, brighten and compliment,” she tells us. It’s this extra effort with the details that sets her food apart.

Another thing that sets Jana apart is the heart she pours into her work. In addition to her business on Maui, she serves as the culinary and ag consultant for TERI (Training, Education, Research and Innovation), a North County San Diego nonprofit agency that advocates, teaches and houses people touched by autism and developmental disabilities. Jana got the job through cooking for a client on Maui, the agency’s CEO. “I was bringing down organic veggies I’d grown on the farm and I’d just happened to make cheese that day, so I looked like a real freak,” she recalls. She was a keeper, the CEO decided.

Jana spends three to four months a year in California, and in five years she’s helped blossom a seed-to-table program, install organic kitchen gardens at group homes, and turn lawns into urban farms. Under her guidance and insistence upon clean, fresh food, the client obesity rate has dropped from 85% to 15%. The TERI gardens just received USDA organic certification, no easy feat and an amazing commitment to quality for their clients.

A can-do attitude and unfussy approach to cooking infuse Jana’s entertaining style both as a chef and hostess. She shares her secrets with us in the Summer 2014 issue of the magazine.

Find some here.

Menu: Maui Summer Barbecue
“This menu defines everything I am as a chef: fresh, easy, simple, delicious.”

  • Farm stand crudités with compound herb butter and tahini dipping sauce
  • Clinched steaks with homemade mustard
  • Fresh corn polenta
  • Grilled sweet potatoes tossed in honeyed hot sauce
  • Fresh green salad
  • Coconut sticky rice with mango and Kaffir lime

Ten Tips For Home Entertaining:

  • Know your audience and any food allergies that need to be accommodated.
  • Create a vision for the evening (casual vs. formal)
  • Think about color; you don’t want three yellow things on the table.
  • Keep flavor profiles in the same family.
  • Keep it simple: quality ingredients do not need to be fussed with.
  • Don’t do too many things in the oven.
  • Visualize the timing of how things will be prepared. Cooking should be fun; failing to plan ahead takes the fun away.
  • Make sauces ahead of time, and always cook extra.
  • If you offer dessert, make sure it can be pre-made so you don’t have to leave the party to prepare something.
  • For groups larger than 12, do a potluck!

Chef James Babian: Hawai‘i Grown Italian

Slowing down has allowed James Babian to reenergize his love for food and family. Last year, Babian transitioned from a grueling position as executive chef of a four-star resort to ownership of a family-run restaurant. Now he’s able to wholeheartedly pursue his passion for providing the Big Island with an authentic taste of Italy.

In early 2013 Chef James Babian and his wife Christine opened Pueo’s Osteria in Waikoloa Village, a restaurant that caters to locals, visitors and their peers in the hospitality industry. [Pueo is the native Hawaiian owl, and the restaurant caters to night owls by staying open until midnight.] The idea came from his and his wife Christine’s love of Italian food after a recent trip to Italy. James has Sicilian roots on his mother’s side and always remembers growing up being exposed to superb food and how it positively affected his soul.

Indeed, the restaurant has a family feel. Christine is there all the time, greeting everyone hello and goodbye. Her influence extends to the decor, menu and recipes. Through the osteria (basically an Italian version of a bistro), the Babians reinterpret the authentic flavors of Italy without ever losing the flavor of the islands.

After working in his family’s restaurant on the East Coast where he grew up, Chef Babian attended the California Culinary Academy in the early ‘80s. He came to Hawai‘i in 2000 where he worked at the Fairmont Orchid as Executive Chef. After seven years, he moved to the Four Seasons Resort Hualalai, ranked as one of the top resorts in the world. During his time there, he helped champion the concept of RSA, “Regional, Seasonal and Artisanal” menus.

His steadfast philosophy is to create rewarding dining experiences that are culinary adventures. “I like to stay in the region, buy products only when they are in season, and support all the local artisan food producers I can,” explains Chef Babian about his locally sourced ingredients, which include goat cheese, macadamia nuts, Kona coffee, honey and Hawaiian salt.

Life is different now that he runs his own restaurant catering to the dinner crowd, in contrast to to the 12-14 hour days he spent as an Executive Chef at the resort.

“I spend much more time with my family than when I was working at the Four Seasons,” Chef says. At the resort, I was ultimately responsible for running six operations including the restaurant and 24-hour room service. Now, I run one restaurant and I can get a knife on a cutting board again. I am back out at the Farmer’s Markets, talking to farmers, buying fresh produce and being involved with the daily creation of specials.”

Clearly, he is happy to be in his element of crafting menus utilizing both the finest imported Italian products while choosing the freshest local
ingredients. “If you want to experience how the food tastes in Italy, this is the place. We buy 80-pound wheels of Parmesan each week. My team and I look at three to five variations of a recipe to decide how we can make it more flavorful by applying the plant to plate concept,” Babian explains.
“I don’t know who has more fun, me or the guests!”