Ferdinand “Freddie” Billena

Jo McGarry
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Friday - November 09, 2011 Share | Del.icio.us | podcast Podcast | WineAndDineHawaii.com

Occupation: Executive Chef, Outrigger Reef on the Beach

Where were you born and raised? In the Philippines. I came to Hawaii when I was 13.

What started your interest in cooking? I bused tables at Sizzler and washed dishes as a summer job, but kept my eye on the cooks, Soon they noticed my knife skills, and the rest is history.

First food memory? Traditional dishes prepared by my mother in the Philippines. Her Pinakebet dish of native vegetables and herbs is legend! It seems you never outgrow the memories and flavors of meals at childhood. They become part of your heritage.

First job in the industry? Sizzler, entry level, but a good way to observe all facets of meal preparation and service. If it stirs a passion in you, you’re on the way to a great career in food.

Do you cook at home? Yes, every chance I get and on my days off, which are rare. I’m pretty adept with Thai and pasta dishes.

Best dish? My 8-year-old daughter Kyla always asks for turkey lumpia and hamburger steak. They are simple dishes, but since she asks repeatedly for those dishes, I know we’ve got a winner.

What’s always in your fridge? Milk for my daughter, and beer for me! Favorite kitchen tool? Blender. It works magic for margaritas and fruit smoothies, which my wife Ann and I enjoy after a hard day’s work. What is it about Kani Ka Pila Grille that appeals to guests? We can prepare anything from a lavish banquet menu for VIPs to pupu dishes to tasty, hearty entrées for our guests. Together with the live Hawaiian music nightly, it’s an unbeatable combination. And we just launched a new menu.

With whom would you most like to have dinner at Kani Ka Pila Grille? My parents, Santiago and Lourdes Billena. Our schedules never quite jive now that they’re retired and early-to-bed, but there’s no substitute for feeding someone who loves you unconditionally.

What’s your best tip for running a great kitchen? That’s easy. Lead by example. I’m a hands-on chef who has been inspired and motivated by brilliant, hands-on chefs in my restaurant-hotel-catering career. To learn by example is to motivate by example.

Favorite restaurants when you’re not working? Bangkok Chef in Manoa. The preparation and flavors of Thai cuisine never fail to delight the palate.

Anything about you that might surprise us?

I’m competitive on the golf course and recently lost a close match to our food and beverage director Dietrich Chillous. But we’re due for a rematch!


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