Culinary Cream Of The Crop

Jo McGarry
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Wednesday - December 07, 2005
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Culinary contest winners (from left) Sonny Acosta Jr. (second place), Robin Abad (first place) and James Murray (third place) with Sub-Zero Wolf operations manager Jean Nakanishi
Culinary contest winners (from left) Sonny Acosta
Jr. (second place), Robin Abad (first place) and
James Murray (third place) with Sub-Zero Wolf
operations manager Jean Nakanishi

Remember the name Robin Abad. He’s likely to be starring on Honolulu’s culinary stage sometime soon. Abad won last year’s Tom and Warren Matsuda Scholarship culinary contest and, despite intense competition from finalists Sonny Acosta Jr. and James Murray, he won again this year.

The contest, sponsored by Sub-Zero/Wolf and Roy’s Restaurants, is open to full- or part-time students in an accredited Hawaii culinary program. It’s in its second year and provides the winner with $1,000 in scholarship money and the opportunity to assist chef Roy Yamaguchi at a charitable event or cooking class on the Mainland.

But it offers even more, according to Conrad Nonaka, director of the Culinary Institute of the Pacific.

“Roy Yamaguchi has provided an opportunity for culinary students to showcase their passion through the written application process to qualify for this competition,” says Conrad. “The top three finalists are having a learning experience that they will cherish throughout their entire career, and one that money can’t buy.”

Certainly that seems true for Robin. Last year he so impressed the judges - visiting celebrity chefs Hiroyuki Sakai and Tetsuya Wakuda - that he was immediately invited to Australia and Japan to cook with them. The staff at Roy’s was pretty much blown away by his culinary competency, too. Rainer Kumbroch, Roy’s general manager, said Robin’s skills were evident and commented on the incredible year he had already enjoyed as winner of the first scholarship.

But the contest is no easy task. In addition to preparing a three-course meal, contestants are required to submit recipes and photos of their meal along with the thought process for creating the menu items and a 300- to 500-word statement on why they should be considered for the contest, as well as three letters of reference. Abad, a graduate of Farrington High School, has also been honored by the Chaine des Rotisseurs as “Best Young Chef-Pacific Region.”

There are many cooking contests in Honolulu throughout the year, but none perhaps as important for the young winners as this one. Sub-Zero Wolf partners with local chefs throughout the year to promote its top-of-the-range kitchen appliances, and the final contest was held in its showroom earlier this month.

Joining Yamaguchi as judges this year were Pamela Young, Alan Wong and Hiroshi Fukui. I watched as Wong and Yamaguchi in particular studied the list of ingredients, the thought process behind the dishes and the actual meal itself. They both brought a deep level of seriousness to the table - something that was not lost on the young competitors.

And while it wasn’t an easy win, Abad has secured himself another place at Yamaguchi’s side for another year. Who knows what lies ahead for this talented young man? The competition was intense, but not without its moments of humor. At the end of the lengthy document presenting rules to competitors, a note about the end of the day read, “announcements, speeches, awards, congratulations, photo session, hugs and cleanup.”

Just like at the end of every restaurant day!

For a full list of recipes from the contest and photos, log onto

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