Culinary Young Guns

Jo McGarry
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Wednesday - July 25, 2007
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David Caldiero and Ed Kenney Jr. are going Downtown
David Caldiero and Ed Kenney Jr. are going Downtown

I bumped into Nico Chaize and his family at Murphy’s Bar and Grill the other week. Nico is the chef/owner of Nico’s at Pier 38, the vibrant, bustling restaurant next to the Pacific Ocean Producers building and the United Fishing Agency auction. He’s also one of my favorite young chefs. We talked about business - Nico’s is booming - and about the new restaurant Uncle’s, that’s just opened next to him.

Nico welcomes his new neighbor with much enthusiasm and told me “Our fishing village is beginning to take place.”

The village has long been a dream of one of our greatest fishing advocates, Brookes Takenaka.

“It really is all starting to come together,” says Brookes. “With two restaurants we now have more choice for people, and there’s already a waiting list of seafood-related businesses that want to get into our multi-purpose building.”

Brookes will be organizing the second annual Fisherman’s Festival this year on Oct. 7. Last year’s inaugural event attracted more than 11,000 people.

“It was incredible,” he says. “This year we’re expecting in the region of 15,000.”

Stay tuned for details. This is a great family event -and one you won’t want to miss. My guess is the 15,000 estimate might be a low-ball.

If you haven’t yet made it to Nico’s, it’s an absolute must-go. There’s the freshest fish - he walks but a few steps from the restaurant to the auction each morning - and the prices are so reasonable it’s hard to believe that you can sit with a view across the harbor with a meal of fresh fish (or a great burger) for less than $7.

Another of my favorite young chef’s, busy making his mark is Ed Kenney, the chef/owner of Town, and the newly opened Downtown at the Hawaii State Art Museum. I just love Kenney’s approach to food, his support of local agriculture, his dedication to conservation (you’ll not find any Styrofoam containers at Downtown, everything is recyclable) and his attitude to his customers. The food at Downtown is just fabulous. And Kenney and his partner David Caldiero seem to be having a ton of fun bringing great food to the masses.

“We started at Downtown with a menu of local produce that we knew would be consistent,” says Kenney, “and now we’re changing menu items, using different produce - and just having fun.”

You can eat within the newly constructed dining space at HiSAM - a simple, artistically created room with clean lines, a granite bar and wooden tables - or you can choose lunch from a selection of deli-style items and then sit outside by the swimming pool. There’s addictive homemade pink lemonade, and salads made from Ma’o Farms greens, Hamakua mushrooms, several gorgeous pasta dishes and a ton of locally grown fruits and veggies. The food is presented with great attention to detail and little affectation. There’s a larger menu in the dining room where dishes like petite filet mignon, ($16.50), Manila clams ($9.50), or lasagna made with ground lamb ($13.50) are served by a friendly, enthusiastic staff. Salads start at $6!

I asked the immensely likeable Kenney, who emerged from the kitchen as we were leaving, about the disparity between his restaurants, and others that serve similar dishes at almost three times the price.

“We’re trying to go the other way,” he replied with a grin.

That’s trying to give diners great produce, great value and a great experience. Kenney’s motto is “Local first, organic where possible and with aloha always.”

Between Nico, Ed and David, and a couple of other young chefs about to make their mark, the future of our restaurants seems in good hands.

Happy eating!

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