The European Revolution

Jo McGarry
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Wednesday - March 29, 2006
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Chef Guillaume Burlion of Diamond Head Grill has a style all his own
Chef Guillaume Burlion of Diamond Head Grill has
a style all his own

When most people think of fine dining in Hawaii, they think of food with a Pacific Rim flair and a Hawaii Regional Cuisine influence. With celebrity chefs like Alan Wong and Roy Yamaguchi known around the country for their work with local ingredients and their ability to create and establish a style that has been emulated by many, it’s no wonder that’s the food that gets the press.

But there’s a revolution of sorts taking place in Hawaii. Marseille-born, French-trained Chef George Mavrothalassitis, owner of Chef Mavro, calls his cooking Contemporary Hawaii Regional Cuisine. At Michel’s, German-born, Black Forest-trained Eberhard “Hardy” Kintscher’s style has been called “French Renaissance.” And N.Y. Times Chef of the Year for 1999, Guillaume Burlion of the now-sparkling Diamond Head Grill, calls it a “style all of my own.”

The New York Times dubbed Burlion’s cooking style “French Continental” - but now that he’s in Hawaii it seems worthy of another name.

What these chefs have in common is not just their European training. They share a love - no make that a passion - for Hawaii and its bounty of locally grown ingredients. For Mavro, with his refined restaurant menu dedicated to food and wine pairings showcasing the simplicity of ingredients, the passion is something that just grows with each passing year.

For Chef Hardy over at Michel’s, the inspiration can come from someone’s garden just as easily as from the ocean. He serves his own version of Hawaiian bouillabaisse at the beachside restaurant, but look next month for a new menu - and some locally inspired dishes. “One of our staff has a number of tangerine trees in her Kalihi garden,” says Hardy, “so I’ve been experimenting with them.” The result is a warm goat cheese salad with a Kalihi tangerine cranberry vinaigrette.

And at Diamond Head Grill, Burlion has already taken the previously dull, retro restaurant to a whole new place. “You should have come last week, ” he says, “we had some wonderful antelope on the menu.” Antelope, bison, partridge, mahi mahi, Big Island beef all mixed in with a wonderful array of locally grown fruits, vegetables and, of course, fish.

Burlion’s technique with fish is outstanding. Want to know what a melt-in-your-mouth Chilean sea bass tastes like? Try his.

So what’s up with the European guys? Well, for one thing, they’re not content anymore to simply re-create the classics. “The classic dishes and sauces complement local ingredients,” says Hardy, adding that it’s “easy” to add a Pacific Rim flair here, or a nod to Hawaii Regional Cuisine there. “People like to see it when they come to Hawaii,” he says “and it’s easy to do. “

For Burlion, the goal is to recreate the kind of menus that won him N.Y. Times young chef of the year and AAA 5-Diamond Awards in Nashville at the Wild Boar. “That’s the goal,” he says with a hugely confident grin, “and the bounty of food available in Hawaii through local farmers is amazing.”

For Mavro? Well, he’s already achieved many of his goals- his restaurant was this year voted one of the top 10 in the world by Fodor’s, and he’s a James Beard Award winner.

And mention European chefs in Hawaii and you can’t exclude La Mer’s Yves Garnier, executive chef of (to date) the only AAA 5-Diamond Award restaurant in the state. In the rarefied atmosphere of the Halekulani, Garnier blends fresh island ingredients with his neo-classic French style.

This marriage between Europe and Hawaii is as exciting as anything to have hit the food scene in the past decade. Personally, I love the lighter sauces, but the incredible depth that something like Burlion’s buffalo black truffle sauce brings to the table is outstanding.

It’s Pacific Rim-influenced for sure. Neoclassic, Continental, Renaissance?

Whatever you call it - it’s a European revolution.

Happy eating!

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