Zippy’s, Alan Wong-style

Jo McGarry
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Wednesday - November 28, 2007
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Alan Wong's chef de cuisine Wade Ueoka
Alan Wong’s chef de cuisine Wade Ueoka

In the mood for some chili or beef stew after a week of eating leftover turkey? Then head over to Alan Wong’s Restaurant on South King Street, where the “Next Generation” dinner (a monthly event where Wong’s sous chefs are in charge of the menu) features a host of dishes inspired by local favorites at Zippy’s.

After the recent induction of Charlie Higa into the Hawaii Restaurant Association Hall of Fame, Alan Wong and chef de cuisine Wade Ueoka decided to honor the restaurant chain in their own way, with a gourmet take on burgers, chili and stew.

There’s a great connection between Wong and some of his chefs, and the beloved local food giant created by Charlie and his brother Francis. Wong so impressed Francis Higa years ago that Francis offered him the then-administrative offices of Zippy’s as a place to start his own restaurant.

You have to hand it to the Higas, they know what people like to eat on every level. Today Zippy’s and Alan Wong’s are two of the best-known culinary establishments in Hawaii.

But the connection doesn’t stop there. Guess where Ueoka started his culinary career?

“I was working at Zippy’s and going to KCC,” he says. “One of the girls in my class was married to someone working at Alan Wong’s, and she told me that the restaurant was looking for employees, so I came along and was started. But I kept my job at Zippy’s, too, for a while!”

Ueoka has been with Wong for more than 12 years now, and has worked his way up through the ranks.

“It doesn’t matter where you start or how you’re educated,” he says. “What matters is that you have the right attitude.”

A bit of talent certainly helps, but Wong agrees that Ueoka is an inspiration to lots of determined youngsters.

“We tell people that Wade walked in here when he was 19 years old, and we always say if someone can walk in here from Zippy’s and become the chef de cuisine, then it’s a great inspiration for everyone,” says Wong.

Wonder what’s on the Nov. 28 “Zippy’s” menu? The kind of food that Wong and his chefs do best: local dishes with a playful, sophisticated edge. Food that pays homage to its roots, with a sense of humor too. Anyone who loves both fine dining and the occasional stop at Zippy’s for a bowl of chili or some steaming hot saimin should love the menu.

A burger and fries under Ueoka’s watch is made with foie gras and guava ketchup; the famous Zippy’s chili inspires a Mediterranean spin with Kona lobster, Big Island hearts of palm, white beans

and garlic toast; Zippy’s famous beef curry inspires a gourmand version with Maui Cattle Company beef tenderloin, curried parsnip, celery root and fennel vinaigrette. You get the idea, I’m sure.

The five-course dinner is $75 per person - wine pairings with each course are optional. And don’t be surprised to see Zippy’s founder Charlie Higa enjoying the dinner.

Who better to critique the menu than the inspiration himself?

Happy eating!

For reservations, call 949-2526.


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