Chef Roy Yamaguchi’s latest project, Humble Market Kitchin. (Photos: Craig Bixel)
Hawaii is famous for its natural beauty, sure. But James Beard Award–winning chef Roy Yamaguchi might argue that the sights sometimes distract from another attraction — the local cuisine.
Yamaguchi plays to both at his latest outpost, Humble Market Kitchin at the Wailea Beach Resort in Maui. Pacific views meet locally sourced Hawaiian ingredients infused with flavors from culinary centers along the Pacific Rim.
Though he’s been doing this sort of thing for a while — Yamaguchi has opened dozens of restaurants around the country and is often hailed as the father of the Hawaiian Regional Cuisine movement — this venture brings a new sense of community and family history to his lauded Hawaiian fare.
Tell us about Humble Market Kitchin.
We want guests to feel like they're having a great time in Maui.
The restaurant has such a great, comfortable vibe. It feels like you are just outside in Maui relaxing. It’s a great mood — beautiful and vibrant, exciting. You look out into the ocean, see the palm trees, soak in the breeze.
The food is very approachable and very comfortable. It soothes your soul. You get that same feeling throughout the restaurant. We want guests to feel like they’re having a great time in Maui.
You say that the restaurant is an ode to your grandfather. Tell us what that means and how it translates in the cuisine?
I was born and raised in Japan; my father was born and raised in Maui where my grandfather settled in the early 1900s. My grandfather worked on the plantations. As a child, I used to come to Hawaii every other summer to spend time with my grandparents, who owned the Yamaguchi General Store. I used to stock the shelves. My grandfather did a lot of the cooking at night, and I got accustomed to his cooking. When my father cooked at home in Japan, he cooked the flavors he grew up with, inspired by my grandfather’s meals. The cooking was embedded in me.
After working in different types of restaurants, I veered toward French cuisine and then Japanese flavors. My style combines both of these with memories from my childhood.
Wailea Beach is also close to Kihei, where my grandparents later opened a small restaurant. Humble Market Kitchin’s proximity to Kihei helps me pay tribute to my grandparents, who taught me the flavors I envisioned.
What have you learned from your other restaurants across the country that influenced this restaurant?
Whenever we build a restaurant, we do it for our community. It’s important to touch people in the community and be a part of that community. It’s about utilizing ingredients from around the area, and of course, it’s about the people.
Talk to us more about your use of local ingredients …
It's important for us to work with local farmers and growers, but that doesn't happen overnight.
It’s important for us to work with local farmers and growers, but that doesn’t happen overnight. We try to utilize as many salad greens, fruit and fish as possible from Hawaii, but everyone has different eating habits, needs and wants.
We try to provide a combination of the greatest things from all over the world. We get some fish from New Zealand, like salmon, which we don’t have locally. We serve Midwestern beef alongside local beef. We have great pork from the island.
How would you describe the Hawaiian food scene?
The construction boom in Hawaii has opened up a lot of opportunity for new restaurants. A lot of great talent and a bigger variety of places to eat.
It’s a growing restaurant community. When I first started out 28 years ago in Oahu, a lot of the chefs were European. Over the past 25 years, chefs like myself, Alan Wong and Peter Merriman started the Hawaii Regional Cuisine movement. We got together with farmers and growers to get them to grow great products for us so we wouldn’t have to import so many. It got Hawaii moving toward being more sustainable. Great movement. Lots of progress.
The younger generation is getting involved. Plus the construction boom in Hawaii has opened up a lot of opportunity for new restaurants. A lot of great talent and a bigger variety of places to eat. At the same time that helps the farmers take chances and grow many different varieties of produce. The food scene is more vibrant today than it ever was.
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