chef henry mateo

Chef Henry Matteo of Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort & Spa. (Photo: Marriott International)

Chefs You Should Know

Chef Henry Mateo on Hawaiian Food, Family and His Now-Famous Masters of the Craft Dish

Chef Henry Mateo’s first cooking instructor was in-house: his father. Growing up in Waikoloa, on Hawaii Island, Mateo learned culinary skills working at his dad’s elbow, absorbing much about the traits, traditions and preparations of Filipino food.

“My dad was always making us pork adobo, or rice porridge with chicken,” recalls Mateo. Today, he’s the one serving up delicious foods — like Pork Belly Tinono, Coconut Risotto with Hamakua Mushrooms, and Won Ton Furikake Ahi — in his role as culinary kitchen supervisor at Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort & Spa.

When Mateo started working at the resort 20 years ago, he was a dishwasher. But he kept observing, watching and learning from the chefs and cooks. His supervisor noticed his talent, and the skills he’d learned in childhood, and promoted him to prep cook for the kitchen and banquet lines. Then he moved up to line cook and quickly become culinary kitchen supervisor. He mostly works on dinner at the property’s Hawaii Calls Restaurant.

chef henry mateo
(Photo: Marriott International)

“Through my cooking, I always want to share the pride and aloha that we have in our heritage and in our island and the people who made it what it is today,” he says.

Mateo has further honored that heritage by taking home top honors at Marriott International’s 2019 Masters of the Craft competition, culinary division.

The annual, rapid-fire competition invites thousands of chefs and bartenders from Marriott International properties around the world to compete against one another in challenges incorporating local specialities and surprise ingredients.

The dishes are then judged on the basis of taste, creativity and technical prowess. Chef Mateo whipped up a winning Chinese-style noodle dish, using the secret ingredient of … chicken. Chicken?

“I know! I was expecting some kind of fruit,” laughs Mateo. “Maybe figs, since they were in season. You get the ingredients on a covered tray, and there it was, under the sheet, a whole chicken! We had to break it down.”

chef henry mateo
(Photo: Marriott International)

Fresh off his win, Chef Mateo sat down with Marriott Bonvoy Traveler to talk about food, family and that famous chicken.

So, what did you do with this mystery poultry?

I used the chicken thighs, which tend to be juicy, and the breast. I knew I had to work on that chicken fast because I only had 30 minutes to make the dish. I grilled it quick, then popped it into the oven, and while it was cooking in there, I made noodles by hand. It was totally nerve-wracking. When they called my name as the winner, I was speechless.

Will people be able to taste this new chicken dish you created?

It’s going to go onto the new dinner menu. We’re still working on the name.

chef henry mateo
(Photo: Marriott International)

When you’re not at work, what do you enjoy cooking for your family?

I love cooking and eating Filipino food and incorporate Filipino ingredients such as patis [fish sauce]. That is a great ingredient to use to flavor some local dishes. Backyard barbecues are always a hit, too, using local beef or whatever I caught from the ocean that day. It might be tako [octopus] or shoreline fish.

And your family has recently grown, right?

My newborn son, yes. I almost didn’t make it to the competition because we were expecting him. Luckily, he was considerate and showed up a week early, allowing me to travel to Washington, D.C., and Bethesda, Maryland, to compete.

My wife is also a cook at the hotel. She works in the morning, and I work the nighttime. My two girls are 11 and 5; they play soccer on Saturdays, and I go to cheer them on.

chef henry mateo
(Photo: Marriott International)

Tell us about some of the Hawaii-grown ingredients and how they inform your cooking.

So much of what we use comes from the local farms, even down to the garnishes. And of course, we use the local beef from Parker Ranch. I like to work with ulu (breadfruit), which I prepare steamed for salads.

For poke dishes, I use opihi [limpets], tako [octopus] and inamona [kukui nut]. I especially like to use ingredients from our local farmers when creating dishes requested by guests.

We prepare a lot of soul food, and a lot of vegetarian dishes, with locally sourced tomatoes, eggplant, squash, pumpkins, strawberries, and using Filipino spices for tofu. Hilo has an amazing farmers market that I travel to, to gather seasonal ingredients.