In the Mix: Dinner with Manny Hinojosa

Jan. 20, 2011 | 6 Comments

Dinner on Tuesday was a home-style Mexican feast, courtesy tequila master (and part-time chef) Manny Hinojosa. Click here for more photos.


I must admit, I got just a little nostalgic when I first heard about this weekend’s “Celebrity Chefs, Island Style” event on the Big Island.

Just last August I was over there myself, covering the second annual Don the Beachcomber Mai Tai Festival at the Royal Kona Resort. Despite being a whirlwind, 12-hour-plus day on the job, watching the EDITION Waikiki’s Christian Self walk away with a $10,000 check for the “World’s Best Mai Tai” was easily one of the professional highlights of my year.

‘Celebrity Chefs, Island Style’

With special guests Michael Symon, Jonathan Waxman and Manny Hinojosa

» Where: Mauna Lani Bay Hotel & Bungalows, 68-1400 Mauna Lani Dr.
» When: Jan. 21 and 22 (Friday and Saturday)
» Cost: $300 ($250 for Saturday’s six-course dinner only)
» Info:

So, as you can probably guess, I was pretty disappointed when I found out I wouldn’t be able to pick up another fun gig covering an Iron Chef, one of the dudes who is always on “Top Chef” and a world-class master mixologist (see info box at right).

That disappointment turned to excitement, however, when I got an e-mail from Better Brands marketing and promotions superstar Christa Wittmier, who passed along an invitation from Hawaii-based Bacardi rep Sommer Meyer: Want to eat dinner with Manny Hinojosa?

A private dinner with a cocktail architect of Hinojosa’s stature? That’s a no-brainer. But it got better — not only would he be serving up drinks with the meal, but Hinojosa would also prepare the entire menu.

Meyer didn’t have to ask me twice. Despite some killer pau hana traffic on Tuesday afternoon, I piled into a Platinum Limousine party bus with Wittmier and a handful of Better Brands VIPs for the trip to Meyer’s house in Makakilo.

Better Brands knows how to party responsibly — don’t drive, arrive alive!

All aboard the party bus! From left: HFM FoodService sales manager Kelii Heen, Wittmier, Kara Kim, Better Brands vice president Joe Fairchild, Shawna Lewis and Lewers Lounge bartender Tim Rita (who also serves as Hawaii chapter president of the United States Bartenders Guild).

“It’s one of those things,” said Meyer after we arrived in Makakilo. “Manny always cooks when he comes to town. So I was like, ‘Why don’t we invite some people?’

“It’s fun that he’s here, this famous mixologist, and we’re all here hanging out in my garage with the dogs!”

Hinojosa spent the day with Meyer, starting off in the morning with a quick shopping trip before settling into the kitchen around 11:30 a.m. For the next seven hours, he prepared more than half-dozen dishes — and according to Meyer, set off her fire alarm eight times!

“Here’s this Food Network star … telling me he’s not used to working in a kitchen so small,” she laughed (Hinojosa is a personal friend of Guy Fieri and appears on his shows from time to time). “But he’s like any other friend who comes over and cooks at your house. We always have a lot of fun.”

It’s hard not to have fun at a party when the garage is home to a back bar like this — one of the perks of working in the liquor industry!

And two of the perks of partying with Meyer in Makakilo: Elvis, left, and Fiona were the runaway stars of the night, busting into the living room from their outdoor living area repeatedly — to the raucous cheers of guests inside.

Hinojosa, left, and Fairchild talk story in the kitchen before dinner.

Hinojosa had cocktails ready when we arrived, including a soursop and blood orange margarita that had me reconsidering my blanket ban on drinking tequila. A short time later, a platter of fresh guacamole appeared (winner!) alongside a tequila ceviche made with jicama, habanero, cilantro and pomegranate (even bigger winner!).

“I never cook in any restaurant,” he said when asked about his culinary background. “But I love food … (and) that’s actually what took me to the mixology level. I understand flavor.”

Calling upon his family’s recipes, Hinojosa prepared a menu that consisted of favorites that might not normally be found on the menu at any local Mexican restaurant. And even if they were, grinding this stuff anywhere else just wouldn’t have compared to the experience of sitting down to a meal with Hinojosa.

Some two hours later, we were back on the party bus — this time with Hinojosa in tow — and heading back into town. Between signing a stack of cocktail recipe books and passing around a bottle of Cazadores, he talked story about his bartending travels and plans to participate in upcoming drink contests on the mainland.

He also confessed his secret to partying like a rockstar: Take it easy at home. While Hinojosa goes hard whenever he’s on the road and meeting with friends and fans, he cuts out nearly all alcohol when he’s back home in Northern California. He considers it a detox program of sorts, and said it’s worked well to keep him fresh and rejuvenated in recent years.

Whatever he’s doing, it’s working — I haven’t seen someone put away that much tequila and show absolutely no signs of intoxication like Hinojosa did in a very long time. I almost feel sorry for those who will get to party with him on Saturday night!

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PICS: Dinner with master mixologist Manny Hinojosa