Grind Time: Collaboration at Vintage Cave
BY JASON GENEGABUS / firstname.lastname@example.org
Vintage Cave is less than a year old, but there’s no mistaking the waves this restaurant makes from deep within Ala Moana Center.
No windows. No exterior signage. No looky-loos in the dining room without a reservation. No matter; some of the top culinary minds in the United States and around the world have taken notice of what executive chef Chris Kajioka is up to in his kitchen.
“You can see the growth,” said Sean Morris, who handles marketing and public relations for Vintage Cave. “Chris Kajioka is forming his own identity. Vintage Cave is becoming a destination for chefs and customers. It has truly elevated the caliber of fine dining options in Hawaii.”
Kajioka, who was born and raised on Oahu and graduated from ‘Iolani before earning a degree in culinary arts from the Culinary Institute of America, worked at the Ritz-Carlton in San Francisco under chef Ron Siegel and chef Thomas Keller’s Per Se in New York City. He’s also put in time in the kitchen at Aziza in San Francisco under chef Mourad Lahlou and at the Willows Inn in Washington State with chef Blaine Wetzel.
His return to Honolulu earlier this year, however, suddenly turned him into one of those chefs other chefs talked about — in a good way. Working with Japanese owner Takeshi Sekiguchi (although benefactor might be a better description), who spared no expense making Vintage Cave a gourmand’s fantasy playground, has also made Kajioka very popular among some of the same names he looked up to while working in other restaurants.
The well-deserved attention has often led to serendipitous collaborations, as evidenced by two nights of service last weekend that saw Kajioka joined in the kitchen by chefs Viet Pham and Belinda Leong.
Neither Pham, who competed in season nine of “Food Network Star” and beat chef Bobby Flay in an episode of “Iron Chef America” earlier this year, nor Leong, an internationally-renowned pastry chef who opened b. patisserie in her hometown of San Francisco earlier this year, had ever met Kajioka before agreeing to join him at Vintage Cave.
“It’s an honor to be out here and be able to collaborate and work with everyone here,” Pham said on Friday, Oct. 4, while preparing for the first of four meals he would help create last weekend. “I actually heard about this restaurant back in March through a friend and started to follow Chris on Instagram.
“Just hearing more and more about Chris (from) people within the food community that have worked here, I thought it would be cool (to work with him). So we just started to Tweet at one another and comment on Instagram. We’ve actually never spoken on the phone. It’s always email and Tweets.”
Leong said she only knew Kajioka “through mutual friends,” but had heard enough to know she wanted to be part of the action.
“I really like his style,” she said. “It’s great to be a part of this.”
The admiration goes both ways, said marketing/PR guy Morris.
“There’s a mutual respect there. After working for some of the top chefs in the country, now he’s gotten the opportunity to create his own brand of food,” he said.
Last weekend’s meal included an amuse bouche comprised of four different bites, followed by 11 more courses and a highly coveted kouign amann pastry made by Leong and packed for guests to take home.
Here’s the complete rundown:
Guests at Vintage Cave last weekend were served a four-bite amuse bouche before the actual meal.
Kale chip with boiled peanut puree and apple butter.
Wakame meringue with bonito.
Avocado with burgundy truffle and black walnut, finished with herb-scented dashi.
First course: Caviar with a cracker made with squid ink and yuzu, topped with chai flowers and chives. The caviar is served with smoked potato, green apple and dried anchovy gelee on the bottom.
Second course: Roasted chicken gelee with clams, juniper and buttermilk.
Third course: Jidori egg yolk atop abalone and mushroom stew with a mushroom emulsion.
Fourth course: Cold foie gras plate with “fall flavors” of picked huckleberry, butternut squash confit, celery root, raw celery and sunflower shoots.
Fifth course: Roasted salsify that is braised, fried, covered in pear gel and crusted in quinoa, served alongside poached king crab from Hokkaido with a lobster emulsion underneath.
Sixth course: Miyazaki beef aged 30 days in-house and cooked over charcoal embers, served with crispy leek threads (smoked leeks that have been pickled, dried out and cut into thin strips) and shimo negi cooked in beef fat and roasted over embers, served with sweet onion puree piped into center and herb garnish, topped with a vinaigrette made with beef fat, lemon and leek ash.
Seventh course: Matsutake mushrooms roasted over Douglas fir and served with matsutake rice porridge topped with dried aku, shaved raw matsutake and shaved white truffles.
Dessert: Greek yogurt panna cotta with lilikoi cream, demerara sugar crumble and shiso sherbet.
Dessert: Honey crisp apple compressed with grains of paradise and covered in a thin layer of chocolate colored with cocoa butter to look like skin of honey crisp apple, served with toasted amaretto marcona almond ice cream and brown butter almond tuile.
Dessert: Discs of chocolate with macadamia nut powder, chocolate cremeux and caramelized coffee ice cream.
Dessert: Black sesame macaron and bonbons.
“Grind Time” is always looking for the latest places to get your grub on. Email Jason Genegabus with restaurant, bar or any other food/drink-related item at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter and Google+.