Outfitted in white gloves, she slowly opened the box as if she was opening up a jewelry box. I fully expected to see rubies or sparkling diamonds like in the movie Pretty Woman. However there were no rubies, instead I was first hit with the aroma – earthy, rich truffles – a distinct smell. As the wooden box opened further I saw the beauties nesting in a bed of uncooked rice.
They were like bars of gold.
One of the gems of the culinary world, and here they were presented to me in one of the best restaurants in Oahu. Truffles were the last thing I expected to eat in Hawaii, but for Chef Mavro, the award winning French chef who has adopted Hawaii as his home, the truffles were his headliner on his current seasonal menu.
Each season the creative process starts fresh for Chef Mavro and his team as they form a new 6 course menu highlighting seasonal local ingredients and wine pairings. For Chef Mavro, this process starts in bed – in the early morning hours as he’s still in his sleepy haze. “I do my best creative work then.” He explained. After the ideas are formed, he works with his staff to bring them to life in the kitchen over and over again until they have perfected the process and the dish. The last step is for the entire staff to sit down and eat the season’s menu and all weigh in on the choices of wine pairings that were picked out by the sommelier. The sommelier has determined a few choices for each course and the staff narrows it down to one wine pairing pick with each course. A great way to involve everyone in the process, and get the wait staff educated on all of the food for the season.
When Chef Mavro arrived in Oahu 25 years prior one of the first places he went was the fish auction. Shortly after that he started meeting local farmers and becoming a mainstay at the local markets. He was focused on trying to source as much locally as he could for his creations. Chef still goes to the fish auction at least once a month himself and talks to the fish mongers. He has become an expert on Hawaiian fish and has come up with a vertical tasting of Hawaiian fish that he presents around the world.
I visited the Sumida Watercress Farm farm with Chef Mavro one day and was able to witness his close relationship with David Sumida as they joked around about recipes and the latest growing techniques. Chef has had a watercress recipe on his menu every season for the last 25 years. Do the math – that’s around 100 different watercress recipes – and they are all sourced from Sumida Farms in Oahu thanks to the relationship he formed years ago. I was also pleased to find out Chef uses items from all of the Hawaiian islands including salt from Kauai, and goat cheese and organic honey from the Big Island. There are new farms and producers popping up all over the islands and Chef tries to work with them to bring in the local fresh flavor as well as support the community. After seeing Chef with David Sumida – I realized it’s also important for him to socialize and build relationships with his suppliers in person whenever he can.
I believe you can tell when a chef puts his/her heart and soul into their food, and it was clear to me Chef Mavro and his relationships were a part of every culinary creation he makes in his little kitchen.
What is the result of this seasonal, locally sourced cooking by a classically trained French Chef who now makes Hawaii his home? Fine dining like you’d never expect in Oahu! Chef Mavro’s menu was full of fresh surprises ranging from truffle infused (via osmosis) eggs, to ingredients like watercress, pickled quince, sea asparagus, sweat bread, and foie gras. All of his dishes had an inventive marrying of sweet and savory. Call it “modern cuisine”, “experimental cuisine” or “avant-garde cuisine” – it doesn’t matter, but it’s definitely not traditional Hawaiian luau dining.
Twenty years ago when you traveled to Hawaii it was only about beaches, and sun. There was an old quote that Chef Mavro shared with me,
”Enjoy your food on the plane because it’s the best food you’ll get in Hawaii.”
Thanks to Chef Mavro and a general increased interest in culinary art and travel, the old quote seems ludicrous now!
As a golden truffle shaving floats down on top of my Egg Truffle Potato Mousseline like a graceful feather, the old quote comes to mind and I can only chuckle at the thought it. I smile at the white-gloved waiter and thank him for my golden truffles as I sip a glass of wine handpicked by the sommelier. This is certainly no plane food.
See all the photos from my day at the Sumida Watercress farm and my night at Chef Mavro’s:
More information or make a reservation – www.chefmavro.com
See Chef Mavro’s latest seasonal menu here