Colin Hazama and Louis Maldonado met at the California Culinary Academy, lived as roommates, and went their separate ways — Hazama back to O‘ahu and Maldonado stayed in California.
Hazama, who’s now the senior executive sous chef at the Sheraton Waikīkī, worked at such top restaurants as Alan Wong’s and Roy’s Restaurant and was selected as a semi-finalist in the 2010 James Beard Foundation Awards “Rising Star Chef of the Year. Maldonado earned a name for himself at Spoonbar, elevating it to three-star status from the San Francisco Chronicle. He catapulted into mainstream fame as being among the Top Four finalists on Bravo’s “Top Chef” this year.
Despite their equally busy schedules, the two friends remained in touch — but had never cooked together. Ever.
The two are collaborating on a six-course dinner called “From the Islands to the Bay” at Cookspace Hawai‘i tonight, showcasing local ingredients and their individual flair in the kitchen.
I got to talk story with the two chefs about their friendship, their cooking styles and this dinner that’s been a long time coming.
CT: So how did you two meet?
CH: It was in 2001, right after 9/11. (Louis) was actually in a different class. I used to see him at the gym a lot. Yes, I used to go to the gym. (Laughs) We met at one of the dorms drinking one night.
LM: Yeah, that’s pretty much what happened. I think we hung out a few times. We literally saw each other around, then started hanging out. I ended up going to Hawai‘i for spring break that year.
CT: So this is the first time you guys have worked together?
CH: Yeah, we’ve never worked together. This is the first time we’re going to cook together for real. We lived together — we were roommates right after culinary school — but we’ve never actually cooked together.
CT: How do you think you’ll be in the kitchen together?
CH: We are very similar culturally. Even though Louis is Mexican and Sicilian and I’m Asian, our core values are similar. I think he and I are very intense people but very laid back. When I’m at work, I’m very intense. But at home, I’m not. And (Louis) is super humble. He’s not very talkative and not outspoken. But when he’s at work, he’s pretty intense. He and I are not the easiest chefs to work with. (Laughs) We are just very passionate about food in general. That’s why we really connected, too.
CT: How did this collaborative dinner come about?
CH: I did a dinner series at Cookspace Hawai‘i with Wade Ueoka and Chris Kajioka, and I really liked the venue. So I talked to Melanie (Kosaka) and doing something else this year.
LM: When Colin asked me to do this, my main thing was to do a seafood focus. Just like the kind of food we serve at the restaurant, which is 75 percent seafood. It’s what I like to work with, what I like to cook, what I like to eat. If we did a dinner, I wanted to make stuff I enjoy, not just base a menu around concepts.
CT: Anything special about the menu tonight?
LM: I’m bringing some things from the restaurant that I make special using ingredients we get from about three miles from the restaurant. Like our own flour, seaweed, geoduck clams from further north that’s rarely seen outside of California. These things are unique and don’t necessarily make their way to the Islands.
CH: I’m using scallops from Hokkaido. I wanted to do something that would pair differently with the lamb. So I’m using a Chinese smoking method, but I’ll use the regular smoking method with wood chips with sugar and rice.
CT: So Colin, did you watch your friend on ‘Top Chef’?
CH: I never watched ‘Top Chef’ before. When he first told me he was going to be on the show, I was, like, ‘Really?’ I can do media and I’m comfortable with all that camera stuff, but I’m not one to go and do a series like that. I thought it was great that he did it. It gave him even more publicity. And knowing his talent, this was just a great exclamation point on his career.
CT: What was that experience like, Louis?
LM: It’s what you make of it … If you’re there for the right reasons, you’ll get what you want out of it. I was in a good position in my life and with the restaurant that I could leave for two months and my staff could run the restaurant for me. The restaurant needed me to push it up nationally and to the next level.
CT: Did it help your career?
LM: I mean, obviously it made the restaurant a lot busier. But I knew who I was before doing the show, so it didn’t make my food better. If anything, it’s allowed more people to eat my food and business-wise it’s been a good thing. That was the biggest benefit.
CT: Wouldn’t it have been interesting if you two were on the show together?
CH: We probably would have tried to not have been on the same team. Every time I watch the show, I see how the ones on the same teams become the worst enemies. Business is business, but I wouldn’t let it ruin our relationship.
LM: Yeah, it’s a contract to your next career move and there’s the money. But if you know how to cook, you’ll always have a job. If you cook from the heart, you’ll always find something great. (Pause) But (us on the show together) would have made for some good drama!
Presented by Chef Colin Hazama and Chef Louis Maldonado
Light Pupus or Snacks
Local Sourdough toast with avocado, radish, urfa pepper, kampachi
Chicharonnes3 with shichimi, malt vinegar, yogurt poppyseed foam
Shaved geoduck clam, fermented chili, picked herbs
“Ho Farms Salad” with pearl onions, golden kahuku & currant tomato gelee, butternut squash, Gerkin cucumber pickles, crisp purple long beans
Kona Abalone roasted in Sonoma Coast seaweed with porcini bouillon, Kahuku sea asparagus, beech mushrooms
Guinea hen roulade, sweet Kaua‘i shrimp, corn, cabbage, shellfish emulsion
Prickly Ash Sonoma lamb saddle with Hawaiian Vanilla HOP fondue, tea-smoked scallop, peach, cilantro essence
“Pina Colada” — coconut truffle pacojet gelato, kaffir lime, compressed sugarloaf pineapple, ‘ulu chips, mango ice
Interested in attending tonight’s dinner? Click here for more info.