2019 Chef of the Year: Kyle Kawakami

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Story by Becky Speere

2019 Maui Chef of the Year Kyle Kawakami

The man. Kyle Kawakami has a passion for good food—so much so, that after earning a bachelor’s degree in zoology, he enrolled in UH–Maui Culinary Academy, and while there, interned in the kitchens at the Fairmont Kea Lani, mentoring under Executive Chef Tylun Pang, winner of ‘Aipono’s 2014 Lifetime Achievement Award. After graduating from the academy in 2001, Kyle joined the Fairmont’s staff, perfecting the skills that served him as an instructor at his culinary alma mater, where he taught for ten years. In 2014—much to the joy of his many followers—Kyle embarked on a new path, purchasing “Big Red,” the mobile Maui Streatery food truck. He hasn’t looked back (well, only in the rearview mirror).

His passion. Along the way, Kyle’s fascination with food has led the Maui-born chef to explore the world’s flavors and traditional preparations. Happily, he keeps taking us along on the journey, transporting us to a Greek kitchen for souvlaki, drizzled with creamy tzatziki, that would do a γιαγιά (grandmother) proud; or to Korea for a Seoul bowl with crispy Korean pork belly in gochujang sauce, rice and kim chee banchan.

His heart. Kyle’s philanthropy could fill a semi—and that, too, is something he invites his customers to share. When one of his son’s friends needed cancer treatment on the mainland, Kyle was moved by the family’s financial and emotional stress, and placed an aloha tip jar on the counter to help raise funds on their behalf. Since then, fifty families, nonprofits such as Women Helping Women, and the School Gardens project at Pomaika‘i Elementary School have benefited from the tips collected, with gifts totaling around $50,000!

Mahalo, Chef Kyle, for all the food adventures you’ve taken us on . . . and for your boundless generosity.

WHAT HIS PEERS SAY . . .

“Chef Kyle’s philanthropy is exceptional. The quality of the Maui Fresh Streatery product and experience is top notch. Small businesses do not always have the resources for philanthropy that corporate restaurants [have access to], but Chef Kyle’s generosity drives his business. He is an inspiration.”—Michele Di Bari, chef/owner, Sale Pepe

“Chef Kyle runs the best food truck on the island, but his heart is even bigger, from his donation tip jar that helps many local families cope with their struggles, to stepping up to assist in humanitarian efforts. Chef Kyle’s pay-it-forward efforts [helped people] in need during our recent government shut down. His heart inspires us all.”—Gevin Utrillo, chef de cuisine, Japengo Maui

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