Story by Mart Rosenquist | Photography by Nina Kuna
Winding my way through a Japanese garden, the brilliant foliage punctuated by enormous granite rocks imported from Mt. Fuji, I cross over waters teaming with koi and pass from West into East. As I step out of the midday sun into the Zenlike interior of Amasia, I’m not only cooled, but instantly calmed.
Built to resemble a traditional Japanese fishing village, the former Kincha restaurant at the Grand Wailea Resort was treated to a three million dollar enhancement in 2012, and the lighter, brighter space is now home to the latest of Chef Alan Wong’s fine-dining establishments, which include Alan Wong’s Honolulu and the Pineapple Room at Ala Moana Center.
I had dined at Amasia twice before, but this time, the day prior to the restaurant’s formal opening, Alan Wong himself sits down to chat with me. He soon has me convinced that dining here is like riding in the passenger seat through his life. Elements of his background, travels, and culinary education can be traced throughout the wide-ranging menu.
Born in his mother’s hometown, Tokyo, Chef Wong moved to Hawai‘i at the impressionable age of five, and once here, identified solidly with his father’s Hawaiian-Chinese heritage, while never losing touch with his maternal roots. He claims it wasn’t a love of food that sparked his desire to become a chef. In fact, he was a picky eater, growing up. His interest in the culinary arts had more to do with becoming a good kitchen manager than it did with an interest in fine cuisine.
I’m not sold on Wong’s claim that he didn’t start out with an exceptional palate, because in the next breath, he vividly recalls eating a frozen tangerine in a Tokyo train station at the age of four.
“I’ll never forget the sensation of that cold, sweet fruit on a hot day. It’s that type of experience I’d like to offer my restaurant guests. Palate memory.”