The Great Chef Exchange (VIDEO)

Maui chefs are plotting new courses to enrich our dining experiences.

Maui chefs Kyle Kawakami, Mike Lofaro and Jojo Vasquez display their creations at a Chicago gathering of food writers.

In the decade since that first Chef Exchange, Sheldon has appeared again on Top Chef — where he was named Fan Favorite — won an invitation to the James Beard House, and became the first chef in the history of the ‘Aipono Awards to be voted Chef of the Year by his peers twice.

Charlene sees a connection between Sheldon’s achievements and the Exchange. “Since we began, a lot of culinary information, techniques and trends have been shared. You can almost measure it by the number of poke-bowl businesses popping up all over North America. Although our Maui chefs are really low profile and humble, they have a lot of originality . . . our Hawai‘i chefs leave great impressions.”

Sheldon may have been the first Maui chef to benefit from the Exchange, but he hasn’t been the last. Kyle Kawakami, 2017 Gold ‘Aipono Award-winning chef-owner of Maui Fresh Streatery food truck, participated in MVCB trips to Los Angeles and Chicago, accompanied by private chef Rico Bartolome; 2016 ‘Aipono Chef of the Year Mike Lofaro, chef de cuisine of the Grand Wailea’s Humuhumu Restaurant; and 2017 Chef of the Year Jojo Vasquez of The Plantation House Restaurant. Kyle says, “ I was impressed with all the chefs we met, but Executive Chef Seakyeong Kim [of the Charlie Palmer restaurant group] executed the most complex dishes; I learned a lot from his cooking techniques. He cooked traditionally and also used molecular gastronomy. The three-day prep for pork belly was amazing and a new experience for me!” (For more on molecular gastronomy, see Shannon Wianecki’s article “Kitchen Chemistry” at

“Even more importantly, these trips allowed me the time to connect one-on-one with our Maui chefs. We’ve developed friendships. Today we are discussing collaborative pop-ups — such as Jojo’s Beats and Eats at Plantation House. This probably wouldn’t have happened without our travels opening doors between us.”

I think of Kyle’s comments as I watch Deuki’s delight in his newfound feathered friends. Chefs are notoriously open to learning. I recall when the Fairmont Kea Lani Resort invited culinary giants Thomas Keller, Douglas Rodriguez, Ming Tsai and Dean Fearing to deliver cooking demonstrations and four-hour, multicourse dinners, and Maui chefs lined up to assist. One day, my husband, Chris, called to say, “Paul Bocuse is in Wailea. Come down at 10:30 a.m. if you want to meet him.” I was there in a flash, as if even a little elbow rubbing with the French chef would make me a better cook.



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