Chefs have always been enamored of their peers. Gevin Utrillo, chef de cuisine at Hyatt Regency Maui’s Japengo, was awed by a 2016 visit from celebrity chef and cookbook writer Vikram Vij of Vij’s in Vancouver. During a cooking demo at the Hyatt, Vij shared a tender story with guests: “On a trip to India, my wife, Meeru, my daughters and I stayed with family. Every morning, Meeru would eat a papaya. Every morning she proceeded to scrape the seeds of the fruit over the railing onto the ground. The next day the seeds would be gone. After a few days passed, she went outside and was surprised to find two young boys in the yard.” They said to her, “Thank you so much for the food.”
Vij, who had lived in Canada for thirty years, had forgotten about the hunger in his birth country. “After that, my wife put fruit out for the children. There were many hungry mouths.”
Gevin was visibly moved by Vij’s stories. “When we were in Vancouver, Chef Vij was on the road, so I didn’t get to meet him. I was lucky to dine at his restaurant, though, and after dinner I was invited by the head chef to see the kitchen. What surprised me most was that all his cooks were women!
“When Vij and I prepped together in the Japengo kitchen for the cooking demonstration, Vij was hands-on, always working, laughing and telling stories. He is passionate. And guess what? A year later and I have more women in my kitchen and it’s a better working environment . . . more balanced.”
Jeff Scheer, executive chef of The Mill House and 2015 ‘Aipono Chef of the Year, saw the value of chef exchanges during his 2012 MVCB visit with Toronto’s pioneer chef Jamie Kennedy. Jeff says, “Jamie’s commitment to sustainable agriculture and local-food advocacy left a deep impression on me.” I can see reflections of that in Jeff’s Chef Table, a weekly seven-course dinner that highlights his sublime dishes — and invariably sells out. As he prepares for his second annual Maui Chef Invitational* in August, he notes: “Maui is incredible. The farms, the scenery, and the people make our island unique. Living here, I know that, but it’s an honor when I get to highlight our farms and ranches . . . to share [Maui’s] potential with chefs from the continent. Like a harmony of flavors, our participating chefs were chosen for their varied background and expertise. Being around them turns up the volume on all the new ideas I have been thinking about.”
Mahalo to all our chefs for making Maui a dining mecca, and to Charlene Kauhane for helping to bring that to the attention of the rest of the world. We diners love you all!
* See The Mill House website for additional information on the 2017 Maui Chef Invitational: MillHouseMaui.com.