Story by Becky Speere | Photography by Ryan Siphers
When FOND, Maui’s newest restaurant on the west side, opened for breakfast and lunch, owners Jojo and Eliza Vasquez treaded slowly at first. A dinner menu was added, but only after a while. The talented “Rising Star” chef and MNKO’s 2017 “Chef of the Year” built a solid foundation prior to adding his latest chef’s table concept that had been simmering on the backburner for six months.
Unleashing his natural, creative talents, we’ve come to eat and be entertained by the food maestro at the chef’s U-shaped counter. In the center, stand the chef and his assistant. With outstretched arms, like a conductor waiting to orchestrate, he says, “I’ve always wanted a chef’s table like this,” a warm smile lit across his face.
“Tonight, I’ll be preparing for you some dishes that are especially created for this evening. The amuse-bouche you’re about to taste is one of my favorites.” As we sip from clear shot glasses, the chilled Maui onion vichyssoise with smoky kiawe coaxes a luxuriant palate. I jokingly say to our server, “Could I please get five more of those?” The evening’s courses will be paired with two cocktails and a glass of Washington State 2017 Substance Cabernet Sauvignon. A refreshingly light Champagne Coconut cocktail with pineapple shrub, coconut water, and calamansi lime follows.
Jojo tells us that preparations change often with the availability of local and seasonal products. He adds, “I love working with Kona kanpachi from the Big Island because it’s a sustainably raised fish.” No endangered blue fin tuna was killed to create his kinilaw ceviche, a Filipino-style poke with a Japanese finish. As the former sous chef to Chef Masaharu Morimoto on the first two seasons of “Iron Chef America,” Japanese-inspired dishes are bound to surface. With squeeze bottles in hand, he says, “I am seasoning the fish with traditional ingredients you’d find in the Philippines…calamansi, coconut milk, and coconut cane vinegar. There is also ogo (seaweed) and dashi (Japanese fish and kombu stock).” The final touch is a crown of crisp, lacy ribbons of onion.
As the fulcrum of the gathering, Jojo exudes calm and confidence; he’s a natural chef who seems to love sharing hard-learned culinary secrets with his ten guests. Next, Kauai prawns tossed in curried Indian spices fills the room with the exotic scent of cardamom, ginger, and cumin. Served alongside a tiny bowl of kabocha chawan mushi, we dip our spoons into the delicately flavored steamed custard, while others dig into their prawns. We are in a blissful silence with Jojo’s chef’s-table choices: steak au poivre with Maui Cattle Company beef, and then the finale, a seven-layer halo-halo of shaved ice and fresh fruit. Ending the evening as a conductor would do, Jojo takes a bow. Salamat, Chef!
FOND, Napili Plaza, Napili, 5095 Napilihau St., Suite 115, 856-0225