Treetop Dining at Hotel Wailea

The Restaurant at Hotel Wailea takes fine fare to new heights . . . and our dining editor goes ape.

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Onaga served at Hotel Wailea
Miniature branches of crisp tempura sea asparagus garnish a filet of Maui onaga (deep-ocean red snapper), accompanied by cauliflower prepared two ways — puréed and charred. Sauce vierge with capers and sea asparagus balances the dish for a harmony of ocean flavors.

T. and I also agree that this haute experience recalls a feast we enjoyed at Thomas Keller’s French Laundry in Napa Valley. As well it should —co-executive chefs, Chris Kajioka and Anthony Rush, were both chefs at the French Laundry and its sister venue, Per Se.

And Zach Sato? Raised in Upcountry Maui, he took his culinary baby steps as a prep cook in Pā‘ia, followed by three years at Hāli‘imaile General Store under the watchful eye of Chef Beverly Gannon, one of the founders of Hawai‘i Regional Cuisine. He says, “I’d catch the bus to Ho‘okipa and surf all day, then show up at five in the kitchen.” When he was seventeen, Zach moved to California, attended San Diego Culinary Institute, and landed a job at The Med restaurant in La Jolla’s La Valencia Hotel. But, he says, “Hawai‘i called me back.” He helped open Peter Merriman’s Monkeypod Kitchen in Wailea, served as sous chef at Monkeypod Ko‘olina, and “was promoted to executive chef at Merriman’s Kapalua, where I stayed for three years, [and where] I learned to organize and manage my own team.”

Chris Kajioka frequently ran into Zach at fundraising events, recognized the young chef ’s talent, dedication and disciplined work ethic, and hired him away. “Zach received some amazing training at Merriman’s,” Chef Chris told me recently. “Anthony and I started working with him to create recipes for the new Restaurant at Hotel Wailea” — a menu Chris describes as “Maui multicultural with European techniques.” He adds, “Zach is a rising star.” Recalling Per Se and the French Laundry’s culinary achievements, I asked, “Like in Michelin-star excellence?” Chris answered, “Yes.”

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