Story by Becky Speere | Photos by Mieko Horikoshi
It’s nine-thirty on a Monday morning at Kahekili Beach Park and Alvin Savella is throwing a mahalo party for The Banyan Tree back-of-the-house staff, whom he lovingly calls his “Kitchen Assassin Squad.” Alvin was named Chef of the Year at the 2018 ‘Aipono Restaurant Awards, sponsored by Maui Nō Ka ‘Oi Magazine. Votes by our readers determine most of the winners. Chef of the Year is different: It’s chosen by culinary professionals. Being given that honor is a big deal in Maui’s restaurant scene, but it doesn’t stop Alvin from spending his day off cooking for his “squad.”
He tells me, “These guys are the reason for the restaurant’s success. I couldn’t do it without them.” Then he turns to them and says, “Go eat!”
“For sure!” “‘Ono!” “You don’t have to tell me twice!” the eight cooks holler as they dive into the fruits of his labor. Alvin has cooked a small mountain of crispy soft-shell crab lightly crusted with corn flour; tako poke marinated in sesame, soy and mirin; fresh ‘ahi poke tossed with limu and sea salt; and a mini lechon roasted to a caramel-brown finish. It’s cooked so perfectly that juices drip over the edges of the cutting board.
As the breezes blow from West Maui’s mountain, I imagine the child named Alvin Savella growing up playing kickball and marbles in Lahaina, and the young man who returned to Maui in 2012 after college and more than ten years in California’s culinary industry. He says, “I attended my first ‘Aipono Gala in 2013. That was the year that Sheldon Simeon [Top Chef favorite and owner of Tin Roof Maui and Lineage restaurants] won his first Chef of the Year award. I was at the event with [Chef] Wes Holder and the [Westin] Kā‘anapali Ocean Resort chefs. When I saw him on the stage, I thought ‘How can I be as successful in my career? How do I get there?’ The ‘Aipono Awards inspired me to try harder. To give back.”
As we wind down our conversation and return to the beach hale, his chefs have wrapped up the leftovers and readied the ice chests to be loaded into his car. Alvin nods towards them. “These guys are my restaurant ‘ohana [family],” he says. “It’s more than just a working environment. I can count on every one of them to be their best. On my day off, I know [the restaurant] is still functioning like I’m there.”
The Ritz-Carlton’s Banyan Tree Restaurant is closed for renovations through early January. Meanwhile, Alvin leads the charge at Hook + Knife, located at the hotel’s Ulana Terrace. For reservations, call 665-7089.
Chef Savella’s Lechon Pork Belly Recipe
Yield: 20–25 servings
Prep time: overnight marinating, 2 days drying skin in refrigerator, then 20 minutes prep
Cook time: 5 hours
- 1 skin-on pork belly (12–15 lb.)
- 5 oz. ginger, peeled and sliced thinly
- 4 oz. lemongrass, lower white end, smashed and sliced thinly
- 2 oz. kaffir lime leaves, hard central vein removed, sliced
- 2 lbs. brown sugar
- 1 lb. kosher salt
Method: Combine ginger, lemongrass, and kaffir lime leaves in a food processor and purée or mince by hand. Fold herb mixture, salt and brown sugar together in a mixing bowl. Rub evenly over the pork belly and refrigerate overnight.
Run pork under cold water, rinsing off the cure. Dry well with paper towels. Roll and tie pork into a roulade using butcher’s twine. Place pork on a wire rack and refrigerate, uncovered, for 2 days. This allows the skin to dry so it crisps when roasting. Roast pork in 280° oven for 4½ hours, then raise the temperature to 400° and roast for another 30 minutes. Remove the belly from the oven and let stand for 15 minutes. Remove butcher’s twine and cut lechon into ¼” slices. Serve with Mang Tomas Lechon Sauce.*
*Found at Wal-Mart stores.