Story by Becky Speere | Photography by Mieko Horikoshi
I wake at 3 a.m., my brain doing the mental equivalent of drooling. In my dreams I’ve been feasting on shichimi ‘ahi and foie gras with fig compote and luscious Maui onion demi-glace, then taking that blissful first bite of crisp and sweet Kula corn, fire-roasted and buttery, served alongside truffle-chive crème fraiche laced corn soup—part of the dinner my husband, Chris, and I enjoyed at Lahaina Grill not four hours ago. And instead of the long, late drive back across the island to our Huelo home, we’re tucked in cozily two floors up, at Lahaina Inn. I drift back into slumber and a second helping of food-filled dreams.
Last night, as Chris and I began our first course, paired with Chateau Gravas Sauternes redolent of honey, ripe apricots and a hint of ginger, we were joined by Jurg and Linda Munch, owners of both the restaurant and the inn. Over the course of a leisurely meal, our genial hosts shared what you might call a love story. . . .
Born in Switzerland, Jurg was two when his family moved to the Philippines in 1960. “My father managed an export company that manufactured textile equipment,” he says. “We moved back home when I was ten. I grew up loving food and cooking, so when I turned eighteen, I chose to enter the culinary profession. I was fortunate to apprentice at some [of the top] properties in Zurich, and [at] Hotel Jungfrau Victoria in Interlaken. I also worked at Switzerland’s [then] only Michelin Star restaurant, Chez Max, a nouvelle cuisine venue.” He grins at a memory: “I arrived at Chez Max for an interview, but I never saw or spoke to the chef, although I did eat his food—for two hours—while [unbeknownst to Jurg] he watched me from the kitchen.” To his surprise, he says, “I got the job!”
In 1986, Jurg accepted an executive sous chef position at the Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong. He’d been at the job for two weeks when the executive chef left for vacation, and Jurg found himself in charge of the hotel’s six restaurants, room service and catering, and managing eight sous chefs and 150 cooks. Jurg says, “Somehow I survived those two weeks, but it was really crazy!” A year later, he was promoted to executive chef of the property.
They moved to Maui in 1997, and I can’t help asking them why. In my mind, relocating from Hong Kong to Maui would be like switching from a flashy, high-performance Maserati to a friendly but funky VW bus. Jurg says it happened in advance of the July 1997 “Hand-over,” when the United Kingdom transferred sovereignty over Hong Kong to the People’s Republic of China. By then, nearly a million people had emigrated from Hong Kong.