Hawaii has turned a corner in its food culture. While gustatory relics such as Spam, greasy macaroni salads, and the endless parade of bad hotel buffets still exist, they've been nudged further out of the public consciousness by a groundswell of younger chefs eager to reconstruct the islands' culinary past.
That's not to say Hawaii hasn't had its share of culinary champions over the last couple decades. Twenty years ago a group of 12 chefs—among them current Hawaiian legends Alan Wong, George Mavrothalassitis, Roy Yamaguchi, and Mark Ellman—scratched the record on bad, mostly imported Hawaiian food, and composed quality dishes using local product.
Today, a new crop of Hawaiian Rising Star Chefs has taken up the tune, developing operatic odes to Italian, Asian, and French dishes, re-creating charcuterie in the island's less-than-ideal circumstances, and beating the drum loudly for sustainability. For mixologists, it's no longer about the size of the umbrella in the coconut coupe, but the delicacy of the drink. And sommeliers are, against all odds, pairing amazing classic and New World wines, despite the difficulty in getting some of those vintages to the far-flung islands.
This year we tasted savory dishes, desserts, cocktails, and wine pairings from more than 50 talented chefs, pastry chefs, mixologists, and sommeliers in Hawaii. Only 14 earned the title of Rising Star. So what makes them shine?
Rising Stars have attributes that make us believe they will be the future leaders of the country's culinary scene. Put simply, they're not just surviving the Hawaii restaurant industry, they're defining it with exciting cuisine, pours, and culinary concepts. So, without further ado, our 2012 Hawaii Rising Stars: who they are, why they shine, and how they're shaping the future of American cuisine.