It’s the news that shook up the foodie world this week.
Chef Chris Kajioka, the James Beard semifinalist who made fine dining in Hawaii a magical experience, is leaving Vintage Cave Honolulu this summer.
The 31-year-old Iolani grad is leaving on amicable terms to spend more time with his wife and 6-month-old son.
And replacing him — if that’s even possible — will be four distinguished chefs that represent different culinary disciplines, according to a news release that circulated this week. These chefs haven’t yet been named, but the restaurant says some of them have earned Michelin stars. And the restaurant, which opened in December 2012 to much ado and anticipation, will go through its own changes, too. It plans to open a sushi bar in July that seats six people, with tables for 10 or more.
Still, Vintage Cave won’t be the same.
So I texted Kajioka — OK, I pretty much bugged him — to find out what’s up.
Here’s what he had to say:
1. You’re leaving — and so soon? After all the accolades and awards, what made you decide this was the right time to leave? It couldn’t have been an easy decision.
It’s been a year and a half to this point. I started when the restaurant wasn’t even completed yet, so I feel extremely proud of what we accomplished in this span of time. We were very fortunate to receive so much local and national attention, and of course the national accolades are a direct result of my staff. I have been so fortunate to have passionate people who only wanted to learn and grow. Ever since my son was born, I had been thinking of trying to spend more time with family. Having a kid changes you and every part of my day I just think of how I can best be his father.
I was given this amazing opportunity which I am still humbled by. This job deserves someone who is there 24/7. It’s very chef-driven, very personal style of food. At this point, time with my son meant a lot more to me than being the chef.
2. How hard is it to balance a professional culinary career, especially at the level you’re at, with your family?
Balancing a family and a chef job is extremely difficult. I am lucky that my wife controls the household. She allows me to just have to concentrate on cooking. I am very lucky in that regard.
3. What was the most rewarding part of working at Vintage Cave? What will you recall fondly?
Vintage Cave was my first head chef job. It’s very gratifying to see how much we accomplished during this time. The growth of the cooks and front of the house. Most of my cooks have never cooked fine dining food, but worked so hard to become the reason for the success. My sous chef David Lukela is a perfect example of someone who came in very green and is leaving one of the best cooks I have worked with. All through hardwork. He is a reflection of me. And also, I have been able to have many new friendships through the collaboration dinners. Many of the chefs have become really great friends. It allowed us as a kitchen to learn a new style and see how the best young chefs in the nation really operate. It was really invaluable.
4. What’s next for you?
I am going to take some time off and just be a father. I also have a stage set up with Chef Jeremy Fox in LA. I have also started to think about making my dream restaurant a reality. I really feel like I am ready to opening something very personal, approachable and hopefully just delicious. I want everyone to be able to come and eat.
5. So I have to know, where are your favorite places to eat and what are your vices?
I love Izakaya Gaku. Huge fan of Manabu san. I also love Yakiniku Seoul. In my opinion, its the best Korean food. I am also very fortunate to be a part of a young food scene that is blowing up. I love MW, anything that Gooch (Mark Noguchi) cooks, Pig and the Lady, town and am a big fan of Sheldon (Simeon). Vices? Lots of coffee and Drumstick ice cream cones with caramel.
Kajioka is serving a 14-course degustation menu for $295. Call 441-1744 or visit vintagecave.com.