Chef and restaurateur Chai Chaowasaree has been named executive chef for Hawaiian Airlines under a two-year, renewable contract, the value of which was not disclosed.
In addition to Singha Thai Cuisine in Waikiki and Chai’s Island Bistro at Aloha Tower Marketplace, Chai is a cookbook author and hosts "Dining Out with Chai," which airs at 5:30 p.m. Saturdays on KFVE-TV. He has been devising the Hawaiian fusion menus for the past two to three months.
"We use fresh, local ingredients, and so far the menu is fantastic. Very colorful, lots of textures," Chaowasaree said.
The menus are for different routes and different classes and lunch and dinner will be presented as five-course meals. In business class, the five courses will include gravlax salmon roulade with crab meat and cream cheese on a seedless cucumber chip with fresh dill; roasted butternut squash and lobster bisque with a crispy seafood dumpling; salad and entree choices including grilled fresh Hawaiian fish with lobster cream sauce; grilled Mongolian-style beef tenderloin with merlot demi-glace; or a vegetarian penne pasta arrabiata.
Chai’s menus take off Nov. 17 when the airline inaugurates service to Haneda International Airport in Tokyo, and will expand to the rest of Hawaiian’s flights Jan. 1, and to the flights to Seoul that begin Jan. 12.
"Chef Chai brings a fresh, pan-Asian approach to cuisine that is a reflection of Hawaii’s diverse cultural influences and the perfect complement to Hawaiian’s growing international service," said Blaine Miyasato, airline vice president of product development, in a statement.
Chaowasaree has learned about how different airborne food service is from his ground-bound venues. Foods are served in certain dishes, from, say, Honolulu to Japan: "On the way back, you have to use the same dishes." He wanted to serve soup in a square bowl on the Honolulu-to-Haneda route, but for Haneda-to-Honolulu, "Japanese don’t do square."
The weight of the dishes used also must be considered to help manage fuel costs — seriously. "Everything has to be calculated," he said.
Chaowasaree and his staff are training the many hands that will prepare and serve the meals aboard Hawaiian flights. Some 38 classes were scheduled for everyone from flight attendants to members of the culinary staff at Gate Gourmet, a Switzerland-based company that provides catering and provisioning services for airlines and railroads. It operates on five continents and serves 200 million meals annually.
Hawaii-based Chuck Furuya, master sommelier and partner in the D.K. Restaurant group, has been appointed by Hawaiian to complement Chaowasaree’s meals with wine pairings. "Chuck’s so knowledgeable, not just the wine, he knows about food and service," Chaowasaree said. (Furuya is a contributing writer for the "By the Glass" column in the Star-Advertiser and his columns run the first Wednesday of each month.)
Chaowasaree succeeds Bev Gannon after her 11-year run with Hawaiian. Gannon is an acclaimed Maui chef and restaurateur, and multiple James Beard Award nominee. She also was a charter member of Hawaii Regional Cuisine Inc., a group of chefs who along with impresario Shep Gordon evangelized Hawaii’s cuisine scene and promoted local ingredients beginning in 1992.
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Erika Engle is a reporter with the Star-Advertiser. Reach her by e-mail at email@example.com.