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Maui chef to vie in Taste of Waldorf Astoria

  • CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARADVERTISER.COM

    Chef Chris Kajioka.

  • COURTESY PHOTO

    Chef Ryan Urig.

The third annual Taste of Waldorf Astoria program, in partnership with the James Beard Foundation, will involve a Hawaii chef, as it did the first year.

Executive Chef Ryan Urig of Grand Wailea, a Waldorf Astoria Resort, is paired with Irene Li, chef and co-owner of Mei Mei Restaurant Group in Boston, a James Beard rising star chef semifinalist.

The rising star candidates and their executive chef mentors must create two small bites to pair with a cocktail and mocktail (alcohol-free drink).

The nominated chefs will travel to their mentors’ hotels to work on their entries, and teams will compete in February in New York, where a panel of judges will name a winner. The winning bites and beverages will be featured in the launch of a happy hour, called “Fifth Hour” at all 26 Waldorf Astoria properties worldwide.

Boston and Hawaii have great seafood, which might be something worth tying in, Urig said.

The Wailea Waldorf culinary team will take Li on a tour to “walk in the farms, meet with some of our farmers and learn how they grow for us,” he said. “People are looking for fresh, local and organic, so we want to make sure we’re tying this together.”

Chris Kajioka, a 2014 rising star chef semifinalist, was selected for the inaugural Taste of Waldorf event. He said he lucked out in getting paired with Pierre Gagnaire, the Waldorf Astoria master chef who oversees 11 restaurants around the world, including the Michelin-starred Les Solistes in Berlin, where Kajioka worked with his mentor.

“He’s like, one of my idols,” he said. “He’s a chef I revered, growing up … I’ve always wanted to meet chef Gagnaire, and to be able to work next to him … is pretty mind-blowing.”

Gagnaire doesn’t speak much English, and Kajioka speaks zero German, but “we speak food,” Kajioka said. “I trained in a French kitchen, and the movements are the same.”

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