Senia chef to direct culinary operations for Ward Village
Chris Kajioka, chef and co-owner of Senia, has been named Ward Village chef, directing culinary operations for the entire 60-acre complex.
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Chris Kajioka is co-owner of one of Honolulu’s preeminent restaurants, Senia. He spends many an evening catering private events, is culinary director for the Hotel Wailea on Maui (with a restaurant on the property) and is working toward the October opening of Bar Maze, his Kakaako collaboration. Right now he’s in Tokyo for three events. Plus, he has a 5-year-old he’s trying to coax toward culinary heights greater than pizza.
You know what this guy needs? Another job. Howard Hughes Corp. has given him one, as Ward Village chef, directing culinary operations for the entire 60-acre complex.
“Yeah, another job,” Kajioka said. “I like staying busy, though. Busy is good.”
The newly created position encompasses all of Ward’s dining spots — from high-end restaurants to food trucks — as well as markets and culinary events. Anything that involves chewing, basically, throughout the Ward universe, from Ward Centre to South Shore Market to the open space that used to be Ward Warehouse.
It’s a universe already home to more than 30 eating spots, including Peter Merriman’s Honolulu restaurant, the trendy Piggy Smalls and Nobu Honolulu, as well as ice cream shops, coffee stops, poke spots and a twice-a-week farmers market.
Kajioka’s role stretches from advising on additions to the complex, to food and beverage offerings at community events, to overseeing private Howard Hughes functions. He may even open his own restaurant in the area, he said.
So, yeah, he’s busy.
The operative word defining Kajioka’s new job is “curate,” as in defining a culinary identity for the complex and helping bring in businesses and set standards to achieve that goal.
“You’re leading a development through food,” he said. “I think that’s what brings a community together.”
His vision, Kajioka said: “Curating a neighborhood where you can find a lot of local shops and local food businesses as well as businesses from all over America.”
He added: “Every dynamic food city is also built upon a great farmers market, so the intention is to keep growing that aspect.”
Simon Treacy, Hawaii president of the Howard Hughes Corp., the developer of Ward Village, said it made sense to bring in someone to chart the course as the complex’s food profile grows. Treacy said he sought “a respected chef to curate what will hopefully be a world-class culinary experience.”
Kajioka’s experience at acclaimed restaurants (including Per Se in New York and Vintage Cave in Honolulu) gives him a good perspective on both local and national markets, he said. “He has a sense of food that takes us forward.”
He also has the temperament to guide an endeavor of this scale, Treacy said. “He’s a guy who’s very calming, very thoughtful.”
Kajioka, 36, opened Senia with partners Anthony Rush and Katherine Nomura just 2-1/2 years ago, yet the restaurant has grown “very sustainable,” with a strong staff under Jeff Hayashi, chef de cuisine, he said.
He and Rush have separate projects set for opening this year. Kajioka’s Bar Maze pairs his food with the craft cocktails of Justin Park and Tom Park of Bar Leather Apron, set to open in December in the Collection, a condominium tower in Kakaako. Rush is working to open Podmore, also cocktail-driven, in the historic Joseph W. Podmore building downtown.
Senia will always be special to them — “our baby,” Kajioka said. “But from the beginning, that wasn’t going to be the end-all, be-all for us. We both have a lot of creativity in us where we want to pursue other projects.”
Coming up at Ward: Two restaurants are being explored for possible opening later this year, Treacy said. He wouldn’t detail much about them, except that they’d be casual sit-down restaurants, and “a new type of cuisine for Ward.”
Kajioka said he could bring his own entry to the Ward roster, but it wouldn’t be a high-end affair like Senia. His son Cade would be more of a target audience than Honolulu gourmets. The 5-year-old is “super picky,” Kajioka said.
Winning over diners like him would be a worthy challenge. “I think my next restaurant is definitely going to be something low-key, for the family.”