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In the Kitchen: Fresh from the islands
Seafood takes a prominent place on the menus at Hilton Hawaiian Village Beach Resort & Spa
By Joan M. Lang
July 01, 2008
Kona Kampachi, moi, ono, ahi - even the seafood sounds
different in Hawaii. As the executive chef of the upscale
Hilton Hawaiian Village Beach Resort & Spa in Honolulu,
Daniel LaGarde is determined that guests experience the
island's fish. A native of Montreal, LaGarde came to the five
diamond property two years ago to head up a $50 million-plus
food and beverage operation that includes the signature Bali by
the Sea restaurant, as well as the more casual Village Steak
& Seafood, Rainbow Lanai and Tapa Café, plus a high-volume
special event and catering operation. (In addition to these
Hilton restaurants, Hilton Hawaiian Village is home to a number
of outside foodservice venues, including Benihana of Tokyo,
Hatsuhana and Round Table Pizza.)
The panoply of choices is necessary, considering that at any
given time, there might be 9,000 to 10,000 guests on the
property; there are 2,800 rooms (another 350 are scheduled to
be added later this year), and the average guest stay is six to
"During that time, they will have eaten in several different
restaurants, and we want to give our guests as many different
experiences as possible," says the chef. "Most people who come
to Hawaii want to taste all the local specialties, and so our
menus are designed with that in mind."
The menu at the Pacific Rim-style Bali is almost 70 percent
seafood, highlighting such local specialties as Big Island
Abalone with Hamakua tomato confit and garlic beurre blanc;
Hawaiian Ahi Poke (a type of seasoned raw fish) with Maui
onions, avocado, ogo seaweed and spicy aioli; and Orange Miso
Glazed Kona Kampachi with warm lentil salad, marinated Hauula
tomatoes, Big Island hearts of palm, pea shoot slaw and mango
vinaigrette. The bill of fare at The Village Steak &
Seafood includes Coconut Macadamia Nut Prawns with mango ginger
sauce, grilled mahimahi, sautéed island snapper and Shrimp
Alfredo Pasta (with both tiger and rock shrimp). The Rainbow
Lanai and Tapa Café feature elaborate buffets as well as
sandwiches, pan-seared ahi, macadamia-crusted mahimahi and a
fresh catch of the day.
In recent years, with local seafood such as onaga (red
snapper) and opakapaka (pink snapper) on strict quotas to
protect the fisheries, LaGarde has turned to alternatives.
"We don't want to serve frozen fish or imports, so we're
looking at other sources." Farmed species such as Kona Kampachi
(Hawaiian yellowtail), moi (Pacific threadfin) and abalone have
all found places on the menu, part of a growing aquaculture
industry in the islands.
In addition, LaGarde seeks out sources for locally raised
produce such as local lettuces, heirloom tomatoes and tropical
fruits, particularly the Big Island's prolific North Shore -
also the source of local shrimp. And several times a year, he
and his culinary staff arrange regular Chef's Market tours that
hotel guests and local residents can take to such destinations
as papaya plantations, organic farms and the Honolulu Fish
"Many people don't know where their food comes from," he
explains. "They know fish comes from the ocean, but all the
steps in between are a mystery. Visiting these places helps
them appreciate what goes into the food on their plates."
Although LaGarde is tapped in to local sources, the
purchasing itself is handled centrally on behalf of all eight
Hilton-owned properties in Hawaii. "The chefs on each property
work with purchasing to establish the specs and get bids from
the major suppliers," notes LaGarde. "That way, we get the
maximum purchasing power and the most favorable pricing - and
the best quality."
The company is currently working with two seafood suppliers
- Tropics Seafood & Fish and Fresh Island Fish - for all of
its needs. The properties can go outside contract to approved
secondary suppliers, but only if the primary supplier is out of
something or can't provide the quality needed - something that
rarely happens, since the purchasing department conducts
inspections of each prospective supplier in order to ensure
that the hotels' needs can be met.
With four separate towers spread along 22 acres, Hilton
Hawaiian Village is, as the name suggests, its own little
self-sufficient community. Most of the seafood comes in whole
and is received, butchered and held in a central on-site
production facility, with a dedicated staff that ensures
consistent quality control and handling.
"That way, we can be sure that every product, not just
seafood, is held to the highest quality standards," notes
LaGarde. From here, the che f of each dining venue, including
banquets and catering, requisition only as much as they need
for any given day or function.
"We want to make sure we keep the lowest possible par levels
to ensure high turnover and freshness," says LaGarde. Fish for
the seasonal daily catch, such as swordfish or habe (similar to
spearfish) is also utilized for room service and on the buffets
at The Rainbow Lanai, in order to serve it at the peak of
freshness. Items that perform well as specials may find their
way onto the regular menu. And, in addition to the a la carte
menu at the flagship Bali by the Sea, there is a monthly
changing five-course Chef's Tasting Menu that serves an
important function in moving specials into test mode.
LaGarde admits that seafood is his favorite product to work
with. "Beef is beef, but there are so many different species of
fish and shellfish, each with a different flavor and texture,"
he says. Working with the chefs of each restaurant to ideate
menu items, he takes into consideration each species'
character, and seeks to find sauces, garnishes and
accompaniments that complement rather than overwhelm it.
"You have to understand what each fish is like, and how it
responds to different cooking methods and flavor profiles. Too
many chefs want to put all kinds of different things on the
plate, but I believe that with seafood, less is more."
Contributing Editor Joan M. Lang lives in Cape Elizabeth,