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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

Orange Miso Glazed Kona Kampachi is one local farmed
    fish on the Hilton menu. - Photo courtesy of 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 seven nights.

"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 Auction.

"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, Maine


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