Roy Yamaguchi, chef/owner
6600 Kalanaianaole Hwy.
Chefs have become our latest genre of superstars. That much is afact. But I've often wondered why chefs should be singled out forsuperstardom more than, say, auto mechanics or CPAs. Why shouldn'tthere be a television show called Iron Dentist, in which three oralsurgeons compete to perform the fastest root canals and mostelaborate bridgework? I guess chefs get the nod because cooking issexy, while rebuilding transmissions, analyzing balance sheets, andpulling teeth aren't.
Among the hottest of today's superstar chefs is Roy Yamaguchi.Aside from starring in his own PBS television series, Hawaii Cooks,where for seven seasons he's shared Hawaiian culture and cuisinewith the rest of us, Yamaguchi also gets to rub shoulders with topHollywood movie- and music-biz celebrities - he's cooked alongsideKevin Costner in Aspen (where the leading man played sous-chef andnearly flambéed his own goatee off). Yamaguchi was also drafted tocook, along with Roy's New York chef James Dangler, for one of thisyear's Grammy Awards after-parties.
The son of a career military man from Maui and his Okinawan wife,Yamaguchi was brought up in a tricultural milieu - part Japanese,part Hawaiian, and part mainstream American. He was born in Tokyoand lived there until the age of 17. His grandfather owned a tavernin Wailuku, Maui, and the young Yamaguchi spent time discoveringthe bounty of Hawaiian seafood on visits there with his parents.When he enrolled at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park,New York, he got his first exposure to French classicaltraining.
After graduation, he opted for a laid-back Southern Californialifestyle - if professional cooking can ever be consideredlaid-back. He took an apprenticeship at L'Ermitage in Los Angeleswith chef Jean Bertranou, whom Yamaguchi thinks of to this day ashis mentor. "I learned more there in two and a half years than Icould have anywhere else."
Roy's own eclectic style of cooking finally came into bloom in 1984when he opened his first restaurant, 385 North, on La CienegaBoulevard in West Hollywood. Combining Californian, French,Japanese, and Hawaiian flavors seemed perfectly natural toYamaguchi, who considered his cooking at the time "the nextevolutionary step."