I talked recently with Chef Greg Gaspar at the Sheraton Maui Resort to ask him about his early introduction to cooking and the influences that have defined his culinary philosophy. We sat oceanside at Sheraton’s Cliff Dive Grill with its stunning view of Black Rock and Ka’anapali Beach. Born and raised in San Francisco, Gaspar traveled to Maui as a young man and, within two weeks, decided to make the island his home. Today, he leads the distinguished dining program at the Sheraton Maui with its two signature restaurants, Teppan-yaki Dan and Black Rock Kitchen, as well as two poolside restaurants and bars – the Cliff Dive Grill and the Mai Tai Bar. His skills and expertise prompted the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau to send Gaspar as one of several celebrity chefs to the 2004 Olympics to highlight Hawaii as a culinary destination. Chef Gaspar has cooked for local and national television audiences including the CBS Morning Show, NBC Los Angeles, FOX Atlanta and many more. He joined the Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa’s culinary team in November of 2010.
Our food tastes most often begin in the home. What are some of your earliest memories?
GG: As the youngest of six children, I was literally raised in the kitchen by my Filipino mother where, early on, I learned how to slice vegetables. She began tutoring me when I was just six years old. Her specialty was Southern Filipino cooking. She used all natural ingredients with lots of garlic, onions, soy. She was famous for her desserts too. One was made with sweet coconut rice using hand grated coconut, brown sugar and fresh coconut milk.
For Filipinos, food is more than a pleasurable pursuit; it is an important way for us to express our cultural roots. GG:Then, when I was old enough to work outside the home, my training continued in South San Francisco with Orlando Ramirez, a master chef, who took me under his wing for two years after I graduated from El Camino High School. Orlando has now passed on and gone to heaven. Back then in the early 1990s, Orlando taught me to plan ahead by tasking me with acquiring daily all the fresh produce he needed for his 65-seat restaurant. He would hand me a $20 bill and send me off to the local farmers’ market to purchase the freshest ingredients. That was valuable to me not only from a practical viewpoint but from a personal one because, for Filipinos, food is more than a pleasurable pursuit; it’s an important way for us to express our cultural roots. After working with Orlando, I studied classical French cuisine in a French kitchen.
How would you define your cuisine today?
GG: It’s evolved over the years with an emphasis on Pacific Rim flavors and influences from the California coast, China, the Philippines, Japan. I’d call it a combination of classical and local. My Filipino roots and background fit well because I focus on natural flavors and ingredients such as fresh fish and light garnishes that don’t mask the true flavors of the food. The ingredients are so important. Upcountry Maui with its volcanic soil is a prime growing medium for all kinds of herbs. We work with local farmers including a lavender grower and a goat cheese dairy. Produce from all over Hawaii is abundant. Fusion of Filipino, Japanese and Chinese cuisines fits perfectly with the historical engagement of these communities in the growth and development of agriculture on Maui. Now, with a strong focus on farm-to-table and educating growers as to the needs of our kitchen, the warm welcoming Aloha tradition of Hawaiian cultural fusion continues to flourish.
If you had to name a signature dish, what would it be?
GG: I love fresh ahi. A dish of thinly sliced ahi with jalapenos, lemon zest, capers, truffle oil that allows the diner to taste all the flavors, a dish with no or little accompaniments such as starches and no heavy sauces to mask the flavors; this is one I always love to have on the menu.
What qualities define a top chef?
GG: Top chefs are well rounded in the kitchen. They need patience along with skill. It’s very important to have a well-trained staff. A top chef understands and utilizes his staff to let them come out on their own; helps them develop their creativity. It’s important to have an open mind and maintain a creative spirit.
Greg remains true to his mother’s philosophy of letting the virtues and natural flavors of local ingredients speak for themselves. His family’s early passion for expression of caring through cuisine now embraces each and every visitor who dines at one of Sheraton Maui’s fine restaurants. The resort goals include possible additional new restaurant view spaces to further enhance and support local cuisine. With Greg at the helm, Sheraton Maui can rest assured it is being guided by a lifelong student of fine dining experiences. For more information, visit www.sheraton-maui.com.
Recipe: Braised Short Ribs: Serves 4
2 lb. Beef Short Ribs (Boneless)
1 cup onion, chopped
½ cup celery, chopped
½ cup carrot, chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 tsp. thyme (fresh), chopped
2 bay leaf (whole)
1 cup red wine
3 cups beef stock
1 ½ oz. salad oil
Kosher salt to taste
Black pepper (coarse) to taste
To prepare, rinse off short ribs (lightly) with water, pat dry with paper towel.
Season with kosher salt & coarse black pepper.
Brown short ribs in olive oil on high heat in skillet or sauté pan until golden brown, place in roasting pan for braising.
Pour off grease from skillet after browning short ribs, reserving some oil for browning off mire pox (onion, carrot and celery).
Brown off mire pox, add garlic, thyme, and bay leaf.
Deglaze pan with red wine, add mixture to short ribs in medium size roasting pan.
Add beef stock to cover all beef short ribs.
Cover roasting pan with 3 pieces of aluminum foil.
Place in 275 degree oven for 150 minutes.
When finished, remove boneless short ribs from hotel pan, place in refrigerator for cooling.
Braising liquid, skim off fat, run liquid through fine mesh strainer. Reserve liquid for reheating short ribs or use for sauce.
For sauce, reduce braising liquid by 1/3.
Braised Short Ribs of Beef is a signature dish at Black Rock Kitchen. It’s made using local farmed raised beef from Maui, sweet Maui Onions, and local vegetables and herbs. The fork-tender boneless beef short ribs are dressed in a rich port wine sauce, soy ginger glaze and garnished with a scallion tomato relish. The Braised Short Ribs of Beef is served with butter whipped mashed potatoes. Click Here to see Chef Gaspar’s cooking demonstration: http://bit.ly/ZYezRq:
Related Article: Read more about Hawaii here: http://epicureandestinations.com/hawaii-seeing-oahu-through-a-photographers-eyes/