executive chef | James Babian
Growing up in the kitchen of his father’s Connecticut supper club, Four Seasons
Resort Hualälai Executive Chef James Babian never dreamed he would be overseeing
the kitchens of one of the world’s most lauded luxury resorts—and in Hawai‘i no less.
Tremendous passion and talent propelled him to the post four years ago; and his
enthusiasm and creativity have infused the resort’s culinary program with non-stop
energy and innovation.
At the core is his mantra: “Seasonal, regional, artisanal.” We sat down with Chef
James recently for a preview of what’s on the menu for 2011 and he dished up some
exciting news. Continuing with the “plant to plate,” farm to table concept he introduced
in 1997, Chef James is busy developing winter seasonal menus for both Beach Tree
and Pahu i‘a restaurants (among the featured dishes is an assortment of Hawai‘i wild
boar preparations) and introducing a new and expanded sushi menu at Lava Lounge.
Also on Chef’s front burner, perfecting plans for an annual series of cooking classes for
hotel guests and resort residents. Without pinning a specific date to the 2011 debut of
the program, he promises classes will definitely begin “sometime” in the coming year
with Four Seasons’ talented team of chefs sharing culinary secrets on a rotating basis
year-round. We can’t wait to sneak a peak at what will certainly be standing room only
How do you get inspired to be creative in coming up with new creations to keep your
guests coming back for more?
We have some wonderful outstanding, young chefs—and our entire team continually challenges each other to create amazing food. I continue to work closely with the
agricultural community here to improve existing products and continue to grow new and
exciting things. With the best ingredients, and the talent of our culinary team, we have
endless opportunities to come up with new creations and keep our guests coming back
What advice or tips would you give to your diners to get the best experience in your
The menus are designed to be able to be shared and enjoyed. Again, with all
the amazing ingredients available here, there are endless tastes and textures to
experience—I encourage dining on small plates, allowing the opportunity to taste more
of what we offer.
What are some of your favorite local products?
There are so many amazing products here, it’s hard to choose just a few. But on the
list are Hamakua mushrooms, pipinola shoots, Surinam cherries, watermelon radish,
there are some phenomenal tomatoes available, wild boar—so much more—everything
here is incredible. We work with over 160 farms on the island, and we’re putting out
about 75% local product on our plates.
What Hawaiian product can you not live without?
Hawaiian sea salts. This is something I use every day and would have a hard time
without. We use ‘alaea, Kona Deep Sea, Molokai Black Salt and occasionally we get
the real deal harvested right off the rocks.
You have made numerous media appearances and won many awards, what has been
the biggest honor in your culinary career?
Being recognized by Hawaii Tropical Fruit Growers earlier this year, for our efforts and
support in sustainability in using local agriculture. This one hits close to home, and
really pays credit to the team and what we have been able to do here on the Big Island,
so it means a lot to us and is a tribute to our culinary philosophy.
What legacy would you like to leave behind?
Passing of the craft…I’m very lucky to have a career in which I get to teach and
share my passion. That has a lot to do with my success as a chef, and where I get
a tremendous amount of satisfaction from. It’s incredibly fulfilling to play a part in
shaping the career of our younger chefs.
What or who influences you the most in your creations?
Our culinary philosophy is “seasonal, regional, artisanal” and our food is most
influenced by what is in season, absolutely fresh and at its best.
Pahu i‘a is open for dinner 5: 30 to 8:30pm Sunday-Friday. Surf, Sand and Stars, a beach barbecue
with live band, hula, astronomy and delectable food, is offered on Saturdays. Reservations are
recommended for Pahu i‘a (808) 325-8000. Beach Tree is more relaxed with al fresco dining steps
away from the Pacific. Both restaurants are located at the Four Seasons Resort Hualälai.