In the nearly quarter of a century since Chef Roy Yamaguchi opened his first
Roy’s restaurant on O‘ahu his name has become synonymous with Hawai‘i
Regional cuisine. Chef Roy was born and raised in Japan before attending
the Culinary Institute of America. Upon graduation, Chef Roy worked in Los
Angeles for 11 years including two and a half years in the kitchen of L‘Ermitage.
There he was exposed to top European chefs who taught him, among other
things, that there were many different kinds of kitchens and many different ways
to be a chef.
Soon after moving to Hawai‘i, Chef Roy embarked on a journey that would
eventually lead to over 30 Roy’s restaurants in eight states, Guam and Japan.
During those early days, Chef Roy was one of first chefs to create Hawai‘i
Regional cuisine, which utilized fresh, local products and supported Hawai‘i’s
farmers by assuring farmers that the chefs would buy as much as they could
Using the model of California cuisine in its heyday, Chef Roy helped define a
taste that represents the excitement of modern cooking in Hawai‘i around the
Roy’s Poipu Bar & Grill has been a South Shore favorite on Kaua‘i for years,
and in 2010, Chef Roy opened The Tavern at Princeville—what he describes as
a place that serves great comfort food at moderate prices. The Tavern, open for
lunch and dinner, serves Roy’s own personal favorites like fried chicken, beef
stew, short ribs, Croque Madame sandwiches—perfect for meeting friends or
after a day at the beach.
At what point did you know you were going to become a career chef?
When I was working at L’Ermitage I realized that is what I wanted to do more
than anything. I wanted to be a chef that made great sauces and created great
What elements of Japanese cuisine and culinary aesthetics are found in Roy’s
I use the symmetry, freshness and seasonality [of Japanese cuisine] but I am into
bold Asian flavors rather than subtle ones. I add my personality, which is a lot
wilder and I infuse the flavors of the places I have visited.
How have concerns about fish stocks, sustainability and food security impacted
It’s a daily concern. I am a firm believer in everything sustainable. There are
times we can’t get fish. Offshore cage fish farms [for lobster, moi, Kampachi]
are a great way to combat those elements. We try to utilize as much local fish as
With so many restaurants all over the country, how do you maintain consistency?
The most important thing is people—that’s the key. People who have the same
vision and philosophy.
How much time do you actually cook these days?
Quite a bit, actually. About fifty percent of my time.
How do you keep the concept of Hawai‘i fusion cuisine fresh?
The main thing is that our restaurants are built on creativity and fresh
ingredients. Food is ever evolving; it’s alive. To survive we have to be creative
and do things differently.
I love being a chef in Hawai‘i because…
I love to utilize the ingredients I can pick from my backyard. I have the ocean
and the land so wherever I turn I can find great ingredients.
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