Alan Wong's Chef De Cuisine Wade Ueoka, Rising Star

An Exclusive Interview with the Man Wong Trusts with the Reigns

Alan Wong's Chef De Cuisine Wade Ueoka, Rising Star

Eleven years ago, Wade Ueoka left his position behind a grill at Zippy's to wash dishes at a new restaurant called Alan Wong's. He was fresh out of high school, the furthest he'd traveled had been Hilo. Last fall, between trips to Singapore and Kyoto, he slid in to the "Chef de Cuisine" position at Wong's, becoming the first other than Wong himself to manage the kitchen at one of Hawaii's top rated eateries. As he prepares for his second "Next Generation Dinner", in which Wong allows up and coming chefs the chance to create and execute their own menu, we caught up with Ueoka

B on Hawaii: Please share with our readers where you grew up and what role food played in your upbringing.

Chef Wade Ueoka: I grew up in Kailua, and my Mom cooked dinner for me and my family every Sunday. During the week we would go out to eat and my Dad was the only adventurous diner. He would be the one to go out and try and find different things to eat. When I was younger I was not so adventurous. Since I began working at Alan Wong's, I've been exposed to so many different foods. It's really exciting.

B: How long have you been working with Alan Wong?

WU: I just made my 11-year anniversary working at Alan Wong's Restaurant. I was hired as a dishwasher and worked my way up to Chef de Cuisine over the years.

B: Tell us what attracted you to working with Chef Wong when you first began. How about now? Has your perception evolved to a different appreciation level?

WU: I was working at Zippy's out of High School, so when I first started I didn't know what to expect; someone just told me about a new restaurant. I was really lucky: I came into a restaurant with a lot of talented people who cared about me, and what I did there. Now I try to pass on what I have learned and try to give that same feeling to the others. Working at the restaurant has provided so many opportunities for myself as well as others. One of which is traveling. Never in my life would I imagine traveling to places such as Singapore or Japan. Chef Alan provides such opportunities because when he travels as a featured chef he always brings somebody from therestaurant. Not many people know this, and it's an amazing opportunity for the younger chefs.

B: What, exactly, are your duties as the "head man on the line" at Alan Wong's on King Street? How does that differ from before?

WU: My responsibility is all food production, which includes maintaining our standards of quality in the restaurant. I have a staff of 20 that I oversee, and for me that's been the most challenging but also the most joyful part of working at the restaurant.

B: How often do you convene with Chef Wong to go over the current menu? What is your responsibility level for what is coming out on the plate on a given night at Alan Wong's?

WU: As Chef de Cuisine, I am the chef of the kitchen. I now expedite the kitchen line nightly where Chef Alan used to. By him stepping off the line nightly, he affords us the opportunity to refine our craft and advance within the kitchen. We have something called "Menu Development" that happens weekly where I cook with Chef Alan. In "Menu Development" we will experiment with new ideas in hopes to come up with a dish for a special. If the special sells well we will place it on the regular menu. These sessions allow me to develop our ideas together. On a daily basis it is part of my responsibility to taste and help the cooks improve their special before going on the daily specials menu.

B: Tell us about one of the dishes you introduced to the menu. How do you come up with new dishes? Is Chef Wong receptive to your new creations? Are you allowed to plate a special idea, or is that strictly up to Chef Wong?

WU: One of the dishes I introduced to the menu is the Mochi Crusted Opaka. Chef Alan encourages us to cook from what we know and are comfortable with, and elevate the dish from there. Around New Year's my mom always took the left over mochi and cooked it many different ways. My favorite way of eating Mochi was when she would deep fry it and we would eat it with shoyu and sugar. For the Mochi Crusted Opaka we grate the mochi very fine and pack it onto a fillet of Opaka, then pan fry it on both sides so it's crispy. We serve it with Wasabi Kabayaki sauce next to a little side dish of Hamakua mushroom nametake risotto. Chef Alan is very supportive of me creating new dishes and helps guide me to improve my creations. I am allowed to showcase my new creations through something that we call "Next Generation Dinners", where I or even one of my staff members creates the menu tasting for that evening. I have a close relationship with Chef Alan, he always challenges me to strive to do better. What I like mostabout our relationship is that he always has ideas to give me to make something better or has another idea for me to try.

B: Outside of the workplace, where are your three favorite places to eat out on Oahu?

WU: Sorabol [on Keeaumoku], since they're still open after we finish work, and Side Street for relaxing with friends.

B: Do you foresee opening your own restaurant someday"

WU: Hopefully one day I would get the opportunity to do so.

"By him [Wong] stepping off the line nightly, he affords us the opportunity to refine our craft and advance within the kitchen."