Jason Koppinger Becomes Nation's Youngest Certified Master Chef

Jason Koppinger Becomes Nation's Youngest Certified Master Chef

Chef Jason Koppinger of the Outrigger Keauhou Beach Resort is officially the youngest certified master chef in the United States. The distinction, as classified by the American Culinary Federation and the Culinary Institute of America in New York, has been granted to less than 80 chefs nationwide.

Thirty years old and hailing from the Caribbean Island of Trinidad, Koppinger island-hopped his way to Manhattan, where his father was born and raised, before arriving in Hawaii.

"My dream was two-fold: To work on a cruise ship as a chef, and then to live and work in Hawaii," Koppinger told B on Hawaii during a meeting at the 2005 Kona Coffee Festival, which is held at the Outrigger Keauhou. He thrived on the experience of 16-hour days aboard a Royal Caribbean cruise ship, which he managed for 4 years. But it was during the specialty dinners and captain's table presentations that Koppinger truly shined, according to the young chef.

During a visit to the Big Island of Hawaii, Koppinger met with the Kona-Kohala Coast American Certified Chefs organization, where members told him working on the Islands would certainly be a tad more mellow than the long days on a cruise ship. Although appealing to Koppinger, it was their talk of working with tropical fruits and agriculture that made the work most interesting. Within 6 months Koppinger had moved to the island.

"The Outrigger has guests that have been coming to the hotel for 30 years," Koppinger said, via a phone interview with B on Hawaii last week. "They've grown with the handful of chefs that have come and gone over time. But there was a lack of connection with local ingredients. I hired a few friends [also rather young; the property's executive sous chef is 22 years old], and we've spent the last half year re-working the menus, strengthening the relationships with local producers, and making the items more fun, overall."

He adds that while taking the hotel in to a positive margin for food revenue, he has managed to do so by cutting food costs yet still using better quality product.

When asked about what the certification of "Master Chef" did for his attitude behind a stove, Koppinger spoke candidly.

"I came back from the testing with a renewed energy, which I injected in to the staff. It's been a real positive thing for the whole food & beverage staff. It also gave me a much bigger picture view of cooking," he added.

Whether this rising star remains on the (lava) rock of Hawaii most likely depends on the attention he draws to the plates coming out of the Outrigger Keauhou's kitchen, which have been evolving daily. Koppinger did share with us that his "rather serious" better half is in the process of moving to Florida from the Caribbean--another destination [Florida] Koppinger admires and could see working in. With family in Orlando and Boca Raton, there's no telling how long Hawaii can conceal this culinary gem. For now, he's making fast friends with hungry visitors to the Big Island, creating quite the buzz on the otherwise sleepy shores of Keauhou Bay.

"My dream was two-fold: To work on a cruise ship as a chef, and then to live and work in Hawaii." –Koppinger