A Sit-Down with Bar Acuda Chef-Owner Jim Moffat

Reveals Huge Plans for the Isle of Kaua`i, his passion for all things local and more

A Sit-Down with Bar Acuda Chef-Owner Jim Moffat

Jim Moffat has been quietly upping the ante on Kaua`i's food scene for nearly two years. Garden Isle residents, who have been forced to content with overpriced plate lunches, poor retail food outlets and semi-tolerable eateries, have been poised for a culinary boost—and Moffat is leading the charge. His Hanalei tapas lounge, Bar Acuda, has otherwise garnered a loyal following that cram the single room locale on a nightly basis.
    When we sat down to interview Moffat, it was 2 hours before opening time and the eatery was buzzing with sous chefs cutting, mixing and prepping. Moffat bounced between stations, tasting, making adjustments, and carefully making notes on a clip board. It was clear: He is no laissez faire restaurateur, of which there are plenty of throughout Hawaii. Moffat means business.
    By all means, he should. Moffat owned and operated two venerable San Francisco institutions: 42 Degrees (a jazz club with eloquent eats) and The Slow Club (an upscale, bistro-style cafe). But that was before he visited Kaua`i, deemed it paradise—albeit with no decent food options—and packed his bags.
    Moffat is so passionate about the food scene on Kaua`i, he's dove head-first in to it. This October, he will open Living Foods Kauai; a retail food market in a new commercial development in Poipu.
    Read on to hear about the mom and pop farmers Moffat will patronize, his hopes for working with Peter Merriman and how to order at Bar Acuda.

B on Hawaii:  The word "Tapas" and it's definition is the first thing patrons see on a giant chalkboard when they walk in the door. Are you making a statement here?

Jim Moffat:  When I had my two San Francisco restaurants, we did this thing where we had a "chalkboard menu". It was a rotating list of dishes made made from ingredients that found their way to my back door, that day. I always thought, imagine if could have a restaurant solely based on that menu, where everything was picked or caught that day.

B on Hawaii:  So that's the concept here at Bar Acuda?

Jim Moffat:  Essentially. This island has the biggest potential to grow or raise just about anything. There are also some really smart farmers here. But the communication has traditionally been really poor. And there isn't a great distributer network. So I've been spending most of my downtime, what little there is away from the restaurant, meeting these farmers, trying to give power back to them. By custom ordering and strong communication with the growers here, who are all really savvy people, we can support each other, and give a better dining experience to locals and visitors.

B on Hawaii:  That traditionally means a higher price tag for a decent restaurant experience here in Hawaii. Especially on Kaua`i, where everything seems to be magically a third more expensive than any other island.

Jim Moffat:  True. But I wanted a place where the locals could come in and order a plate of chorizo and a glass of wine for under $20. That's really our goal here. Affordable fare without any compromise in quality of ingredients.

B on Hawaii:  Before your two successful San Francisco restaurants, what was your cooking background?

Jim Moffat:  I was trained in Southern French and Italian, provincial-style fare. Country food. Hearty. Fresh. I've never strayed.

B on Hawaii:  How much of what you serve here at Bar Acuda is locally sourced?

Jim Moffat:  Almost 100%. Seriously.

B on Hawaii:  So I understand you have a considerable undertaking on the South Shore of this island, too.

Jim Moffat:  I'm opening a new market and cafe in the new development in Poipu, called Living Foods. It will be a collection of all the best items caught, raised and harvested on Kaua`i, as well as from around other islands. There will be a cafe that serves everything from homemade pizzas to crepes, charcuterie and more. We will roast our own coffee on site with beans collected from around Hawaii. We'll offer imported pastas and specialty items, which will most likely end up catering to the timeshare visitors, who tend to want to cook their own food while vacationing, but are OK spending a little more than they normally would at a market at home.

B on Hawaii:  We just visited the Kauai Coffee Estate, and were surprised to learn it's acreage tops all the Kona farms put together. It's massive! Who knew...

Jim Moffat:  There's a lot of coffee down there. But there's also a huge number of small producers who have, say, two Tahitian lemon trees in their backyard. We're going to drive around and pick up that stuff, quantities of produce that the distributers don't bother with.

B on Hawaii:  Will you see Merriman's as competition on the island?

Jim Moffat:  Absolutely not. I understand he's been so successful because he has been a constant champion of using local product. We're hoping he literally rolls his food cart in to Living Foods and buys from us. Any more established restaurateurs on Kaua`i will be good for the island's dining scene. Also, the architect who is designing our store is also designing Merriman's restaurant here. So hopefully we will be somewhat linked in that regard.

B on Hawaii:  And before this year is up, another venerable chef will be on island. Jean-Georges Vongerichten will be just up the road at Princeville...

Tom Moffat:  It's an exciting time on Kaua`i. The next 6 months should be a really interesting time on this isle.

Bar Acuda is on the North Shore of Kaua`i, in Hanalei at 5-5161 Kuhio Highway. www.RestaurantBarAcuda.com. Closed Mondays. Opens 5 p.m. nightly.

"We're going to drive around and pick up that stuff, quantities of produce that the distributers don't bother with." —Moffat