Chef de Cuisine and Partner
at Spago Maui
Four Seasons Resort, Maui
"To have the opportunity to buy great local produce, picked out of the ground and used on the same day is out of this world. There are not a lot of places in the world where you can do this, all year."
Chef Cameron of Spago Maui is one of the most lauded chefs in Hawaii, winning accolades such as the 2010 Chef of the Year, which is no easy feat considering the number of restaurants on Maui, let alone Hawaii with the requisite passion for excellent local food. As interesting may be how Lewark has gained a following that includes fellow notable chefs who not only enjoy his cooking, but recommend it.
For instance, Honolulu magazine's recent "Chef Issue" quotes fellow Maui Chef Brian Etheredge, Executive Chef/Owner of Capische, who recommends Spago's Cote de boeuf ($135 for two --- request one week in advance) or curry ($45). Etheredge added, " . . They (Spago Maui) make such a beautiful curry. Chef Cameron Lewark is a very talented guy."
With all this attention, you may find extra delight when hearing Chef Cameron's answers to our Upcountry Proustian questionnaire - refreshingly honest and modest - hope you enjoy as much as we do.
"We need to teach young people how to cook."
We visited Spago recently and began with their signature spicy ahi tuna poke in paper-thin sesame-miso cones (yes, shaped like mini ice-cream cones), definitely a five-star appetizer and must-order. Be warned: it is one of those things that you will think about for days wanting another. After ordering another ;) we ordered the mahi-mahi main which was sublime, and the wonderfully succulent pork chop. We are now especially compelled to go back sooner than later to check out the curry! Who knew? Or, should we try. . . . Chef Cameron's favorite dish? See below to find out . . .
"Chef Cameron Lewark is a very talented guy."
- Chef Brian Etheredge, Executive Chef, Capische
The Upcountry Q&A
Chef Cameron gives us a glimpse of what where he came from, where's he's going, his priorities, along with some methods to his magic in the kitchen!
Q. You grew up cooking at a young age --- was it out of necessity or a love of cooking? In other words, which came first?
A. I started cooking very young out of love for food. My Mom, Dad and Grandma were great cooks.
Q. Many young people today are unable to cook a simple meal. How would you change that?
A. We need to teach young people how to cook. If we don't teach them about food they will think eating at fast food places is the norm . . . they have to learn and understand heathy food is a key to good living.
Q. What will we find in your refrigerator or pantry at home?
A. In my refrigerator, you will always find super-fresh fruit and vegetables from my own garden.
Then, you will also find Caramel-Salted-Pretzel Skinny-Cow ice cream bars . . .
Q. What is your "go-to dinner" - out, or at home?
A. Home! One of the most enjoyable things that I do with food is to cook for my wife. At our home, we have a big Sunday dinner. My wife, sister in-law, and I all take turns cooking. My wife is becoming a great cook; her sister was a private chef. We have some amazing meals.
Q. Favorite cocktail?
A. It all depends on the weather or my mood.
Some days I like three-fingers of bourbon with a hand-carved ice cube, or a drink here at Spago called the "Ball in Chain".
Q. Okay. I'm totally in on having to try this at Spago. What exactly is in a "Ball in Chain"?
A. Bourbon, amaretto, orgeat syrup, Marasaca cherry, Orange bitters, lemon Juice, and alot of love.
Q. Which wine are you loving right now?
A. I love wine from Bordeaux I am really enjoying Saint-Emilion Appellation now. I am sure this will change in a month or two.
Q. Your most memorable meal while traveling abroad?
A. I went to France with my beautiful wife for our honeymoon. We experienced FOUR 3-star restaurants and traveled through wine country for three weeks. I had the pleasure to eat at Pierre Gagnaire at Gagnaire, Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athenee, Alain Passard at L'Arpege . . . some of the best education I could ever get.
Q. Favorite Maui food ingredient & how do you use it.
A. Fresh Fish. There are so many ways to cook it I could not begin to start writing all of them down ;)
Q. What would most people be surprised to know about you?
A. I truly love to hunt and grow my own food. Being able to rely on my own skill to feed my family brings me great joy. In this day and age, people have forgotten what it's like not to have a store to buy food. I don't ever want to lose touch with how people lived years ago.
Q. What does sourcing from upcountry Maui mean to you?
A. Here at Spago we do our best to bring in local ingredients. If you are not aware, the produce that comes out of Hawaii is incredible. Although Maui has many different places to get amazing produce, one of the most popular is called "Upcountry". Upcountry has the perfect temperature for growing great produce year-round.
To have the opportunity to buy great local produce, picked out of the ground and used on the same day is out of this world. There are not a lot of places in the world where you can do this, all year.
My goal and philosophy is to have the best and freshest food available for my menu. I also feel a tremendous sense of pride to be able to help the local community and economy grow. It is my duty to give back to the community that has been so great to me.
Q. Favorite Maui moments. When . . .
I asked my beautiful girlfriend to become my wife out in front of the ocean on New Year's Eve after the fireworks in Wailea, Maui.
The day I got married to my amazing wife! Makena Maui
My baby boy was born!! In Kahului, Maui.
I reached a life-time goal of becoming a Head Chef and two years later I became part owner of Spago Maui!! Wailea, Maui
I had the opportunity to adopt my dog LILIKOI (!) which has been one of the best things I ever did. (Editor's Note: Lilikoi is the Hawaiian name for passion-fruit).
Q. What three words would your friends and family use to describe you?
A. Passionate, loyal and has integrity.
Q. Your guilt-inducing food pleasure.
A. Creme-fresh ice-cream.
Above: Malt Chocolate Dessert at Spago Maui
Q. Who and what inspires you?
A. My mentor, Lee Hefter, my wife, and most of all, my son.
Q. What's the most surprising comment you've heard from a dining guest at Spago?
A. I had a guest who was so upset that we were closing because of a hurricane. He said he did not care about anything because HE WAS HUNGRY!
Q. Favorite dish at Spago Maui.
A. Wok-Fried "Thai Style" Whole Fish for Two with Thai-fragrant herbs.
Q. Your first big break in the culinary world.
A. My first job with Wolfgang Puck - when I was 17 years old - when Chef Lee Hefter hired me. I worked for free for over a year to get in the door at one of the best restaurants in Los Angeles.
Q. What traits must one have to succeed as an executive chef?
A. Passion for food and wine. You must be hard-working.
Q. What is your life motto?
A. It has changed many times throughout the years but as of now it's to be a great husband and father.
If I may offer some advice:
"Find something you LOVE to do and get paid to do it!"
Marrying the iconic Wolfgang Puck inventiveness with local Hawaiian fresh ingredients is what Spago Maui is known for . . . along with impeccable service of a Four Seasons , a spectacular setting and view, and you have another outstanding Maui moment.
Spago Maui offers a highly attractive kamaaina rate so their local support is real in a multitude of ways.
3900 Wailea Alanui Dr, Maui, HI 96753
Open for dinner every day 5:30 to 9:30
Open for cocktails every day 600 to 11:00
Food & Love
by Maui Coffee Gal