Hawaii Island native, Chef Jay Johnson now calls Hana home. This is his first time on the island and now he is in the midst of getting his feet dirty, making friends and improving the menu offerings at Travaasa Hana, one bite at a time. “It’s been a wonderful experience, I really enjoy coming to Hana… First time in my life actually coming to Maui. But beautiful place, beautiful people and hopefully beautiful food,” Chef Jay Johnson, Travaasa Hana Executive Chef said. He adds the landscape is similar and a lot of the vegetation is also the same, but preparations are a little different using the local ingredients.
After working as the Executive Chef at the Volcano House, Johnson’s former G.M. David MacIlwraith asked the chef to come to Hana and relaunch their food and beverage operations. First things first, the restaurant got a new name: now called The Preserve Kitchen + Bar (formerly known as Ka’uiki Dining Room). The inspiration for the name change doesnt come from jams and jellies, but has a more in-depth purpose to preserve the traditions, heritage and culture of Hana and the islands. Currently, 80% of the cuisine is harvested locally, on island or from the state of Hawaii. The goal is to get that number closer to 90% or even 100% and create those lasting relationships with local farmers, ranchers and residents to provide the best and freshest of ingredients at the restaurant.
There is much to do, see, smell and taste in Hana. Hotel guests don’t always want to stay on property, they want to explore. Also, many farmers and farm workers have come from faraway places like Thailand and serve up some delicious delicacies from the back of a food truck or fruit stand nearby. Those who visit often have a checklist to taste the fresh made pizzas, plate lunches and curries created and served on the side of the road, which can be competition for a semi-fine dining restaurant in a resort setting. “I support the food trucks as well, I am not here to take anything away. As far as I am concerned we are all feeding off each other and are added amenities and options to whoever comes and visits Hana,” he said. Bad impressions and less than favorable reviews from year’s past encouraged management to take matters into their own hands and change things up. The new chef, new menu, new name and fresh new ingredients are aimed at leaving a better taste in everyone’s mouth.
Chef Johnson has only been on island four months and has already partnered with Hana Ranch, right up the hill from the resort, to grow fresh produce. The Travaasa Hana garden is only two weeks old but the one acre plot is already sprouting beets, carrots and other garden greens that will be plucked, washed and composed into a dish on the kitchen’s menu.
Here’s a look at some of the menu offerings at the new The Preserve Kitchen + Bar. (Click to Enlarge)
Overall, breakfast was outstanding. The eggs benedict and eggs florentine were to die for. Although the menu is a bit limited and for guests who purchase the all inclusive package you may tire of the small breakfast menu. We didn’t have lunch on property, but I took a gander at the menu. Items like the chicken katsu sandwich, Maui Cattle Company burger and Saimin sounded great. I wished we stayed another day to sample the lunch offerings. As far as dinner goes, it was elegant, a good fit for the location and offered a nice variety of signature items and fresh specials. The prices are similar to any other fine dining restaurant you would visit in Wailea or Waikiki, but one thing to note is you’re also paying for the fresh product that is supporting local and our Hawaii economy and most of all the Hana community.