Let’s Talk Food: A James Beard Award winner

  • Photo courtesy Audrey Wilson Risotto from Fete.

  • Photo courtesy Audrey Wilson Onion Rings from Fete.

  • Photo courtesy Audrey Wilson Fete's Carbonara.

  • Photo courtesy Audrey Wilson Fete's Beet Salad.

  • Photo courtesy Audrey Wilson Spreads from Fete.

The 2022 James Beard Awards were recently named. A judging form to assess nominees is distributed to all restaurant and chef subcommittee members and tasting panelists who visit restaurants in their areas and score their experiences on a number of criteria.

“The mission of the James Beard Awards is to recognize exceptional talent and achievement in the culinary arts, hospitality, media, and broader food systems, as a demonstrated commitment to racial and gender equality, community, sustainability, and a culture where all can thrive.”


Best Chef for the Northwest and Pacific, which includes Alaska, Hawaii, Oregon and Washington, is Robynne Maii of Fete of Chinatown, Honolulu.

“I didn’t dream of the James Beard Award because I thought it was unachievable. The awards have changed drastically on who usually wins — when I first opened Fete, I didn’t have a New York pedigree. I’m so off the radar. It’s not that I don’t care about social media or publicity. I just can’t get it together. Every ounce of my time is about food production. And it’s very important to me to have the cooks see how things are done. I really admire people who can get on TV, but I just think of that as being out of my kitchen. And I love being in the kitchen. That’s my happy place. We do some TV, but I have to feel good about it. But the James Beard wasn’t on my mind. It’s so unexpected. I’m not trying to feign modesty. For me, it’s totally true.

“When my name was called as the winner, it was a feeling like when I first started dancing in hula competitions, of both the time going too slow and then it going too fast. You’re anticipating, anticipating, anticipating and then finally it happens and then, I know it sounds really cliche, but it’s like an out of body experience. Because you hear your name and them you know only because your husband is screaming that it’s actually happening. I didn’t prepare anything to say because I’m a little bit superstitious and also I just feel like people don’t usually win the first time they’re nominated.

“The title of best chef makes me very uncomfortable. So I wanted to be sure that everyone understand Fete is because of so many people-the investors, the staff, our purveyors, our bankers, our accountant. All of them.” said Chef Maii during a Honolulu Magazine interview.

My son Reid made reservations for my birthday lunch at Fete. It is at a corner, at 2 North Hotel Street, in a red brick building. The menu emphasizes market fish and market vegetables.

We started with the Fete spread of caponata, macadamia-nut tapenade, and house ricotta with honey drizzle. It is served with toasted house-made sourdough bread. The caponata is made of eggplant. All three spreads were tasty, however the toasted bread was a little burnt.

Special of the day salad was a beet salad, served with caramelized onions, on frisee greens, fresh beets, and half an avocado. The dressing was light and tasty.

We also ordered onion rings, with a light and delicate tempura batter. It was very tasty and even enjoyed by my grandson.

For entrees, we ordered the Chaz Burger, which is an 8-ounce Kauai Ranch grass fed patty, with caramelized onions, cheddar cheese, vine-ripened tomatoes, and roasted garlic aioli; Fete grilled cheese sandwich with house made sourdough bread, cheddar cheese, smoked mozzarella, provolone and tomato jam; carbonara with slab bacon, Portuguese sauce, and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese; JP’s risotto with local mushrooms, local onsen egg, blistered green garlic and peas.

The Chaz burger was juicy and tasty.

The Fete grilled cheese sandwich was a little too sophisticated for my 7-year-old grandson Quentin as he is more accustomed to a simpler version.

He also does not care for mozzarella and provolone cheeses. The addition of the tomato jam made the sandwich taste more like a pizza sandwich.

He did , however, eat the French fries.

I ordered the JP’s risotto as per a recommendation by Gary McKoy of Hawaiian Airlines, who had been there the night before. His recommendation was spot on as the risotto was delicious and a wow!

When you break the onsen (soft-cooked) egg, the creaminess of the yolk, mixed with the risotto, was such a great combination!

Email Audrey Wilson at audreywilson808@gmail.com.

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