Best Chef Awards 2018

Rising Star Chef of the Year: Chris Yang
'aina
Since this past November, ‘aina, the intimate Hawaiian eatery on the corner of 22nd and Minnesota Streets, has featured an exciting addition: a six-course tasting menu—served at the chef’s counter, which seats only six guests at a time—cooked on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights by Chris Yang, the restaurant’s young chef de cuisine. In a sense, Yang has been preparing his whole life for the opportunity given to him by ‘aina chef-owner Jordan Keao. Born and raised in Berkeley, Yang peeled green beans and made rice for his Chinese mother and grandmother, who cooked family dinner every night. And he was exposed to a wide range of cuisines early through his father, who worked for Hilton Hotels and traveled often—especially to Hawaii. At ‘aina, Yang brings his technical skills and playful cooking approach to bear on the long, and often contested, history of the island state. Take one of his recent creations: North Shore street corn. It’s Brentwood-grown corn served with umami mayonnaise and smoked sesame powder. Yang smokes sesame oil over kiawe wood, shipped weekly from the islands, and turns it into a powder with tapioca maltodextrin. “Eighty percent of it is real food and 20 percent modern gastronomy,” he says. About the only thing he won’t serve is pineapple. “It’s the symbol of colonialism,” he says. “The pineapple plantations, the owners, overthrew the monarchy.” At ‘aina, Yang hopes to serve guests not just traditional Hawaiian ingredients such as taro root but also mo‘olelo, or stories. The tasting menu is one part rollicking dinner party, one part consciousness-­raising seminar. “It’s honestly not only Hawaii. All cultures, every single culture has been bastardized,” he says. Even with its handful of fine-­dining flourishes, Yang is making sure that’s not the case at ‘‘aina. Not on his watch. —Scott Lucas