Hawaii Mom Blog: Hawaiian Airlines Announces First Executive Chef Team, New Members of Onboard Featured Chef Series




March 1, 2021

Hawaiian Airlines Announces First Executive Chef Team, New Members of Onboard Featured Chef Series


Hawaiian Airlines today announced the appointment of husband-and-wife team Wade Ueoka and Michelle Karr-Ueoka, owners of Honolulu’s MW Restaurant and Artizen, as its executive chefs. Together, they will oversee menus from the carrier’s popular onboard Featured Chef Series, as well as curate First Class meals for inbound flights from the U.S. mainland and all cabin menus for flights between Hawaiʻi and Japan, Australia and New Zealand and outbound flights to South Korea.

Ueoka previously prepared meals for Hawaiian’s guests as a featured chef in 2016 and 2018. The airline’s first executive chef duo replaces Chef Lee Anne Wong, owner of Honolulu’s Koko Head Café, who joined the Featured Chef Series in 2015 and has served as executive chef since 2018.

“Our Featured Chef Series has developed into a top-rated meal program that celebrates the vibrant culinary scene and outstanding agricultural bounty of our islands,” said Renee Awana, managing director of product development at Hawaiian Airlines. “Lee Anne Wong has played an innovative role in developing this program, and we are thankful for her time as both a featured chef and our executive chef. We offer her our sincere gratitude as she passes the torch to Chef Wade Ueoka and Chef Michelle Karr-Ueoka.”
About Our Executive Chefs
Ueoka was born and raised on Oʻahu and graduated from the culinary program at Kapiʻolani Community College. From his humble beginnings as a fry cook at Zippy’s Restaurants, he became chef de cuisine at the nationally recognized Alan Wong’s Restaurant. Ueoka has worked at several acclaimed eateries, including The French Laundry in Napa Valley, California, and Alex in Las Vegas. He has been recognized nationally as a Rising Star Chef and has received numerous local awards for being one of Hawai‘i’s leading chefs. 
“After participating in the Featured Chef Series for nearly five years, it was an honor to be offered the role of executive chef,” Ueoka said. “Michelle and I are excited about the opportunity to share our passion for food on a global scale and look forward to welcoming Hawaiian’s guests with new menus that represent our home.”
Karr-Ueoka, one of Hawaiʻi’s premier pastry chefs, was born and raised in Honolulu. While attending the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, she discovered a love for cooking after working at Alan Wong’s Restaurant. Karr-Ueoka attended the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, and later worked at various award-winning restaurants, including Daniel and Per Se in New York, and The French Laundry in Napa Valley. In over a decade as a pastry chef, she has been recognized as a semi-finalist of the James Beard Award and received the Rising Star Chef Award as a pastry chef. 
“I have flown Hawaiian Airlines since I was a child, so as a chef, it’s very exciting to think that I now have the opportunity to design its in-flight meals,” said Karr-Ueoka. “Wade and I can’t wait to get started as Hawaiian’s first executive chef duo and husband-and-wife team.”
In 2013, Ueoka and Karr-Ueoka opened Oʻahu’s MW Restaurant, which the James Beard Foundation nominated for Best New Restaurant in 2014. In 2015, the couple opened Artizen by MW in Honolulu.
New Cohort of Featured Chefs
Now in its sixth year, the Featured Chef Series offers First Class (U.S. mainland) and Business Class (international) guests onboard Hawaiian’s flights the opportunity to enjoy menus designed by a rotating roster of Hawaiʻi’s greatest established and emerging chefs. The carrier’s Featured Chef Series now includes Eric Oto of Hoku’s at The Kahala Hotel & Resort, Robynne Maii of Fête, Dell Valdez of Vein at Kakaʻako, Jason Yamaguchi of Mugen Waikiki, and Chris Kajioka of Miro Kaimuki. Celebrity Chef Chang-Wook Chung of Seoul’s Kumsan Noodle Factory will continue to delight guests on Hawaiian’s inbound flights from South Korea with his esteemed fare. 
The timeline for the Featured Chef Series is as follows:
December 2020 – May 2021: Robynne Maii, Fête
First Class – Hawaiʻi to U.S. mainland
Born and raised in Honolulu, Chef Robynne Maii began her culinary adventure at 3660 on the Rise and Padovani’s Bistro and Wine Bar on Oʻahu. In 1999, she moved to New York City, where she worked at Union Pacific and the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in its pastry banquet kitchen. Robynne worked for Gourmet magazine, City University of New York (CUNY), and has been a cookbook judge for the James Beard Foundation Awards since 2004. In 2015, Maii and her husband opened Fête in Honolulu’s bustling Chinatown. In 2018, Maii partnered with Hawaiian to debut LunchBox by Fête, a café-style restaurant at the airline’s Honolulu headquarters.
June – November 2021: Dell Valdez, Vein at Kakaʻako 
First Class – Hawaiʻi to U.S. mainland
Chef Dell Valdez is the executive chef at Vein at Kakaʻako, specializing in modern Mediterranean cuisine. Valdez, a Maui native, was raised by immigrant parents who instilled in him a hard work ethic and mantra of “treating everyone as you would want to be treated.” He first learned to cook at home alongside his mother, who he calls his “greatest influence.” In 2000, he graduated from the culinary program at Kapiʻolani Community College. 
December 2021 – May 2022: Jason Yamaguchi, Mugen Waikiki
First Class – Hawaiʻi to U.S. mainland
Chef Jason Yamaguchi was born in Los Angeles and raised on Oʻahu. Yamaguchi’s passion for food was sparked in high school when he worked under James Beard Award-winning Chef Roy Yamaguchi of Roy’s Restaurants. Over two decades, Yamaguchi built his portfolio as a tastemaker while working under the watchful eye of respected chefs on the U.S. West Coast, including James Beard Award-winning, Michelin-starred Chef Michael Mina and Hawaiʻi’s own Chris Garnier of Roy’s Restaurants. Now residing in Honolulu, Yamaguchi is the executive chef of Mugen Waikiki, known for its French-Japanese cuisine.
June – November 2022: Chris Kajioka, Miro Kaimuki
First Class – Hawaiʻi to U.S. mainland
Chef Chris Kajioka was born and raised in Honolulu and began his culinary training at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. He has worked at prominent restaurants across the country, including Ron Siegel’s Dining Room at the Ritz-Carlton and Mourad Lahlou’s Aziza in San Francisco, California, and Thomas Keller’s iconic Per Se in New York. In 2012, Kajioka returned to Hawaiʻi to become the executive chef of Vintage Cave, where he received his first James Beard Foundation nomination for Rising Star Chef of the Year in 2014. In 2016, he partnered with Chef Anthony Rush to open his first restaurant, Senia, where he received several James Beard nominations. Kajioka is currently chef and co-owner of Miro Kaimuki and Bar Māze in Honolulu. 
2016 – 2022: Chang-Wook Chung, Kumsan Restaurant
All Cabins – Seoul to Hawai‘i
Chef Chung, a featured chef since 2016, will continue his tenure on flights from South Korea. An expert in French and Japanese cuisine, he is the owner and chef of Kumsan Noodle Factory in Seoul. His culinary excellence has been widely recognized, and he has appeared in several Korean television programs. Feeling a strong personal attachment to Hawai’i, Chung has returned to the islands every year since his first visit over a decade ago.
Chef Eric Oto of Hoku’s at The Kahala Hotel & Resort recently completed his second menu cycle (June – November 2020) for inbound flights from U.S. mainland since joining the Featured Chef Series in 2018. His passion for the culinary arts began at the age of four when he caught his first fish with a bamboo cane pole. At a young age, Oto learned the philosophies of respecting and appreciating Hawai‘i’s food ecosystem from his father, a lifelong farmer and fisherman. Today, Oto’s reverence for the ocean can be seen — and tasted — in his cooking. Committed to supporting Hawai‘i’s next generation of chefs, Oto serves as a chef-mentor for local high school students with the Hawai‘i Culinary Education Foundation and the Chaîne des Rôtisseurs Jeune Chef Competition.
Other former participating chefs have included Mark Noguchi of Pili Group, Jon Matsubara of FEAST, Andrew Le of The Pig & The Lady, and Sheldon Simeon of Tin Roof Maui. Chai Chaowasaree of Chef Chai Restaurant was Hawaiian’s first executive chef from 2010 to 2018. 
More information about the program and Hawaiian’s latest in-flight menus are available at www.hawaiianairlines.com/our-services/in-flight-services/dining-and-drinks/featured-chef-series.

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