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Showing posts with label gems of life. Show all posts
Showing posts with label gems of life. Show all posts

March 6, 2020

Gems of Life: Ed Kuoha



I would often see Chef Ed Kuoha, owner of Kuoha Culinary, at events at Gochi Grill. When Chef John (owner of Gochi Grill) brought him up during my Gem’s of Life chat, I thought it would be a great idea to get Chef Ed’s advice and insight on the industry and life in general.

A husband, father, and avid community supporter, Chef Ed did not foresee himself as becoming a chef.  He originally just wanted to cook and have fun wherever he found himself at. Fast forward 20 years later, with experience at numerous venues, such as Morimoto Waikiki, Ko`olau Ballrooms, and M.A.C. 24/7, he has since ventured out on his own, building himself a reputable catering and events company, while learning to adapt and living life with no regrets.

Adapting to industry changes
When you become a chef or manager, you become responsible for everybody; the good and the bad.

When I used to run the kitchens, I was one of the bulls.  It was “my way or the highway.” 

I was darker back then.  I was always a black or white guy.  I was always about hitting my numbers...Everything now is more about being the boss I would want to work for; going out of my way to do nice things for my workers.  

Building relationships
When you run restaurants, you don’t personally develop a relationship with every single guest that comes through your place.

[With my business], every single event, whether it be a birthday, vacation getaway, or destination wedding - I’m involved in that life experience.  I’m a part of that person’s memory for years to come. 

I make money, but I’m not trying to make every single dollar.  It’s more about making that connection with people.  

Trust
I keep the circle tight.

I have to be able to trust that you know how I want to do things.

Accountability
My name is on the company.  If you book with me, I’m going to be at your event.  I take a lot of accountability. I’m going to be there to make sure there are no problems.  

Everyone is telling me to expand, but I rather protect the brand.  

Doing it the right way - always
I learned this from my dad - always do something the right way; do quality work whether somebody’s there or not.  I feel like that’s what kind of separated me from a lot of guys.  I always tried to do it the right way no matter what. 

The best revenge
Everybody was always dogging on me in culinary school.  “You should stay out brah, you’re so sh***y...you should stop cooking.”

I never stopped.  I just kept doing it.  Little by little I got better.  Fast forward to today...a lot of the guys that were telling me that, they got out of the industry a long time ago.

The best revenge is you stick it out and you become better than them when they quit. 

Have pride in your work 
When I was grinding out I wasn’t making that good money.  We’d do stuff for free or work extra hours because we want to learn from the chefs.  

You have to be committed and not have money drive you.  What should drive you is learning as much as you can and putting out really delicious, consistent food.  

The challenges of a catering chef
If you’re a catering chef you’re frowned upon. 

Anyone can run a restaurant with the same kitchen, the same staff, the same menu.

Try and run different menus with different bodies [as a catering chef]. You’re way stronger than the guy who runs a restaurant.   

Having no regrets
There were dark times.  Everything goes to the back burner except for this job...It’s a demanding lifestyle.  You don’t see your family. Life changes you. Perspectives change as you get older.  

I was fortunate to find my own way.  I can’t see myself doing anything else.
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September 30, 2019

Gems of Life: John Iha

Chicken Katsu
You may know John Iha as the very "punny" Chef / Owner of Gochi Grill (home of the best chicken katsu, in my opinion).  Or perhaps you remember him as the Executive Chef at Hiroshi's Eurasian Tapas.                 

Despite having gone to the same high school as John and being just two years apart in age from him, I only met him last year during a media preview of Gochi Grill, and since then I've gotten to know him better and am happy to call him a friend.

His first stint in the industry was at Sushi Ten in Aiea over two decades ago.  He subsequently graduated from the Kapiolani Community College Culinary Arts Program, and worked in some of the most reputable restaurants throughout the state - L'uraku, Sansei, and Hiroshi's, to name a few.

He persevered over twenty-plus years, always striving to be the best in a tough and demanding industry, when 60-70 work weeks were the norm, it was commonplace to be yelled at or have things thrown around in the kitchen, and smack talk was expected if you couldn't keep up.

Now, it's a complete 180, according to John, as he talks about today's culinary industry.  He feels that today's generation cannot handle the pressure.  They have thinner skin.  They have less heart.  They need to be coddled more.  If things get too hard, they quit and find another job.

Instead of "Chef, what you need?" it's now "Chef, I need help."

Gochi Grill Cooking Class
After years of working professionally in some of the busiest kitchens in the state, he began to feel burnt out and disenchanted, so he decided to take matters into his own hands.

"There are people who make something happen, and people who wait for something to happen," says John.

He opened up Gochi Grill, where he manages a small operation that produces what I consider "gourmet plate lunches."  He was fortunate to have found a Sous Chef in Sean Uyehara, who he describes as a "good kid" with "fortitude" and "heart."

Gochi Grill has become a very popular restaurant in Downtown Honolulu with a loyal following, and John feels one of the most rewarding things about running his business is the relationships he's formed along the way with his customers.

He has worked hard for his successes, and learned a lot about the industry and himself along the way.

Foot speed
You can tell a lot about somebody when you watch their movements - their foot speed.  Whenever I do an interview with somebody, I'm going to give them paperwork, so I walk very briskly all over... "Follow me to the office, I'll grab some paperwork."  If they keep up with me, they're good... I think speed is very, very, very critical in the kitchen.  If you're not quick, and if you don't have that mentality to always get faster and better...you won't be like what we call in the kitchen, a "banger."

A good heart, motivation, and honesty
Even if you're not the fastest, strongest, or smartest, if you have a super good heart and you're super motivated, you can't trade that for anything.  I look at that beyond anything else in somebody.  That, and honesty.

Fear
I knew I was capable of intimidating people pretty well.  At times you need people to fear you a little bit.  Because if they don't, they're not going to do what needs to be done.  I don't know anybody who can run a super high intense kitchen and not be a little edgy and not instill a little fear...if you fear something, that you means you care.  That's the style I was raised in.

Success
I gain success when the guys I teach succeed and become better than me.  At every level, one guy will eventually spread his wings and go.  Whenever I head a brigade, I tell everybody "I like you guys be better than me.  I going be hard on you guys.  The moment I stop being hard on you guys is the moment I stop caring."  

John Iha, Sean Uyehara
Self-reflection
If you don't self-reflect, I don't think you can ever improve upon something, because you're not looking at yourself and trying to get better, which means your ego is in the way.

Experiencing tragedy
It doesn't get easier the older you get.  I think it gets harder, because you feel more.  [Tragedy] makes me appreciate my family a lot more.  It makes me appreciate everything I have.  It makes me realize "Hey brah, things could be a lot worse, man."

Social media
That can be the death of people.  How can you not take it personally?  If you get one problem, come in through the door and talk to me like an adult.  There are different ways to solve problems versus just taking things to social media.  Why can't you just talk to my manager or my server versus just complaining on social media?

Unfortunately, that's why lots of local small businesses fail.  People don't realize how damaging social media can be.  

Sacrifice
The biggest sacrifice is the change in lifestyle.  In the kitchen, there's no success without sacrifice.  You cannot expect to succeed in anything without sacrifice, especially time.  You gotta put in your time.  You gotta put in your work.  If you think it's going to be just handed to you, that's the biggest mistake.  And if that's the case, don't even get in the kitchen.

Having goals
My goal was to be good enough to be on TV, to where I was a heavy-hitter.  To be a banger, to be sought after.  Because in order to be on TV, you gotta be good.  My goal was to always be anyplace I wanted and to always have a job.  You have to reset your goals.  My biggest goal was to be an executive chef at a reputable restaurant before the age of 40...and I did that.

My goal now is to sustain what we have here at Gochi Grill.  To succeed, and make it so that I can open another one and give Sean a restaurant. 
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August 1, 2019

Gems of Life Series


I met Chef Alan Wong at an event nearly two years ago, and ever since then, whenever I see him, he offers numerous "gems of life," whether it be words of wisdom or stories of roots and resilience. 

Yes, he is a world-renowned chef, with numerous awards and accolades, and although some do find him intimidating, he is truly a kind, warm, and funny person with immense passion and a desire to better our community.

He continues to learn, evolve, and share his knowledge.  His teachings reach far beyond the culinary industry, as they can be applied to everyday life.

The very first story he told me revolved around the expression Okage Sama De, or "I am what I am because of you."  I had never heard of that expression before, but in explaining the term, he told of stories of individuals in interment camps, as well as stories of people in the culinary industry, and how what they went through had an effect on so many others, including ourselves, in one way or another.

Several months later, here I am, with a new blog series, Gems of Life, inspired by Chef Alan's many stories.

In the "Gems of Life" series, I will be periodically sharing stories of passion and perseverance, and the lessons learned, from individuals in all walks of life, and hopefully these stories will resonate with others, as they have with me.

Everyone has a story to tell. I'm one of those that truly believes that everything happens for a reason, and that every hardship we endure helps us to evolve into the person that we are today.

As the saying goes - "The gem cannot be polished without friction, nor man perfected without trials."

Thank you, Chef Alan, for the encouragement and guidance!
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