They started with grilled cheese toasts with housemade kimchi. Followed it with spicy Hawaiian ahi with furikake, tobiko, soy reduction, and crispy rice. Then some kiawe-smoked jidori chicken liver faux gras on brioche toasts with pickled red onions, bacon powder, Moloka‘i black salt, and chives. And the patrons of the 2017 James Beard Foundation’s Food Meets Fashion event were still in the appetizers portion of the menu. Ron de Guzman, the artist responsible for the “food” part of the program, had several more Hawai‘i-themed dishes with local ingredients in store for the lucky diners.
The meal and its ingredients weren’t the only Hawai‘i products in the house. Ron is the executive chef at Stage restaurant, and the chefs he brought with him to New York for the one-night celebration of couture and cuisine were all from Hawai‘i, graduates of O‘ahu high schools and trusted members of his highly regarded team in the Honolulu Design Center.
Ron’s culinary creations are lauded nation-wide. Still, he insists his greatest reward is not in developing great entrees, but in developing great people. “Seeing someone come up from a dishwasher to a chef is the most satisfying experience,” he says, “and it’s about qualities that pertain to life in the kitchen and everywhere else—keeping your composure in the kitchen teaches you to keep it together in other stressful times.”
A graduate of the culinary arts program at Leeward Community College, Ron says his instructors were from inside the industry and offered “non-teachery,” real-world instruction. He especially remembers professor Tommylynn Benavente as having a no-nonsense teaching style that helped prepare him for the decorated career that has taken him to faraway places and high-profile culinary events.
Ron attended Pearl City High School and spent a year working full-time in the Dole Cannery Ballrooms, cementing his interest in culinary education at Leeward. His experience in the program, he says, molded him into the professional he is today, where people are his greatest accomplishments: “My role as a chef is to bring students in, train them, help them become sous chefs and chefs, and then watch them move on. I try to coach them, to see where they want to go and then make steps for them in achieving these goals, because that’s what was done for me.
“I recently worked for chef Alan Wong, who took me on a lot of trips off the rock; now I’m taking my own chefs to special events, and it’s been an awesome experience for us all.”