Executive Chef Keith Pajinag of The Modern Honolulu Executive Chef Keith Pajinag of The Modern Honolulu

July 12, 2016

Modern Culinary Experiences with Keith Pajinag

Inside the Mind of the Executive Chef of THE MODERN HONOLULU

When Keith Pajinag returned to THE MODERN HONOLULU he knew he found the ideal home for his culinary vision - “simplicity at it’s best.” As executive chef of the luxury lifestyle hotel, he has the freedom to express his own and his team’s culinary creativity.

The Hawaii-born chef loves to surprise his patrons with unexpected flavor sensations and he recently revealed some of his plans for new menus as well as his appearance at the upcoming Hawaii Food and Wine Festival.

Located in downtown Waikiki, THE MODERN HONOLULU is home to several dining venues which Chef Keith oversees including Passageway + The Grove, 24-hour in-room dining (aka room service), the poolside bars and The Study, the hotel lounge area.

As our past interviews with the chef have shown, Pajinag is intrigued by the notion of pushing the boundaries of what food can be, but for all his innovations he thinks of what would make for the best dining experience first.

Modern Live: Upbringing is very influential for most people, especially those in creative professions, so where were you born and raised?

Keith Pajinag: I was born in Hawaii but grew up in Juneau, Alaska. You could say I was raised in the restaurant world because both my parents are restaurateurs and my mom had seventeen restaurant establishments.

Modern Live: Where did you get your training?

Keith Pajinag: Growing up in all those restaurant environments provided a wealth of real-world experience. I worked my way through my mother’s different establishments, learning everything I could about each station. When I was 22, I had the option to attend culinary school or immediately pursue my passion professionally and I decided on the latter.

Modern Live: That choice worked out well for you! How did your style develop as you launched your career?

Keith Pajinag: Well, I moved to Seattle and began cooking at the Four Seasons, though I was working in three other kitchens at the same time! My family definitely influenced my work ethic and cultural influences, while chefs like Jared Wentworth helped me craft my own culinary style. I loved Seattle but always had a passion to come back home to Hawai‘i.

Modern Live: What drew you back to Hawai’i?

Keith Pajinag
: You mean aside from the perpetually sunny skies and 80-degree weather? The local foods and emerging culinary talent available on the islands was a big draw. I had the opportunity to be part of the team when THE MODERN HONOLULU first opened in 2010 and was very happy to return to the hotel as executive chef in 2015.

Modern Live: What’s your favorite part of your job?

Keith Pajinag: That’s a difficult question – there are so many parts that I love! I really enjoy my job and the hotel's management is really supportive of culinary and artistic worlds. The opportunity to work with an amazing team, mentor them and help them grow their talents is wonderful. I’m also grateful to have the freedom to express my own culinary vision through exploring new flavor combinations based on my Pacific Northwest upbringing and the local foods of Hawai’i.

Modern Live: So when you are developing a new dish or menu, what is your process?

Keith Pajinag: Great question! Over the years I have become more of a “seasonality” chef, looking to see what is currently available locally and exploring local farmers markets as a key step. Then, while respecting the parameters of Hawai’i, I like to incorporate the flavors of the Pacific Northwest. THE MODERN HONOLULU offers “metropolitan” flavors that appeal to our guests and to do that we source our food locally as well as globally as reflects the culture of Hawai’i. Our new Summer Brunch in Passageway + The Grove showcases our seasonal selections and our Fresh Tuesdays' menu in The Study is a great example of how we like to experiment with seasonal flavors and incorporate locally sourced organic produce into our menus.

Modern Live: Tell us about your participation in the Hawaii Food & Wine Festival on October 27. The theme is the Hungry Monkey – what’s that about?

Keith Pajinag: Definitely an intriguing theme (laughs). It’s based on the fact that 2016 is the year of the Fire Monkey in the Chinese calendar and I’ll be participating on a few levels. THE MODERN HONOLULU is continuing partner of HFWF and they will be hosting a lineup of 13 world-renowned chefs on October 27th. HFWF ticket holders will be able to sample an array of unique dishes and custom cocktails at multiple stations situated around our Sunset and Sunrise pool decks overlooking the beautiful Pacific Ocean.

Modern Live: Sounds like heaven for foodies! You mentioned you’d also be involved on another level?

Keith Pajinag: Yes, the HFWF is such a great opportunity to meet and mingle with so much culinary talent. I’ll also be offering a “sneak peek” of my HFWF dishes the day before the official HFWF event is held at our hotel. I’m excited to be able to interact with a more intimate group of people for my special event on October 26. Open to a limited number, “sneak peek” guests will not only sample my cooking but we’ll talk about how to choose your ingredients and the process of creating unique flavor combinations. I’m really looking forward to it; it should be a lot of fun for all ages.

Modern Live: What is one thing you would like your patrons and potential patrons to know?

Keith Pajinag
: I hope they can sense we’re having fun and we hope they enjoy our dining experience based on simple but playful dishes.