Na Hoaloha ‘Ekolu

When Sheldon Simeon left Na Hoaloha ‘Ekolu restaurant group after spinning into TV fame on the Bravo Channel’s “Top Chef,” someone with big feet needed to fill his shoes.

It took awhile, but Ivan Pahk stepped up to the plate in an even bigger position than Simeon held, and, as Maui foodies know, he’s got BIG experience, too.

“I’ve been with Sansei Seafood & Sushi on Maui for 14 years and oversaw its Fish & Pasta in Kaanapali as well,” says Pahk, who is from Oahu’s north shore.

“Prior to that, I cooked for the Starwood hotel group and also at the old Kapalua Bay Hotel, now Montage.”

Going back even further, Pahk enlisted in the Marine Corps, and was shipped off to Saudia Arabia for Desert Storm, where he cooked breakfasts, lunches and dinners daily for 28,000 soldiers.

With all of that experience under his belt, it’s no wonder he was picked to be the new corporate chef of Na Hoaloha ‘Ekolu, which encompasses West Maui’s Aloha Mixed Plate, Star Noodle, Starstruck Food Truck Old Lahaina Lu’au and Leoda’s Kitchen & Pie Shop, in addition to catering.

Pahk is now the “face” of the chef team, which also includes Gemsley Balagso at Star Noodle, who hails from a well-known Lahaina family. Balagso did a fab job of cooking our lunch at Star Noodle during the interview, as Pahk was quick to point out. “Right now, I’m focusing on Aloha Mixed Plate. Pretty much, I want to make that the Maui museum of plate lunches. Bring back the local food there.”

You won’t find any frou-frou truffles in the ramen, dishes. Or other touristy fare catered to visitors.

“Instead, you’ll find traditional local fare with teriyaki, kalbi, kim chee and even fresh, housemade poi,” he enthuses.

In fact, the company even grows its own poi at Hoaloha Farms in Waikapu. Farmer Bobby Pahia mans the lo’i.

“The taro comes straight here, we steam it and grind it ourselves and sell it at Aloha Mixed Plate in two pound containers and as part of some of the menu entrees there and at the Old Lahaina Lu’au.”

The company’s director of public relations Ka’ala Buenconsejo raves about what Pahk is doing these days.

“In the short time that he’s been with us, Ivan has really brought back the local flair. At Aloha Mixed Plate, he’s doing fresh taro pancakes, aromatic oxtail soup with peanut and ginger, and more poke dishes. It’s really a refresher. He definitely understands local culture and local food.”

Of course, the New York Times stated, “Paper plate meets million dollar view” and it is definitely the case on this oceanfront, under-the-shade-trees, dining experience.

The kalbi ribs are grilled to perfection; thick chow fun noodles are tossed with black-bean sauce; and Asian chicken salad is served with Oriental dressing and fresh herbs and greens.

“Since I’ve been with Na Hoaloha, I’ve been welcomed with open arms,” Pahk says. Director of Food & Beverage Aaron Trujillo (who also was with Sansei) and I are very comfortable. Gemsley is great. It’s important to have a good relationship with managers and staff. I’m part of every step of the way, and so I am promoting the farm-to-table menus coming out of our main commissary for all of the outlets.”