Maui Tastemakers

Japengo at Hyatt in Kaanapali on a roll with culinary series, sushi, nightly meals

Japengo Chef de Cuisine Gevin Utrillo (left) and Sushi Chef Jin Hosono will wow Fridays in March with Maui Tastemakers dinners in addition to the a la carte menu. • The Maui News / CARLA TRACY photo

Perched on a bluff overlooking Kaanapali Beach and the ocean beyond at the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort & Spa, Japengo is at its pinnacle.

The current Best Resort Restaurant in The Maui News’ annual Best of Maui contest, it’s got numerous awards from other publications, spectacular views, a chic sushi lounge and bar with trendy cocktails, nightly happy hour and live music with top isle musicians.

Both locals and visitors alike flock there for the freshest fish from Hawaii waters, all-natural steaks and Asian entrees that are off the charts.

Fridays in March, the Maui Tastemakers series will heat things up in Japengo as it now does every other month. This time around, the culinary team is partnering with Adoboloco Hot Sauce and Shrimps of Hawaii on the menu.

“The Maui Tastemakers has been around for a couple of years,” says Japengo Chef de Cuisine Gevin Utrillo. “It started as a once-a-month dinner to showcase different local partners to our guests.”

But those who were unavailable that particular night once a month would miss out.

“So we charged it up,” Utrillo explains. “Now we run it every Friday for the whole month so everyone can have an opportunity to make it.”

“Maui Tastemakers aims to showcase the outstanding food and drink of the area and personalities behind them in an intimate and interactive setting,” says Executive Chef Greg Grohowski. “Each collaboration will present a unique multi-course, pre fixe menu carefully crafted to feature one of Japengo’s valued Maui partners such as farmers, artisans, fishermen and beverage makers.”

The Adoboloco Hot Sauce owners are from Portland, Ore., and moved to Kihei, home schooling their children. As a project, the kids grew chili peppers in their home garden and the dad bottled it.

“One of his friends said, ‘It’s so good, you should market it,’ “ says Utrillo. “So he did and now there are several types of Adoboloco.”

For the first Maui Tastemakers course, Japengo sushi chef and native of Japan Jin Hosono will make the prized Kauai sweet shrimp into a tartare, spicy with Adoboloco jalapeno sauce. The entree by Chef Utrillo will be Molokai spot prawns done Singapore style with pineapple fried rice and crab kicked up with pineapple habanero Adoboloco sauce. And the dessert is cooling coconut creme brulee with fiery mango habanero sauce in a tropical fruit-based mango-lime compote.

In May, organic Maui Ocean Vodka will be featured and in July it will be Simpli-Fresh Produce and Maui Shrub. The Tastemakers partners for September and November will be announced in coming weeks.

“We cut the Ocean Vodka bottles in half and serve food in them,” says Grohowski. “And the Simpli Fresh and Maui Shrub drinks are really fresh and fun.”

During the nightly happy hour from 5 to 6 p.m., the lounge is alive with people talking, laughing and dining on curry-dusted calamari, steamed Manila clams and hoisin glazed pork ribs and sipping specialty cocktails such as the ginger Limonata.

“As for sushi, Jin’s doing magical work each week,” says Utrillo. “He’s got incredible moriawase sashimi selections and omakase sushi platters. Our new hotel General Manager Fred Findlen is very supportive. He comes here from Lake Tahoe. Japengo also has a great new GM Courtney Geiser, who came from Austin.”

Utrillo is turning into quite the island superstar. He’ll be featured at a trade show in Denver from March 14 to 18, sent by Maui Visitors Bureau along with some other Maui chefs. The hotel is also hosting the ‘Aipono Awards on April 23 and Hyatt chefs will be featured at the Kapalua Wine & Food Festival in June as well as the Hawaii Food & Wine Festival in October.

* Maui Tastemakers: Dine anytime from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. Fridays in March on a three-course feast featuring Kauai shrimp and Adoboloco Hot Sauce of Maui. Cost is $60 per person, or $80 with wine pairings. Call the Hyatt at 667-4727 or visit