Oʻahu-born chef Chris Kajioka describes himself as stubborn, independent and a sports fanatic but what he really wants the world to know is that he is Cade’s father. “Being a dad is the best thing that has ever happened to me,” says the ʻIolani School graduate. “I love everything about it. I want to give Cade everything I can while I’m around.”
His son was named after a favorite wine that he and his wife enjoy, produced from Cade Winery in Napa Valley, under the same ownership as PlumpJack. Chris describes the wine as strong and bold, two characteristics he values. So how has fatherhood changed Chris? It is teaching him to be more patient!
I first met Chris six years ago while in San Francisco. His tasting menu at Parallel 37 was my introduction to his superior culinary skills. Chris had no doubt in his mind that he would be part of this demanding industry. He grew up watching “Great Chefs of the World” and dreamt of becoming like one of them. The 33-year old carries an impressive resume. Professional highlights include: graduate of The Culinary Institute of America, award nominations from the James Beard Foundation and Food and Wine Magazine, worked under iconic chef and mentor, Thomas Keller and more recently, former Executive Chef at Vintage Cave in Honolulu. It was his time here that brought Chris international recognition as a chef. However, managing this exclusive fine-dining restaurant and caring for his new born son created the most challenging time in his life. “I was working 16-hour days and mentally exhausted. For the first time in my life, I was burnt out,” recalls Chris. He knew he was letting his wife down while trying to prove himself – needing to do better than yesterday. Chris was desperately trying to survive, mentally and emotionally, through this transition. Cade was born nearly a year into opening the luxury restaurant. “Soon after my wife gave birth, I returned to the kitchen and completed dinner service that evening,” he says. That day dramatically changed his life. He chose to make family his priority and departed Vintage Cave in July 2014.
Lessons learned? You can’t do everything yourself! In the pursuit of that balance between his love for his family and his passion for cooking, Chris is partnering with Anthony and Katherine Rush to open Restaurant Senia this summer, situated in the vibrant hub of downtown Honolulu (Chinatown) and neighboring the award-winning restaurant, Pig and The Lady. All three met in New York, while working at Thomas Keller’s three Michelin-starred restaurant, Per Se. Since 2007, they have maintained a meaningful relationship. “I trust them with everything,” says Chris.
Chris and British native Chef Anthony will create a menu based on items they love to eat when going out. They want the casual-dining restaurant to be a place where people will want to come all the time, a sense of place.
Want a sneak peek of Restaurant Senia? They will be hosting a fundraiser event for Easter Seals Hawaiʻi next month. It’s one of four events the non-profit is coordinating this summer across the state through a new unique culinary series called The Traveling Plate. For more details, please follow Easter Seals on Facebook and Twitter.
His son and wife being happy, having a sustainable restaurant, and creating a lineage of excellent chefs are what defines success for Chris. “I want to be remembered as a great mentor and Cade’s dad. I want my son to know that I was always there for him.” He wants his son to grow up in the restaurant so don’t be surprised if you see Cade make an appearance during your visit.
Chris does have one secret desire – for his son to follow in his footsteps. In fact, he gave Cade the middle name of Thomas, after his mentor Thomas Keller.