Mainland cities like New York and Los Angeles have been making food-truck culture boom for years. But in Hawaii, the idea of mobile units serving high-quality, inventive food hadn’t quite caught on until Maui chef Kyle Kawakami came on the scene. In 2013, Kawakami, a native of rural upcountry, brought his gourmet food truck, Maui Fresh Streatery, to the island and has never looked back. With a menu that changes every two weeks, depending on what’s in season at local farms and fisheries, Kawakami serves up dishes like Kona crab and Kula corn bisque with Ha’uke’uke urchin foam; Indian-spiced seared ahi; pork and hominy verde; and calamari-and-papaya salad. It’s healthy local food that, in Hawaiian, you’d call “ono,” or pleasing to the senses.
The versatile Kawakami also has a degree in zoology, having studied at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, and one in culinary arts from Maui Community College, where he received the Chancellor’s Regent Award and Outstanding Culinary Award and later went back to teach. While a student, he was mentored by executive chef Tylun Pang at the Fairmont Kea Lani resort. He combined studying with travel to California, Washington, and Oregon and was inspired by all the food trucks he encountered.
Back on Maui, Kawakami put his combined knowledge to work and, with local producers on his supply team, got Maui Fresh Streatery on the move. And in Kahului, the chef’s red-and-green truck spells what’s for lunch.