The Unforgettable Flavors of Hawaii

Michelin-starred chef Jonathan Benno on a most formative summer, shopping at Mitsukoshi Ginza, and the humbling power of Bangkok spice.



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Highly subjective takes on life’s most interesting experiences.

What was a place that exceeded all of your expectations?

I moved to Hawaii when I was 19 to stay with my high school friend for the summer who lived out there. Being at the beginning of my career, I was completely broke and the only thing I knew how to do was work in restaurants. I eventually began my first job at the Hard Rock Cafe in Waikiki. Hawaii exceeded all of my expectations because of its pure beauty and endless adventure. The diverse influence from the Pacific, combined with influences from the mainland, was very apparent. Of course, a large part of my time there was spent trying the local cuisine. Casual drive-ins and diners offered the most delicious pork buns, loco moco, chicken teriyaki, SPAM, and more. On the other end of the spectrum, I was also completely amazed by the freshness and high quality of the seafood. The prices for the quality of local fish were truly remarkable. It is in Hawaii that I ended up at my second job in fine dining at The Black Orchid.

What’s a singular shopping experience you’ve had?

One of the most exciting shopping experiences I have ever had is at Mitsukoshi Ginza located in Tokyo, Japan. Mitsukoshi is Japan’s largest department store offering designer apparel, housewares, and cosmetics, plus an insanely large food hall and restaurants. The store has about 2–3 floors below ground where they have meat, seafood, and even an entire floor dedicated to pastries. On the top of the store, they have the most incredible Japanese restaurants that are modestly priced for the location.

The best street food?

I went to Bangkok for 2–3 weeks when I worked at Per Se and we did a Thomas Keller takeover at the Mandarin Oriental. This is where I found the world’s best street food. I was amazed at the diversity of the food along with the fact that you could sit down at 3 a.m. and have an incredible meal. I never truly knew what I was getting until it was handed to me, yet it was delicious every time. As a proclaimed spicy food lover, I can truly say that eating at these street vendors was a humbling experience.


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Our Contributors

Jonathan Benno

Jonathan Benno is the chef and partner behind Benno restaurant.

Mike McQuade Illustrator

Mike McQuade is an illustrator and artist living and working in Richmond, Virginia. His clients include the New York Times, the New Yorker, Criterion Collection, Nike, Apple, HarperCollins, Penguin Books, Pentagram, NPR, and the Atlantic. His work focuses largely on finding concepts through collage, and always aims for unexpected outcomes.


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