Food can stir up powerful memories of a blissful, carefree childhood. Growing up, we loved the ingredients and flavors of simple homemade meals, but our palates have evolved as adults. Complex ingredients, simple yet robust flavors, and exquisite pairings are things that we gravitate to with age.
Food played a pivotal role in George Mavrothalassitis’s formative years and drove him to become the man he is today. His flair for creating culturally diverse food with farm-to-table produce has made him synonymous with world-class cuisine.
Who is Chef George Mavrothalassitis?
George grew up in Provence, Marseilles to a Greek father and Italian mother. Amidst the pastoral beauty of France, George spent most of the summer on his grandfather’s farm and from there began his enchanting fascination for everything food.
But life appeared to have other things in store for George. Instead of becoming a chef like he always dreamed about, George was persuaded by his parents to take up engineering. Armed with a degree in mechanical engineering, George set out to make a mark but soon realized he found no purpose in what he was doing. He finally decided to swap the T-square for an apron and revisited his first passion: cooking.
He moved to the United States in 1985 and began working in restaurants creating lightly textured, flavorful, small plates with seasoned foam or a rich broth. It was his version of molecular gastronomy much before it became a commonplace craft in leading kitchens.
In 1988, George accepted a position at Le Mer, a restaurant located at the grand Halekulani Hotel in Waikiki. Like a soul connection that was waiting to happen, he found stark similarities between Honolulu and Marseilles: the food, climate, fresh catch, meat, and produce – all reminded him of home.
How a Movement Put Hawaiian Cuisine on the Map
In the late 1700s, whalers and traders from countries such as Japan, Puerto Rico, China, and Portugal brought traditional recipes and blends to Hawaii, creating a tapestry of interesting flavors that are now staples in Hawaiian cuisine. This created a profound multicultural handshake of foreign ingredients with locally grown produce by native Hawaiians.
But after Statehood and World War II, restaurants served foods that were usually shipped from distant places. Most meals mimicked American preparations, leading many to believe that Hawaiian food was bland and uninspired when in reality, it was so much more.
George’s desire to resuscitate Hawaii’s lost cuisine gave birth to a novel idea—resurging fresh, locally sourced produce to put Hawaiian cuisine on the world map.
In 1991, George and 11 other chefs came together and started the Hawaii Regional Cuisine movement. They encouraged local farmers to grow diverse crops that the chefs in turn would market through their restaurants. Thanks to their efforts, Hawaii is today a gastronomic hub of unforgettable food.
Chef Mavro: A Multicultural Fusion Restaurant
“I awoke at sunrise, looked out over Waikiki Beach to Diamond Head, and said to myself — ‘that’s it, I’m home!’” – George Mavrothalassitis
In 1998, George opened his restaurant, Chef Mavro, on King Street in Honolulu. The restaurant serves a delectable spread of Japanese, Asian, Western, and French fusion cuisines.
85% of the menu consists of locally sourced produce and fresh catch that is ordered daily and never frozen for another day. Chef Mavro curates seasonal menus that are regularly updated with trendy ingredients and crowd favorites.
The first thing you’ll notice about Chef Mavro is the minimal artwork, warm lighting, and vivid but not quirky color palette put together by the famous Hawaiian decorator Mary Philpotts McGrath.
Jeremy Shigejkane (former Executive Chef) and Jose Calpito (Pastry Chef) have greatly contributed to the success of the restaurant over the years. Shigejkane worked as the chef de cuisine at Hoku’s in The Kahala Resort before taking up the same role at Chef Mavro.
What Kind of Food Does Chef Mavro Serve?
Set course meals are served and changed every season, depending on which hero ingredients make it into the dishes. Wielding his mastery in the kitchen using French techniques and the freshest of Hawaiian ingredients from the farm and the sea, George creates a cornucopia of scintillating soul food.
Dishes like the heartwarming Maitake Mushroom Indochine (mushroom broth, Sumida watercress, sauteed green papaya, kaffir lime, and galangal) and the exquisite Hawaiian dessert Lilikoi Malasadas (lilikoi, coconut, vanilla, pineapple, and guava) will make you weak in the knees.
Noteworthy Accomplishments of Chef Mavro
George’s award-winning restaurant has raked in several notable wins and mentions through the years. Chef Mavro is the only independently owned restaurant in Hawaii to earn the 2014 American Automobile Association Five Diamond status. It is also the only restaurant with a Gayot Three Toques 18/20 rating.
Chef Mavro has featured on Gayot’s, “2014 Top 40 Restaurants in the U.S” and “Top 10 Seafood Restaurants in the U.S.” The editors of Fodor’s guidebooks voted the eatery in their list of “Top 10 Restaurants in the World.”
Chef Mavro is the only fine-dining eatery in the US to be honored by United Fresh. The national fresh produce trade organization recognized George’s restaurant for its use of fresh produce in an innovative, influential manner. Chef Mavro is also one of only 3 Hawaii chefs to win the acclaimed James Beard Award equivalent to the “Oscars” in the culinary world.
New Beginnings, Continued Passion: M by Jeremy Shigekane
In March of 2019, the ownership of Chef Mavro changed hands, moving to Jeremy Shigekane, its former Executive Chef. George continues doing what he does best – whipping up gastronomical indulgences alongside Shigekane. Under Shigekane’s leadership, what was once a fine dining restaurant changed directions, shifting away from its reputation as a high-end restaurant for special occasions only.
Instead of its usual 40 seating, the restaurant has expanded its interiors to accommodate 70 guests while adding vegan and vegetarian options to the menu. The pandemic only accelerated the transition and Chef Marco under Shigekane’s stewardship swiftly adapted to lockdown order demands, serving casual and tasty bistro, brasserie, and bar foods, takeouts, and homemade sauces with a classic Mavro twist.
Where other restaurants were struggling to stay afloat, Shigejkane was thinking on his feet. When restrictions for in-house dining rolled out he began selling a classic selection of sandwiches, Moules frites, and croque monsieurs through the back door or in the parking lot of his restaurant. To give customers a true Chef Mavro experience, he even put together thoughtfully curated cooking boxes with fresh produce for a wholesome experience at home.
While Chef Mavro continues to offer a fine dining experience, he also introduced a casual bistro called M by Jeremy Shigekane. According to Shigekane – “The purpose of M is to feed our community good food and drink, and to support local farms and purveyors.”
M offers a 5-course tasting menu with a fine, upbeat selection of cocktails and mocktails that customers can enjoy. With M, Jeremy Shigekane brings to the table unique and affordable gourmet food and drinks and an unforgettable dining experience while keeping the essence of Chef Mavro intact.