Four Seasons veteran and award-winning chef Martin Knaubert takes his knives to Ko Olina.
For culinary guru Martin Knaubert, the title of executive chef carries with it an immense weight of community and environmental responsibility. This course of action he speaks of pertains to the farm-to-table movement that has garnered prominence in cities across the world, and he views it as a way to add quality to the food he serves.
Some say the Michelin-rated, award-winning chef takes an unorthodox approach to creating dishes, preferring to highlight the base flavors each ingredient holds, which means natural, fresh ingredients are a must-have in his restaurants. His gift lies in his ability to combine elements in their purest forms to create unrivaled flavors that truly are works of art. His forte lies in seafood, and in the process aims to bring out the flavor without adding too many components.
“I just love cooking with seafood, fish [and] simple vegetables,” he says.
Instead of looking at what potential finished product lies at the end of his creative journey, he totally engrosses himself in the ingredients themselves, and seeing how he can harmoniously—yet often unexpectedly— combine them to conceive something great.
“It’s really very intuitive,” he says, modestly. To accomplish this task, he has made it his goal to incorporate as many local ingredients as possible in the dishes that adorn Four Seasons O`ahu’s restaurants-to-be.
He understands that local farms will not be able to completely supply his restaurants.
“But if I can get 60 to 70 percent farm-to-table, I will be really happy,” he adds.
He recalls 10 years ago, when the way of thinking revolved around how much luxury a single plate could exude, and compares it to growing up on a farm in Germany. “It’s very important for chefs to
get back to their roots of what’s important,” he explains. “It’s important for chefs to really showcase responsibility.
“When I remember farm-fresh eggs at my grandma’s house, that was a huge difference than what you buy in the supermarket,” he continues. “People have forgotten what actual food tastes like.”
His hometown kitchen was where his love of cooking emerged—the smells fascinated him, watching his grandma piece together dishes so delicious and wholesome that they stuck with Knaubert to this day. However, Knaubert departed from that life path upon heading off to university to focus his educational aspirations toward sociology, geography and anthropology.
“It was quite a turn,” he admits, but one that would steer him back on course to becoming one of Four Seasons’ most decorated chefs.
You see, Knaubert worked in restaurants to pay his school tuition, but quickly realized that his “second career” was where his passions lay.
“I remembered growing up with the best food in the world, and I wanted to recreate that,” he says.
And as far as switching career paths, not a day has passed that Knaubert has regretted his decision.
After stints in four continents, in cities from Chicago to Beijing, Knaubert has racked up a number of savory accolades, including the prestigious Michelin Bib Gourmand Award in 2014 at Deca Restaurant + Bar in Chicago. And now his culinary genius will go to work for O`ahu. While he only has been here for a short period, he already touts the shrimp trucks along North Shore and Chinatown’s manapuas as memorable meals. But most of all, North Shore Goodies’ Chocolate Peanut Butter has him completely enamored.
For Knaubert, a Four Seasons veteran of nearly two decades, the chance to execute his vision—in Hawai`i, no less—is a dream come true.
“Not many chefs have this opportunity,” he adds. “I truly believe with Ko Olina and the west side of O`ahu, we will be very important to the community. This restaurant is not only for guests; everybody should come. Nobody should feel intimidated.
“I think it’s very important for the [public] to see that we built our restaurants based on this community,” he says. “It’s a giving back.”