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As Halekulani’s executive chef for eight years, Vikram Garg was one of the most high-profile chefs in the fine dining realm. Now, as operating partner and executive chef for The MacNaughton Group, he takes a more behind-the-scenes role, but his influence is even more far-reaching than before. With MacNaughton, a real estate development firm involved with projects from the luxury condo Park Lane Ala Moana to Regal Kapolei Commons movie theater (and Garg hints at more projects down the line, including restaurants), Garg is now involved in hospitality details of a wide-ranging scope. He is tasked with bringing the food and beverage experience and hospitality brand through all MacNaughton’s spaces. That means everything from designing a concessions menu at the movie theater with a bacon-chili-pineapple burger and cupcakes from local baker Let Them Eat Cupcakes to hiring a general manager and designing the private owners lounge at Park Lane.

It means stepping back slightly from cooking, but only slightly: Garg has a professional kitchen in his own home, complete with industrial size ovens, a sous vide machine, meat slicer, grinder, vacuum pack machine and mixers, as well as a kitchen at his office at MacNaughton. And he continues to prepare dishes at events including the Hawai‘i Food and Wine Festival. At this point in his life, it would be impossible to separate Garg from cooking.

Garg was born and raised in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Indian territories, but closer to Indonesia and Myanmar. He sees similarities between the islands he grew up in and the island that is now his home—claimed by one country, but absorbing the influences of many others.

From the very beginning, Garg says “food was a big part of my life. My mom is a great cook … as a child I was passionate about eating good food. I was fascinated by hospitality and dining and the glamor of the industry.” He decided to go to school for hotel management (against the wishes of his family, who wanted him to be an engineer). He soon figured out that if he became a chef, “I’d get to travel, eat, enjoy all the delicacies of the world. It‘s the best way to experience the best food around the globe.”

Indeed, Garg’s resume reads like a five-star feast around the world, having worked in luxury hotels from the Oberoi in New Delhi, India to the Metropolitan Palace Hotel in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates to Little Dix Bay Hotel in Spanish Town in the British Virgin Islands. Right before coming to Hawai‘i, he opened and was the executive chef for Indebleu in Washington, D.C., which in 2005 Condé Nast Traveler named one of the hottest new restaurants in the world. And then, in 2006, he got a call from the Halekulani.

“I never had Hawai‘i on my horizon, ever in my life,” remembers Garg. “Growing up, people used to joke: ‘Where you going?’ ‘I’m going to Timbuktu or Honolulu,’ these places in the middle of nowhere.” But in the middle of the Pacific, he found his home. “I traveled about 18 years of my career around the globe. For the last 10 years, I anchored myself in Hawai‘i. The anchor is pretty deep, I’d say.”

At Halekulani, he debuted new concepts including L’Aperitif, a cocktail bar with drinks designed by Colin Field of the Ritz Hemingway Bar in Paris, and introduced Table One, an exclusive private dining table with each tasting menu and wine pairings different from the next.

Hopscotching around the world means Garg’s cooking has picked up global influ- ences, but whatever he cooks or menu he designs is rooted in the here and now. He says, “food is about the moment. It’s a place. Where you are, what the temperature is, what the time is. Food is all about that. That influences my style of cooking. What I want to cook is what I want to eat.” Listening to him come up with a dish for a warm summer afternoon in Hawai‘i is like listening to jazz musician improvise. “Something with tomatoes, a nice piece of fish with a good sear, olive oil and fresh herbs. Something herbaceous, something light. Or a nice cold, raw fish with a little bit of lemon juice and soy sauce. Light and green. Citrus-y, tomato-y. Nothing hot.”

From the small details on a plate to the small details in a 217-unit luxury residence building, it all matters to Garg. With his career of opening and reopening hotels, he’s used to looking at experiences from the eyes of a guest. After all, he learned hotel management before he trained to become a chef. The two complement each other, as Garg has learned, but really, it’s “my passion to eat, that I became a chef,” he says. “Being a chef is more of a hobby that has paid me for the last 27 years.”