A Sense Of Place On The Plate

Overlooking Hanalei Bay, St. Regis Princeville Resort includes three restaurants: Nalu Kai, Kaua’i Grill and Makana Terrace. Each offers an expansive view of the bay, and each is getting a makeover by whom is believed to be the first and only Hawaiian female executive chef at a luxury resort.

Born and raised on the Big Island, Leanne Kamekona has worked at five of the top 25 resorts in Hawaii. Three months ago, she joined the St. Regis as executive chef, overseeing all three restaurants. She is developing relationships with Kaua’i food growers and is adding more local ingredients to the menu.

As a native Hawaiian, Kamekona brings a sense of place to the plate. Nourished by kalo, kalua pig and fresh fish since birth, the traditions and ingredients hold a special place in her heart. This idea, or mana’o, enables her to create local food with authentic tastes and textures while adding contemporary flavors.

“The focus that we have in the kitchen is ‘ekahi ohana, or being one team,” says Kamekona. “We want that spirit to go to the plate and to the guests, so they can live it for the short time that they’re here. That’s what we’re here for. It brings them to a sense of place where they can feel that energy, ohana and the mana’o.”

Nalu Kai is tucked along the pool and offers a 180-degree view of the Pacific Ocean, Mount Makana and Hanalei Bay. The Mediterranean-inspired menu includes taro burgers, and burgers made with Hawaii Ranchers Natural Beef, served on house-made brioche buns. In fact, all the bread at St. Regis is made in-house, and the Kalua Flatbread includes imu-style pork, caramelized Maui onions and Maui Gold Pineapple.

Roasted garlic, Kailani Farms arugula, fresh mozzarella and Kaua’i Kunana Goat Cheese top the Kilauea Flatbread.

Maxime Michaud, formally sous chef at Nalu Kai, is now the executive chef of St. Regis’ premier restaurant, Kaua’i Grill. Inspired by internationally acclaimed chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, the menu still features the sublime dishes I wrote about in the Nov 23, 2011, issue of MidWeek Kaua’i.

The entire Sunday brunch menu at Makana Terrace has been changed and features a sushi station with poke. Kamekona is serving fresh 100-percent Hawaiian fish at the island bistro including monchong, mahi, shutome, ahi, opah, opaka, onaga and blue marlin, as well as taro from Hanalei.

“Taro is right in our backyard,” says Kamekona, who just added taro and corned beef hash with poached eggs and lilikoi beurre blanc to the breakfast menu. “I’d like to showcase it more, there’s a lot of things you can do with it besides making poi.”

One way Kamekona plans to feature taro as well as other Kaua’i-grown products is to offer sustainable dinners at Makana Terrace. Kamekona hopes to educate diners by bringing in farmers, ranchers and fishermen to talk about what they do, and creating a meal from the food they produce.

“We also are looking at doing seasonal-specific dinners,” says Kamekona. “Take taro, for example. From appetizers to entree to dessert, the dinner would be wrapped around taro.

The locals can attend and become inspired by the different ways you can make it.

“I’d like our guests to realize how the farmers, ranchers and fishermen enable us to be sustainable within the Islands,” says Kamekona. “We live in a great place, and we should definitely use as much as we can from our backyards.”

St. Regis Princeville Resort

5520 Ka Haku Road, Princeville


Marta Lane is a Kaua’i-based food writer. For more information, visit TastingKauai.com.