I feel like I’m working on a soap opera script, following chef Chris Kajioka. Two months after I interviewed him and Mourad Lahlou (see below) in September, the Hawai‘i-born chef went through a tearful divorce (I keed! It was all amicable) and reunited with his old flame Ron Siegel at the Ritz Carlton’s new restaurant Parallel 37 (they gutted the eight-year-old Dining Room).
Seigel is known as a chef’s chef—he doesn’t have the Food Channel name recognition of, say, Tom Colicchio, but in the restaurant world, he ranks. Kajioka worked under Seigel at the Dining Room and rejoins him in the same (reworked) space, with new food. The formal dining format has been reinvented as a hotspot, with a loosened culinary necktie, so to speak.
Ron Seigel “taught me hot to cook, act and be in a highly professional and caliber kitchen,” says Kajioka. And it’s thanks to Seigel that Kajioka moved on to Per Se.
“I remember our last meeting five years ago, before I left the Dining Room,” wrote Kajioka via email. “I told him I wanted to move to NYC. I mentioned Jean Georges and Le Bernardin as possible restaurants. He asked if I wanted to go to Per Se. I was floored because I didn’t think I could get in that kitchen. He made one phone call to Jonathan Benno. I was on a plane three weeks later. So in a sense I owe a lot of my career to him. One of my best friends is Ron’s current sous chef, who has been with him for almost 10 years, so I jumped at their offer to join and bring the level back up. In some respect, I took a few steps down to be the meat cook and work with my mentor and one of my best friends and talented cook, André.”
Kajioka left Aziza just one day before he started at Parallel 37. “I was extremely sad to leave Mourad,” says Kajioka. “We have become fast brothers and have a genuine professional and personal respect. I could honestly see myself working with him in the future, we always joke about Aziza in Hawai‘i—I almost think he is only half joking.”
Parallel 37 opened on Dec. 12, and Kajioka started a few weeks before that to train with the staff and finalize the opening menu. He reports that the menu is a lot more simple and casual than the old Dining Room, while remaining centered around the farmer’s market, but with more straightforward flavors and techniques.
The San Francisco Chronicle restaurant critic Michael Bauer hasn’t officially weighed in on the restaurant yet, but he did post this tidbit. Kampachi sashimi? Could Kajioka be having an influence beyond meat?
But I’m sure it won’t be long before this drama takes some new twists. Kajioka is never short of offers, and he’s always wanted to stage at kaiseki temple RyuGin in Tokyo and Alain Passard’s red-meat-free L’Arpège in Paris (both spots have three Michelin stars. “They have always been on my bucket list,” says Kajioka, “and I truly want to make those happen.”