Chef James Aptakin and TEAM HAWAII recently won the Seafood Title at the 5th Annual World Food Championships in Orange Beach, Alabama. Chef James competed in ten categories over the week-long competition against more than 400 three-chef teams from around the world, vying for over $300,000 in cash & prizes.
Congratulations on your recent win at the WFC. How did you prepare for the contest and what can you tell us about the dishes you created there?
I prepared by bringing my equipment and local Hawaiian food products with me. I networked with my team friends who lived near Orange County, Alabama and local food companies, as well as Hawaiian vendors to ship or get the best ingredients and food for the competition. We took being at the World Food Championships 2016 very seriously! I conducted recipe and development research designing four dishes that would showcase the passion and seriousness of the food. Below are the dishes we created:
Kiawe Smoked Togarashi Torched Hamachi, Popcorn Wasabi Truffle Shoyu, Fried Shallots, Thai Basil, Black Hawaiian Sea Salt sitting on a Vietnamese-style raw shaved Vegetable Shrimp Quinoa Salad. Both the structural and signature dishes won qualifying rounds out of 40 seafood teams.
Creole Seafood Tower, Shrimp Cebiche Creole, Ahi Chimichurri Creole, Stone Crab Smoked Salsa Verde Creole, injected with Creole Chili Oil and layers of Avocado Mousse & Thai Mustard Creole Crème Fraîche. For this round we had to use creole, Gulf Coast Seafood and adobo seasoning. This dish won the 1st place prize of $10,000 in the Seafood Category and qualified us for the finals.
Finals – 3rd Round:
Brown Butter Duck Fat Seared Halibut, Lobster Tom Yum Broth, Lobster Truffle Duck Fat Mashed Potatoes, Stone Crab Ceviche Salsa & Lobster Chili Oil. After a week of competitions we took part in nine food categories representing seafood throughout the entire event. We won reserve Champion of World Food Championships 2016 missing 1st place by .26 of a point.
How was your overall experience at the WFC? Was this your first time competing at the event?
Yes, it was my first time at the World Food Championships and an epic one taking home Seafood 1st place to Hawaii! The overall experience was amazing and an example of Aloha and Ohana, the way other competitors went out of their way to help us with product I was unable to obtain. It seemed everyone we ran into went out of his or her way with excitement to see us win the seafood category – the friendships forged and hospitality of Ohana was amazing and something I will always remember. After a week of adrenaline and passion fueled cooking from the heart it was a true honor to represent seafood and win, as well as making reserve champion of the overall competition.
As Miami, FL native how did you find your way to living & working in Hawaii?
I was born and raised in Miami where I fell in love with South American cuisine. I joined the Navy after high school, cooking for 6,000 service member’s stationed in Alameda, California on the USS CVN-72 Abraham Lincoln Aircraft Carrier. I then went to school in California at the Culinary California Academy and the Culinary Institute of America, where I mastered farm to table and sustainability. However, my love was Hawaiian regional and Pan Asian cuisine so when I was called twice in one week to come to Hawaii and offered a position in the birthplace of my wife, we moved to paradise. I ran the Hilton Waikiki Beach as Executive Chef for five years and won Best Gourmet Comfort Food Hale ‘Aina Awards every year. I figured if I’m going to say I have mastered ‘regional Hawaiian cuisine’ I had to dive into it and live it daily: eating, touching, smelling and cooking it with passion.
How would you describe your style of Hawaiian fusion cuisine and what current culinary trends are big across the Islands right now?
My style of cooking is regional Hawaiian cuisine with South American flare using French techniques. My food is hot, vibrant, exciting, cutting-edge fusion that no one else is cooking around the world. I have also mastered gourmet comfort food, which is an award-winning fusion of Hawaiian cuisine. Some of the hot trends in Hawaii right now are poke bowls and variations there of; vegetables are starting to take center stage and a healthier way to eat amazing food. Ethnic food is hot right now too. Sourcing local, sustainable produce is still a way of life here, as well as non GMO.