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Bay Area Chefs Find Inspiration, Business in Honolulu

NBC Bay Area attended the Oahu leg of the annual Hawai'i Food and Wine Festival and discovered a number of connections between the food worlds of Honolulu and San Francisco.

The festival invited a number of Bay Area chefs, including Commonwealth's Jason Fox, the Slanted Door's Charles Phan and Liholiho Yacht Club's Ravi Kapur to cook alongside local and international talent at various dream team events. State Bird Provisions chef/owners Nicole Krasinski and Stuart Brioza and their sous chef Gaby Maeda marveled at the breadth and quality of local produce that were presented to the chefs in advance as possible tools for their events.

"I grew up about a mile from here in Honolulu and I've never gotten to work with it before!" Maeda said enthusiastically of ulu (breadfruit), which the three incorporated into a goat cheese fritter, a variation of a dish that was served when Krasinski and Brioza got married on the Big Island.

A welcome event highlighted that Bay Area restaurateur Michael Mina opened a Waikiki branch of his Stripsteak this summer in the International Marketplace, a new luxury shopping center that also features an island branch of San Francisco's b. patisserie. Stripsteak's executive chef Benjamin Jenkins has been a longtime ace in Mina's portfolio of restaurants, beginning with the defunct Aqua, now the site for the flagship Michael Mina restaurant in San Francisco.

Mina also plans to open a refined food hall called The Street, a Michael Mina Social House inside the International Marketplace next spring that will feature two San Francisco exports: Ramen Bar and International Smoke, the latter a barbecue concept created in collaboration with Ayesha Curry, wife of Golden State Warriors star Steph Curry.

Chefs from the island have also turned to San Francisco as a key city for mainland culinary experience before returning to start their own restaurants. Such is the case with chef Chris Kajioka, who has worked with acclaimed Bay Area chefs like Ron Siegel, Mourad Lahlou and Thomas Keller (for Keller's Per Se in New York). His forthcoming restaurant Senia is due to open later this year and is one of Honolulu's most anticipated debuts.

The Bay Area love and influence also shows up in small, unexpected places like Honolulu's Otto Cake, a punk rock dessert shop that serves slices of lilikoi and other inventive cheesecakes alongside adorable store T-shirts that are styled in an obvious homage to Amoeba Music.

This isn't a one-sided affair, though; the Bay Area appears to be increasingly embracing Hawaiian food. The number of eateries that serve the island specialty of raw fish poke bowls, for example, has been exploding as one of the biggest local food trends in 2016. The love and respect is mutual — and growing.

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