James Beard Award-winning Hawaii chef hopes honor inspires other women

Chef Robynne Mai'i of Chinatown's "Fete" and Waikiki's "Heyday" brings home the prestigious honor.
Published: Jun. 17, 2022 at 9:32 PM HST|Updated: Jun. 18, 2022 at 10:53 AM HST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - For the first time in almost 20 years, a local chef has won a coveted James Beard Award.

Chef Robynne Maii of Chinatown’s Fete and Waikiki’s Heyday is the first female chef from Hawaii to bring home the prestigious honor.

At the award ceremony in Chicago, Maii won “Best Chef” in the Northwest and Pacific category.

It was the Honolulu native’s first-ever nomination.

She worked at Kaimuki’s 3660 on the Rise and at the former Padovani’s Bistro and Wine Bar in Waikiki before moving to New York for graduate school in 1999.

“I did work in kitchens for the first couple of years just to like make some money,” said Maii. “My big plan was to not be in the kitchen.”

Then, she took a break from kitchens in 2002 to work for Gourmet Magazine and focus on one of her passions — culinary education with City University of New York.

Maii met her husband Chuck in the Big Apple. The duo began dreaming about a return to Hawaii and joining the restaurant industry.

In 2016, they opened Fete in Chinatown.

In her acceptance speech, Maii talked about how she wanted to create a restaurant where she would want to work.

“I wanted to give more money to our workers. I wanted to provide maternity leave. I wanted to give health insurance to everyone,” said Maii.

“I thought, why is our industry the only industry that doesn’t have normal things?”

“Fete” is now an award-winning new American eatery that features local ingredients and classic, but elevated dishes.

Maii says she hopes her big win will inspire other female chefs to believe in themselves. Before Maii, the last Hawaii chef to win a James Beard award was Chef George Mavrothalassitis, back in 2003.

Copyright 2022 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.