At first sight, chef Eric Faivre was nearly intimidating as he walked toward me during my visit last month to Maui’s Grand Wailea Resort. Amid the empty chairs of the hotel’s central bar, Faivre appeared for the afternoon interview in the ever-recognizable white chef coat and striped pants, his six-foot-plus stature seemingly more Viking-like, of the Nordic or Minnesota variety, than that of a chef. I wondered, as I always do with chefs I haven’t met before, whether he would be disagreeable – stuffy, preoccupied, cranky about being wrangled into a prep schedule roadblock by an eager PR associate – or gracious. I was pleased to find the latter.
“I’ve been to Portland,” he began as we took to seats in the open lounge. “It rained a lot while I was there.”
“Yeah, I hear that a lot,” I answered with a smile.
I confessed, of course, that I was in awe of the grandiose property. Upon arrival, one enters the forty-acre destination through airy halls scattered with robust Botero statues, warm greenery-lined corridors offering paths in a handful of directions. White framed open archways and floor-to-ceiling windows line the walls, with the hotel’s Botero Bar a prime resting destination before guests venture down to beach level, where a private beach, wedding chapel, numerous pools (including a mini waterpark), fruit and herb gardens, an award-winning spa, and the Grand Wailea’s two restaurants – Bistro Molokini and Humuhumunukunukuapua’a – can be found. Amidst the accommodations are ballrooms and event spaces as well, servicing everything from wedding parties to corporate gatherings.
“We have about a million covers a year,” the chef explained. “It’s a really, really big operation. We are open seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day. Staffing wise, I have about 75 to 80 cooks in the kitchen, and a team of around ten chefs. Stewarding is also under me, and we have an average of 50-60 stewards as well.”
Born and raised in France, Faivre gained his culinary education during his late teens, making his way into the Hilton International family post-graduation. Starting in Strasbourg, he worked in the kitchens of Switzerland, France, Guam, Taiwan, and Hawaii’s Big Island before landing in the Wailea. Now in his tenth year as the resort’s executive chef, he credits his well-traveled staff for helping to create a culinary program pleasing to both national and international visitors.
“A lot of chefs here have been trained in Hawaiian cuisine, whether formally or by the chefs before them. Most of the time, our guests want that local cuisine, but interestingly enough, some don’t want to veer too far from what they’re used to,” Faivre told me. “We have our restaurant Humuhumu which is more classic, run by chef Isaac – a local kid, born and raised here on Maui who definitely has a lot of interesting twists in his food. We also have the Bistro Molokini (pictures, left and below) with chef Mike Lofaro from the East Coast. He traveled quite a bit before he came here, so Bistro is a bit more California with a Hawaiian twist. And then the pastry chef, Natalie, comes from Pennsylvania, so she also brings a special touch. So we try to put it all together and make sure we feature the best of the island.”
Surrounded by miles of ocean, the food products utilized by Faivre and his team are just as carefully chosen as the lead staff, utilizing local farmers and producers as often as possible. It’s tough though, Faivre explained, to find enough local product for such a large operation.
“Getting products is easier now because we have a lot of good local farmers. However, with the size of the property itself, we utilize a lot of items. Sixty percent of our events are banquets, so oftentimes we need to figure out how to feed 1200 people, breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It’s a matter of organization, knowing who’s coming in and when they’re coming in and making sure we have our menus ready to order things.”
The ordering logistics of an island property can become treacherous territory as well if not coordinated correctly.
“We can always fly products in, but the prices are much higher of course. To get everything together, it takes about ten days. Things come directly to the West Coast and then it takes another three days to get to us.”
Still, with the operation of such a massive machine resting on the shoulders of its people, Faivre didn’t miss a beat when I asked about difficulties with staffing due to the demand of a hotel like the Grand Wailea.
“Staffing is not a problem. We have a strong culinary program at Maui Culinary Academy, so there is a lot of passion here, a lot of young kids starting off,” he explained with a pride I had seen in a number of Maui’s locals. “There are lot of people who want to come to join us, because it’s a great place to be. Everyone wants to come to Maui because they want to cook in the morning and go surfing in the afternoon. What more could you want?”
*Many mahalos to the Grand Wailea Resort for inviting me to enjoy the property during my press trip to Maui.
**Photo credit: Jennifer Heigl / Daily Blender