Interview with Chef Derrick Salomon Pilates Retreat Maui, Hawaii

Pilates Retreat Maui is not your ordinary retreat but something really, really special. You are warmly invited to the beautiful island of Maui and into the home of local residents Arlene and Derrick Salomon, a direct oceanfront bungalow in an old neighborhood with a mixed demographic and very local feel. In addition to it's idyllic location, it is a place with incredible soul and history of Aloha and hospitality. Being treated like 'ohana, like family, the beach house is where retreat guests gather for their Pilates workouts, enjoy cultural entertainment, and gourmet food prepared by Chef Derrick Salomon, a classically trained saucier and veteran of numerous professional kitchens around the world. Lets listen to his fascinating story.

Chef, Tell us a little about you growing up in Hawaii.

Well its a long story really- born and raised in the northern end of Polynesia to a local family thats involved in aspects of agriculture and culinary. My Maternal Grandfather was a politico of his day, newspaper reporter and journalist.

Do you remember your grandfather?

I do remember him. But I was quite young when he passed.

how did The beach in front of the house here get named after your grandfather?

The beach is named for Charley Young, often places are named for the people that lived there or events… like White Rock. Charley Young Beach is a place where Charley Young built his house and raised his family. And he was involved in the community particularly radio and newspaper so he was well known in the community. They also named a bridge after him for his contribution to improve public safety, there was an old dilapidated bridge that kept washing out and putting peoples lives at risk so he rattled enough cages to get the county to put in a new bridge and they dedicated it to him and that would be in the early 60’s I believe. (Pause) I should mention he was a corpulent man…

Was he a Chef too?

He was not, that I know of but he had an appetite for the finer things in life and he was very gregarious and very social and a very smart man.

What about his wife?

Oh, Betty, she was an icon.

We've heard stories about her Aloha and hospitality. Tell us about that.

She was the queen of Charley Young Beach for sure. She was known to pull random strangers up off the beach and feed them and clothe them and house them. Back in those days there weren't a lot of people here, oh yeah, there were some oscillations and in the 1940’s there was of course the war and then at the end of the war people left and went back to where they came from so it was in the 50’s a lot quieter. Granny Betty Young was an icon and quite a special lady, whiskey drinking, foul mouthed and ill tempered at times but love ya, heart of gold, loved people….

Is there a childhood comfort food that you think about?

Sure. That’ll be a couple of them actually, one is from my Puerto Rican Grandmother, Mama Lucy, which is fried aku and arroz con gandules (rice with gandules beans- pigeon peas). Aku is a fish, tuna/mackerel family and it was cooked in old lard thats been on that stove for god knows how long in a crusty old cast iron skillet and would fry the fish in there and for breakfast would fry some spam in there…the oil never changed... it was really ‘seasoned’. And then there's my Grandmother Betty and the one that really sticks out in my mind is Swiss Steak which is an interesting dish. Having years in culinary I attempted to use all my skills that I could bring to bear trying to recreate her Swiss Steak but that was exactly the antithesis of the formula. What does a drunk old lady do in the middle of the afternoon? She takes a nap. Swiss Steak has 4 ingredients, that’s it! She puts it on the stove and goes to sleep.

What kinds of ethnic food do you think are underrated right now?

I don’t think ethnic foods are as underrated as they used to be- or poo-pooed or sneered at, as a matter of fact most Chefs now these days are using their ethnic background and there are several that come out of hawaii, the latest of course is Sheldon from Top Chef he’s got a Philipino backround in Hawaii. He brings these flavors and concepts which strangely enough, a lot of them come from Europe because the Philippines of course, are a colony of Spain, so a lot of them have Spanish influences from the 16th centuries onward.

When did you start cooking? how did you become interested in becoming a chef?

In Polynesia, well, in many cultures men predominately cook and growing up here, of course, the men in my family always cooked. The women did too. I think I was 9 or 10 years old when I did my first 6 course Chinese dinner- for clients!

Who arranged for that?

I did!. They were friends of my mothers and I was reading 1001 Chinese Recipes, which I still have, so I chose 6 dishes from that and made them at their house on their stove.

Who were some of your mentors? and what kind of establishments did you work in?

Well as for establishments I worked in a bunch of places ranging from little Mom and Pop restaurants with kitchens where two people could barely turn around- to huge hotels and I have to say I prefer the previous to the latter. Ahmmm, most of the Chefs I’ve worked with are lunatics in some regard. My father of course is a fantastic Chef, I hope to be as good as he is when I’m his age. As far as my mentors it’ll have to be my father, and another fella by the name of Tyrone Camel, who i recently came in contact with after decades, and then there's Tom Dillon. I think those are the three Chefs that I can look back and say really influenced my perception of food.

What type of chef are you?

I think the term Chef is an interesting word, I cook and I love to feed people. Hospitality as my grandmother had it, she gave to me. My wife always says it is a gift. So what type of Chef am I? Well, I guess Cab Calloway has the best quote “Everybody eats when they come to my house”, I’m that kind of Chef…,cook.

One of the many special events at Charley Young Beach catered by Chef Derrick

How about technique, technically what type of Chef are you?

Ahhm, I’m a generalist but I can bake as well, ahh, i’m skilled in the French method predominately- that was from Tyrone, and ah you know, typical for sauces, sauce making techniques. So I was trained technically as a saucier and various places and got this position at Stouffers Wailea Beach Hotel back when it existed. I was a saucier as well in a couple other restaurants. So yeah, I was a sauce maker but I can do anything and everything, I love to cook in the wok for large groups of people. I love the drama of cooking in front of a group, I enjoy an audience- the cinema of it.

You have some fancy knife skills, care to elaborate on that?

I have all my fingertips lets just leave it at that.

Are you a versatile Chef? Do you create vegetarian, vegan, gluten free and menu’s for special dietary requirements?

Absolutely. I enjoy utilizing different techniques from various cultures and cooking vegetarian and gluten free options. I’m a big fan of potatoe flour and although it doesn’t yield the same results in French sauce making it still allows for a wider audience. Ah, I use potato flour to thicken sauces and it comes out lovely.

You've had so many incredible chefs cook for you. What's your most memorable meal?

Oh thats easy! Salmon and shells. A few years back I was the sous chef for David Paul at Island Grill and when your busy all day long cooking at a restaurant, you never eat the food. I came home so hungry and my wife had made for me a very simple pan seared salmon and some “Annie’s” macaroni and cheese from a box! And i thought was just perfect. But food I think is contextual…(long pause), do you have another question?

I certainly do, youv’e already answered it beautifully in so many words but can you just summarize how it makes you feel seeing people eat your food?

Well, I’m glad…when i can make people happy…(long pause)

What do you hope to share with our retreat guests?

Well I think that there are lots of things we can learn from one another as far as sharing. Retreats are wonderful events and places where people get together and share their overall experience and often in groups I like to leave a sort of fluid dynamic available when it comes to menu planning because people may be in different moods or have different ideas or philosophies about food so I like to keep an open mind and possibly even learn some new ideas from the folks that come, everybody should be included when it comes to food preparation, it’s the energy of everybody that makes it. They don’t have to be momentous tasks but every little gesture in the course of the event makes it all the more successful.

Hmmm, very nice. Okay Last question, what can we expect from you as Chef and host?

Aha, expect the unexpected.

Sample Menu ~Breakfast~

Fresh Brewed Kona Coffee or Tea

Seasonal Hawaiian Fruit Bowl w/Sweet Spices, Fresh Yogurt & Mint

Three Seed Porridge w/Ginger & Blueberries

Potatoe & Swiss Chard Frittata

Sample Menu ~Luncheon~

Fresh Brewed Kona Coffee or Tea

Beet Salad w/Basil & Olive Oil

Tropical Slaw w/Fresh Pineapple & Curry Dressing

Molokai Sweet Potatoes w/Spiced Ghee

Waldorf Chicken Salad w/Grapes & Walnuts

Sample Menu ~Dinner~

Cocktails, Wine & Bar Service

Mixed Kula Greens & Papaya Seed Vinaigrette

Ahi Sashimi & Sesame Dip

Grilled Island Asparagus w/ Lemon & Capers

Jasmine Rice Pilaf w/ Sweet Peas and Garlic

Smoked Tofu

Rice Noodle & Wok Seared Asian Vegetable

Macadamia Nut Crusted Mahi Mahi w/ Ginger & Lime Beurre Blanc

Warm Honey-Drizzled Feta w/ Pine Nuts, Orange & Mint

One of the definitions of hospitality is 'love of strangers', we look forward to meeting you!

Aloha,Arlene & Derrick

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