Lineage, in our perspective, is one of the most significant restaurant openings in 2018. It also represents a culinary trend of focusing Hawaii Regional cuisine on a particular ethnic influence. The current standard bearer is Chef Andew Le’s Pig and the Lady. Le cooks Vietnamese-centric Hawaii Regional Cuisine. Similarly, Lineage Chef, Sheldon Simeon, takes a Filipino-centric approach in creating his dishes.
To learn more about the project, we chatted with mixologist, Aaron Alcala-Mosley who was formerly at the Fairmont Kea Lani and at Cow Pig Bun.
Hawaii Beverage Guide (HBG): What is the thought process in regards to the interplay between food and beverage?
Aaron Alcala-Mosley (AAM): The overall concept is very food-centric and very food-influenced. Chef always said a couple things that I’ve taken to heart. One of them is “when you cook from your heart, people can taste it.” It’s about giving people flavor, and something that they can really get into and enjoy just because it tastes good. But the second thing is capturing a moment, an idea, a flavor, or anything for us that means something, whether it is something that has come up during conversation or something that just inspired us; I think that’s where a lot of it comes from. Fortunately, the concept that we are running with places us in the unique position of having a lot of creative freedom. Running out of the gate, we have surprised people with strange cocktail concepts or strange and innovative flavors. [We] really just threw it out there and we saw how they [the public] took to it. We’ve been fortunate that it’s worked. Our bar concept is: “Having fun in a playful way that allows us to express flavors that inspire us.”
HBG: It sounds like there’s a lot of creative back-and forth going on as opposed to a restaurant setting where oftentimes your bar team is almost isolated from your culinary team.
AAM: For me, it’s always a learning experience. They [Chef’s team] experience and understand flavors in a way that’s different from how I experience and understand flavors. It’s been great because sometimes, especially on the dessert side, (where we share a lot of common elements of working with sugars and blending flavors in liquid forms to be turned into something else) it can be like, “Well hey, I need this kind of thing.” And I’m like, “Well, I can make this kind of product that you can use.” Or I have an idea and Chef’s team will be like, “Hey, we’re making this thing. Why don’t you try to integrate into this?” And so for a lot of us, while working on projects, we try and stay in communication of the ideas that we have and what we’re doing. It’s been really fun because I can go to anybody, especially the sous-chefs, and talk to them with an idea, then they have more ideas and the creative process just snowballs. Obviously, there are a lot of ideas, and sometimes you just have to narrow the focus, but that usually leads to something great and exciting. I’ve already started talking with a couple of our chefs on making real Hawaii-inspired cocktails that involve more than what you’re used to, like POG and pineapple, but rather ingredients that really hit home. More importantly for us, something that our General Manager, Matt Godfrey, has really stressed is to give people a “wow” factor. We want to make people stop and think about what’s happening as they try our food and drinks all the while enjoying the moment, too. He says, “We’re in the business of delivering surprises.” We try to make sure that “awestruck factor” carries through everything from the food to the beverage program.
HBG: It sounds like there’s a fair amount of emphasis put on the beverage program where typically in a lot of chef-driven concepts it’s 90 percent food, 10 percent beverage and no real thought put into making the drinks despite it being the ROI driver.
AAM: I agree and I’ve seen that a lot, too. Obviously you need to emphasize the beverage program because it’s your money maker, or what you’re stuck with is someone who might enjoy just the one drink. We’ve been very fortunate to have turned into a cocktail bar. Lately, we’ve been doing a little more wines, but during our first couple of weeks, it was literally just cocktails. It’s been fun because our GM, Matt and Chef have pushed me to push myself to think outside the box. It’s been a blessing to work with a team that allows me to be creative, it’s hard when you work in a restaurant and experience conflict with fostering your creativity or when you’re required to cater to a particular crowd, but here, that’s not the case. We’re just trying to make good food, and make good flavors. It’s been nice because the owners want the cocktail program to sing just as well as the [food] menu does. The place is designed to be all family style, so when our guests sit down to eat, they’ll share six or seven plates, and fortunately for us, they’ll drink at least two cocktails. It seems like our concept is working so far.
HBG: What has the guest demographic been like? Has it been predominantly kama'aina or visitor?
AAM: Right now, because we’re getting into the holiday season, we’ve definitely seen a lot more visitors just because we’re in the shops of Wailea. But it’s been great, too because we’ve had a lot of excited guests; people have seen Chef Sheldon on TV, online, and on social media, so they come here and are really excited to dine with us. Locals: We already have had a lot of returning guests. We obviously need to attract visitors, too. It’s just the nature of the business; we’re in the tourism industry. But for us, our goal is to really hit home with people who have grown up here. Chef’s style of food is really Hawaiian at heart. It’s like Hawaiian soul food because It speaks to everybody, and all the cultures represented here in Hawaii. Our food even speaks to the people who come through the islands. I’ll use my mom as an example: I’m Mexican, so I have that background and she’s [my mom] in here, eating his [Chef’s] pork and peas, and at the first taste she stopped, and then she took another taste, and she looked and said, “My aunty makes something just like this.” I think what it is is that whether you live in Hawaii or are just coming to visit, something on that menu will strike home. That’s what really pulls everyone back in. I would say right now, it’s kind of split between locals and tourists that frequent here, but we’re happy that we get a lot of returning guests who are telling their friends who are telling their friends.
HBG: Who built the wine list and what is the approach to the wine list beyond the general concept of having a blend of reds, whites, roses and bubblies? The menu is very interesting. For the bubbly, the Brut is from an interesting location, New Mexico. The Roja, instead of a Cali Merlot and a Cab, is an interesting choice, and so is the inclusion of a Picqpoul. Yet, a Malborough Sauv Blanc, Buehler Chard and North Coast Pinot are pretty standard fare.
AAM: The idea behind the wine list is to do something very different; you can’t have an ordinary wine list. It’s not just fish or steak. A lot of Chef’s food tends to be meat-centric, so the idea is: 1. We wanted to pick wines that you don’t see at other places normally, and more importantly 2. All these wines work well with Chef’s food; at all of the tastings we’ve done to design the entire menu, we were literally eating Chef’s food (whether it was from Tin Roof or something that someone made) just to make sure that the wine and the food worked well together. We’re a small restaurant, so we don’t want an extensive wine list. We don’t need 20 wines by the bottle. While I enjoy wine a lot and have a lot of friends who are sommeliers (it’s fun to geek out with them), the normal person isn’t necessarily looking to go through a whole wine list. They just want to make it simple, so by doing a list that is a bit different, eccentric, but simplified, I think it helps the guests get through the list better and faster. Picqpoul is perfect beach wine; we want our guests to be reminded that they’re here [Hawaii]. I’ll get a bottle [Picqpoul] and I’ll make my way through it and just find it very refreshing. We need hitters like the Chardonnay of course, with malolactic [fermentation]; I think it’s the Russian River. It works through our clientele. Same thing with the Pinot North Coasts; it’s something that a lot of guests are still going to enjoy on the floor. And then our big red, we don’t have a Merlot, but we do have a Merlot-dominant blend. So it just kind of works with everything there. You also throw some surprises here and there, too. Also, this restaurant is based around the idea of talking story, and around the idea of education. The way our menus read is to list very simple ingredients which prompts people to have to ask questions. On our end, we engage our guests and talk about it [the menu], so our beverages, including the wines, allow us to really get into when telling our guests the story of these wines: where they’re from, why they’re here and why they work. We’re going for creating a more interactive experience with our guests.
HBG: Why in particular the New Mexico Brut?
AAM: It’s still technically method champenoise and I wanted something really bright and vibrant and if we’re doing one bright sparkling option next to the sparkling Rosé, we wanted something that will work for most people. I know the general public is usually into Prosecco, but you can get Prosecco everywhere. I thought it would be more fun to do something a little different, which we can talk about. For me, the story on it is really fun. Back then, there was a French family son who came over to the United States and wanted to grow wine. He ended up landing in New Mexico. For me, it’s a conversation starter when people ask, “New Mexico? When did they start making wines?” And I get to tell them about their entire wine history and how the land works; it is an area that a lot of people aren’t familiar with. Similarly, that how New Zealand and South Africa has become popular, two regions that people otherwise would
have been unfamiliar with; they just need that opportunity, that time and place for people to come in and enjoy trying something new. We are definitely in the business of getting people to try new stuff here, so fo me, the wine is just right. It’s vibrant, it’s citrus, it’s light, it’s got the method champenoise, the bubbles are tight and lovely, it’s got great texture. It’s just a good food wine because it cuts through everything. I also went with it because it’s our one sparkling wine and it has to be adequate for cocktails.
HBG: What are some things to look for in the future?
AAM: I’m not sure when Chef’s team plans on updating the menu. I guess a lot of it is seasonally driven because they’re always finding something new depending on what we get out here. For me, at least on the cocktail side, I’ll search out different wines once in a while, or try something new. I’m one of those people who, every two-three months gets bored and wants to check something out kind of people, so I’m already planning a new menu rollout for January with some brand new cocktails on the there [menu], too. We’re probably going to keep some fan favorites (because of the whole “Lineage” classics), and roll in with a whole bunch of new cocktails. Unfortunately, as I’m sure you’ve seen in a lot of places out here, Maui’s food and beverage scene can be stagnant: the same drinks on the same menu in the same font for the last 25 years. Compared to what you have out on Oahu, it’s something people don’t want here on Maui. We’re definitely patrons of change. We like change it’s fun! It forces you to reconsider your options and to just dive into something new.