Chef Nick Mastrascusa
Chef Q & A with Executive Sous Chef at Four Seasons Resort Hualalai
From scoring goals to clinching culinary stars, Executive Sous Chef Nick Mastrascusa at the ever-chic Four Seasons Resort Hualalai exudes confidence, warmth and a charming Latin vibe. He’s never too busy to chat with guests, describing—and often demonstrating—tasty new dishes featured at one of the three exquisite restaurants he oversees at the AAA Five Diamond resort. Raised in Uruguay, Chef Nick spent his childhood fine-tuning his natural athleticism, becoming a professional soccer player at the young age of 17. Recruited to Uruguay’s national team, the rising star suffered a career-ending injury during his first professional season. The soccer world’s loss, however, has turned out to be a big win for Big Island foodies! Chef Nick has since retired from his days as a pro-athlete (he still plays recreationally) and has transformed his natural talent and skills to another playing field—the kitchen. He recently took time out to sit down and talk story with us about life, his restaurants and other special projects he’s working on.
Q: So how did you make the leap from professional soccer to professional chef?
A: In Uruguay, there are two national pastimes—soccer and food! On weekends, post-game recreation revolved around my family’s kitchen and outdoor grill. More than five hours each Saturday and Sunday were devoted to celebrating great food with good friends and family. Everyone pitched in and I learned a lot about cooking, especially from my mother, father and grandmother. When my soccer career ended, cooking was the next natural choice for me.
Q: Have any of your family’s specialties made it onto your menus at Four Seasons Hualalai Resort?
A: Of course! Most of them are wonderful examples of how great slow cooking can be. Typically we run these dishes as nightly or weekly specials, given the time it takes to prepare them. Amongst those we’ve featured at Beach Tree are my mother’s flour gnocchi with a “tuco” (oxtail ragout) sauce, my grandmother’s potato gnocchi, and my father’s traditional Uruguay barbecue of assorted meats and vegetables. We repeat these favorites at the restaurants, but there are more dishes that will be offered in the future.
Q: Tell us about the new role you’ve assumed recently.
A: Yes, this is quite exciting for me. I joined the culinary team here at Four Seasons Hualalai in 2009 as chef de cuisine at the completely redesigned Beach Tree Restaurant. It was great to be a part of the re-launch, working closely with James Babian, our Executive Chef. In September of last year, I was offered the opportunity to also take on responsibility for Pahu ia Restaurant and the Lava Lounge, in addition to Beach Tree.
Q: In your new position, what sort of changes or new programs do you have slated for 2012?
A: Here at Beach Tree, everything is pretty much set. The restaurant will continue to be what it is—an Italian/California inspired restaurant and it will be influenced by the annual trips I take to various locations with Restaurant Manager, Chuck Wilson. We’re always discovering new dishes and spectacular wines during these food and wine expeditions. Ultimately, items make their way onto our menus with a few twists to make them our own. In fact, as a result of our most recent trip to Italy, we’re now partnering with one of the world’s finest extra virgin olive oil producers, Frantoio Franci. We created a special blend of olives from their estate trees in Tuscany that will make up our own private label, Beach Tree Extra Virgin Olive Oil. I can’t say exactly when the first of these oils will arrive, but it will be sometime this year.
Q: What can diners expect at Pahu ia and Lava Lounge?
A: As for Pahu ia, it will always be a bit more elegant in both culinary style and ambiance than Beach Tree, but we’re working on adding more excitement to the mix as well. The focus for Pahu ia will remain on perfectly prepared fresh fish and seafood with 90% or more of all ingredients sourced here in Hawaii. Late last fall, we introduced a modern, cutting-edge menu at Pahu ia that includes more tableside preparations—for example, hand-rolled sushi and various poke concoctions. We plan to build on that with the end goal being, if you want the very best seafood in all of Hawaii, reserve your table at Pahu ia.
Our “after hours” Lava Lounge will continue to feature signature cocktails, spectacular sushi and live entertainment. In fact, we now have two master sushi chefs on our team—one at Pahu ia and one at Lava Lounge.
Q: That’s a full plate. Is there any other news you’d like to share?
A: As a matter of fact, one of my favorite projects is actually community based and has the full support of the Four Seasons Hualalai. Last year, I heard about the garden program at Waimea Middle School. It’s a great example of a hands-on learning experience that really drives home the “from farm to table” concept. Instruction begins in the garden where students plant and harvest produce and care for laying hens. It continues to the kitchen where they prepare their own lunch. Last fall, a few members of our Four Seasons culinary team and I went to the school to demonstrate some cooking techniques and recipes, using ingredients picked fresh from the school garden. For three days following our day at the school, we featured those recipes on the Beach Tree menu. The school donated all of the produce and all revenue from the sales of those dishes were donated back to Waimea Middle School’s garden program. We plan to do it again early this year.
The Four Seasons Resort Hualalai is located on the Kona-Kohala Coast at historic Kaupulehu just north of Kailua-Kona. For dining reservations, please phone (808) 325-8000. For more details, visit fourseasonsresort.com/hualalai/.