Chef Casey Barnes, who won the job as executive chef at Ola at Turtle Bay on “Chef Wanted with Anne Burrell,” has been at work for well over a month and seems to be transitioning well to life in Hawaii.
I couldn’t make it out to Turtle Bay for the filming of the show’s final cook off last December, but after the episode aired, I wanted to follow up and see how Barnes is adjusting to his new position.
Before arriving at Ola, Barnes worked at Farmshop in Santa Monica, Calif. One of the producers of “Chef Wanted” was a fan of Farmshop and contacted Barnes via Linkedin. Barnes says he turned down two offers to appear on the show before accepting the audition with Ola’s Fred and Cheryl DeAngelo. Barnes received a call from a “Chef Wanted” producer saying they had an airplane ticket for him, and three days later he was in Hawaii.
During the week-long audition at Ola, Barnes says he became friends with fellow finalist, Sean Currid, and they have kept in contact after the show. During my chat with him, Barnes recalled sitting in the Turtle Bay bar with Currid planning out their menus for the show’s final cook off.
Since making the move from California, Barnes has streamlined Ola’s menu by reducing the number of items, making room for daily specials that can highlight fresh ingredients and offer a creative outlet for him and his cooks.
One local ingredient that Barnes says he’s fallen in love with is limu, which has become one of his favorite garnishes for its crisp texture and slight saltiness that adds a bit of ocean freshness to food.
Here’s a look at some of the new items on Ola’s menu
Chef Barnes at Ola (1 of 6)
Barnes' description of the grilled Hau'ula octopus salad with chickpeas, pickled onions and Pupukea arugula immediately peaked my interest.
In a previous incarnation of this salad, the octopus was cut into bite-sized pieces and served cold. Barnes decided to put his own spin by braising the octopus for several hours and grilling it to order so that it's served hot.
Barnes says larger cuts of octopus have proven to be a little intimidating for some, but still appeals to adventurous diners.
I really enjoyed the pickled onions, which were a welcome departure from the overly sweet dressings that other restaurants tend to serve. It also added tartness for the tender meat with its slight charred flavor.
Here’s Food Network’s follow up on Chef Barnes after winning on “Chef Wanted with Anne Burrell”