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Hawaii: In Real Life ~ Chris Kajioka

We caught up with Hawaii boy Chris Kajioka, now the sous chef at Aziza in San Francisco, and watched him in the kitchen

Posted May 24, 2011 by Melissa Chang

Chris introducing me to Susanna Ok of Hapa Ramen at San Francisco's Ferry Building.

Hawaii foodies rejoiced when Iolani grad Chris Kajioka — who was once the chef de partie at Thomas Keller’s four-star Per Se in New York — returned home as the chef de cuisine at Roy’s Waikiki, only to mourn his departure for San Francisco at the end of last year. The guy isn’t even 30 yet, but is recognized as a creative force in culinary circles … and as a super nice guy.

As a chef, he’s highly motivated: He’s passionate about his work as sous chef at Aziza, gunning for Michelin stars and bringing his skill and creativity to the table while working with the myriad of seasonal ingredients California has to offer. I didn’t get to meet him the night I ate at the Moroccan-inspired restaurant, but I feel like I did through his work, and it was a transformative meal.

He’s got a laid-back exterior, but a highly-caffeinated interior intensely bubbling with ideas on food. Thoughts about eating food. Thoughts about creating food. Thoughts about shopping for food. It’s no wonder, then, when he initially set up interviews at restaurants in San Francisco, he got eight interviews and eight job offers.

You would think that someone that driven would be intimidating in person, but he was quite the opposite. When I did get to meet him IRL, my Twitter stream lit up with Hawaii chefs and foodies who were excited that I had the opportunity to do so. On my last evening in San Francisco, I dined solo at the Ritz Carlton’s Dining Room, where Chris started his career. When the staff found out I knew Chris, they all came over to talk about how much they love him. One waiter had never even worked with Chris, but because people still fondly talk about him, he knows all about him.

Many chefs are like scientists, since they work with the chemistry of different ingredients to ensure it all works on the palate. Chris brings creative genius to the kitchen to give each of his dishes flair, aesthetics, and amazing flavor. I got to watch him plate one of Aziza’s signature appetizers and learn about the elements that go into that one dish.

Pretty cool, huh? If you want to taste this Hawaii boy’s food, visit Aziza at 5800 Geary in the Richmond District (also known as San Francisco’s second Chinatown). They’ll be moving closer to downtown San Francisco, closer to Quince, so be watching for that in the coming months.

I sat with Chris to talk about what he’s been up to and life at Aziza. To see the rest of his interview, visit


  1. kyleepuu
    Posted May 24, 2011 at 8:31 am

    If it tasted as beautiful as it looks, you are one lucky gal! :D

  2. Melissa808
    Posted May 24, 2011 at 9:22 am

    @kyleepuu everything at Aziza is outstanding!

  3. Posted May 24, 2011 at 10:17 am

    Great seeing Kajioka demoing this salad. Beautiful dish. But everything is so well plated at that restaurant and quite delicious. So glad I ate there the last time I was in SF. Here’s a few photos from our meal…I think we were 10 courses short of the amount you ate there. LOL!

  4. Melissa808
    Posted May 24, 2011 at 10:26 am

    @nathankam hey hey HEY…..I was with four other foodie nerds!!! LOL

  5. turkfontaine
    Posted May 24, 2011 at 6:08 pm

    hey! i’ve sobered up at Hapa Ramen before taking that cold ferry ride back to Larkspur.

  6. Melissa808
    Posted May 24, 2011 at 6:15 pm

    @turkfontaine Did you eat that whole bowl by yourself?!

  7. rhtakara
    Posted May 24, 2011 at 7:24 pm

    Thanks for the video. His plate looks like an artist’s palate and the olive crumble sounds interesting. That may be my “secret” ingredient for the next Burgers-on-the-Edge contest!

  8. Melissa808
    Posted May 25, 2011 at 5:04 am

    @rhtakara Looking forward to sampling your olive crumble!!

  9. Annoddah_Dave
    Posted May 25, 2011 at 5:55 am

    Delicate Blossom: This guy seems to really have his act together at a pretty young age. I also saw the HIRL segment. While his passion appears to be fish, did you get a sensing as to what his mission/vision might be. Am curious about how young people view the future world in their particular endeavor and what they will do in it.

  10. jlieu
    Posted May 26, 2011 at 4:40 pm

    So I wanted to share the video you posted with my family but it keep lagging , poor internet in Canada. I wanted to say I LOVE LOVE the photos and video, my mouth is watering (and we just ate)! :)

  11. Melissa808
    Posted May 26, 2011 at 5:00 pm

    @jlieu awwww thanks! Well, share it with them when you come home!

  12. Melissa808
    Posted May 26, 2011 at 5:02 pm

    @Annoddah_Dave I agree, very impressive for someone so young! As for his mission/vision….you mean the kind of dishes he wants to create, or his ultimate career goal? He wants to own a restaurant, for sure, but this guy is like a scientist…the kind who loves working in the kitchen and would rather do that than anything else.

  13. ckcuisine
    Posted May 26, 2011 at 9:24 pm

    @Annoddah_Dave Since I was 4 years old, I knew I wanted to make cuisine my life. Cooking is the only things that excites, inspires, frustrates and pushes me everyday. I want to be the very best, so I have chosen to train with people who are the leaders of our industry. My dream is to one day open a very small restaurant, similar to a sushi bar and serve an “omakase” style menu. I want to cook within a moment without restraint. My dream is to return home to hawaii so I can show my family and friends my vision and passion within the forum of cuisine.

  14. ckcuisine
    Posted May 26, 2011 at 9:29 pm

    @kyleepuu Taste is the foremost objective, but who doesn’t enjoy making a plate “almost” too beautiful to eat.

  15. ckcuisine
    Posted May 26, 2011 at 9:30 pm

    @Melissa808 @kyleepuu thank you melissa. I’m really glad you enjoyed your meal.

  16. nonstopmari
    Posted May 27, 2011 at 2:36 pm

    it’s exciting whenever a chef w/ experience at a michelin-starred restaurant has aspirations to open a place in hawaii. i’ll be waiting for ck’s new restaurant!

  17. Melissa808
    Posted May 30, 2011 at 2:37 pm

    @nonstopmari I’ll go with you!!

  18. Melissa808
    Posted May 30, 2011 at 2:38 pm

    @ckcuisine @Annoddah_Dave Looking forward to it! When people are passionate about their work, it shows!

  19. Melissa808
    Posted May 30, 2011 at 2:38 pm

    @ckcuisine @kyleepuu We are all about the food p0rn!


About Melissa Chang

Melissa has been blogging regularly since 2007 and has more than 25 years’ experience in marketing and public relations. She is currently an independent marketing consultant, specializing in social media. 

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