Vanessa Wolf is a former head chef, previously working in Portland, Oregon.
By Vanessa Wolf
Executive Chef Marc McDowell took over the culinary reigns at the Makena Beach and Golf Resort in October 2010. Since that time he has instituted a large herb and vegetable garden and largely changed the face of the food being served at the former Maui Prince.
We talked to him about cooking, sustainability, and what he knows now that he didn’t know then.
Maui Now: When did you know you wanted to cook for a living?
Marc McDowell: Back when I was 16 years old and working at a steak house. I worked my way from dishwasher to busboy to prep to grill. However, my dad was in sales and wanted me to do the same. I took a part time job doing phone sales. I didn’t even know what I was selling: had never even tried product. After two days of phone sales, I took my lunch break and never went back. I never even picked up my check!
MN: What keeps you in the business?
MM: Making people happy. I love seeing someone really happy with their meal. It isn’t necessarily easy to do. It requires a combination of great service, anticipating needs, and providing a fresh product.
My dad always told me: if you’re going to do something, go with your heart and really do it. Don’t look back. Even if it’s building brick walls, just be the best at it.
I still think he wanted me to do sales though!
MN: What’s the best thing you’ve ever eaten?
MM: Probably one of my favorite things to eat is ahi and foie gras with a wild cherry demi-glace, arugula and caramelized onions.
MN: What’s your favorite thing to cook?
MM: Asian food. Most of my stuff has a lot of ginger and kaffir lime. To me, eating is about stimulating the senses and nothing stimulates easier than the sense of smell when you utilize kaffir lime leaf.
MN: How has Maui influenced you as a chef?
MM: The abundance of products year-round here, even though they are seasonal. For instance, corn is best in summer, asparagus best in spring. Growing up in Nebraska you have six months and that’s it. Everything else is in a cellar.
Also, the freshness of the fish is outstanding. Being here has been magical in that there are all these fish that I never knew existed growing up. There’s no ocean in Nebraska. But here they don’t get any fresher. If you can’t get excited about that, you probably shouldn’t be cooking.
MN: Any products you can’t get locally but wish you could?
MM: Raspberries, blueberries, blackberries. I’m doing research on berries that might grow in high elevations. Also heirloom melon: Charentais melon, French cantaloupe, Tiger melons. It’s hard with the insects and the deer.
MN: What’s the one thing you now know that you wish you knew when you started out?
MM: Be humble.
I came out of culinary school really high in my class and moved out here not knowing anybody. I was probably really abrasive and saying, “I can do this and that,” rather than just staying quiet and letting my skills doing the talking, I should have just shut up and done the job.
People used to call me a loose cannon, but I’m not into competition anymore. I’m really not. I’m okay now!
MN: Where would you like to see yourself in ten years?
MM: In ten years?
Boy, that’s saying that I’m gonna last ten more years!
I would like to see myself in a job where it’s totally sustainable in that all our vegetation is grown on property and anything you have to purchase is equally sustainable, like the fish and seafood. I’d also love to see some aquaponics for vegetation and bivalves.
I would like to think that we’re going to achieve that here in a lot sooner than ten ears.
I want to think I’m trying to influence an aspiring culinarian to be a great chef. I want to inspire someone. I wouldn’t want to scream at them so they get out of cooking and go sell cars.
Lastly, hopefully my cooking always evolves. If it doesn’t evolve, it gets stale. These days it is a lot of gluten free, quinoa, and healthier choices. I’m’ trying to incorporate more complex carbs and raw foods, as well.
You can experience Chef McDowell’s culinary stylings at offerings such as the Tuesday and Thursday lobster fest special offered in the Molokini Bar and Grill, where a three-course lobster dinner is available for $39.95.
We welcome your feedback. Please let us know if you hear of any new restaurants opening or reopening, total menu overhauls, or simply know of a hidden treasure you want to share. Have a restaurant you want reviewed (or re-reviewed)? Drop us a line – vanessa(@mauinow.com)