2012 Hawaii Rising Star Sustainability Chef Quinten Frye began his kitchen career washing dishes and waiting tables. But he knew his destiny was as a chef and, ultimately, an advocate for sustainability. A San Antonio native, Frye graduated from the Texas Culinary Academy, which led him to first work under Chef Thomas Salamunovich in Vail, Colorado, and next under Rising Star Restaurateur and Chef Tyson Cole at Austin sushi temple, Uchi.
In the heart of Texas’s farm-to-table movement, Frye continued to gain experience in Austin with a chef de partie position at the Four Seasons Hotel. And when sustainable seafood-centric Shoreline Grill opened in town, Frye jumped at the chance to work as chef de cuisine in the first Texas restaurant certified by the Monterey Bay Aquarium. After Shoreline closed, Frye staged for three months at The Restaurant in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.
On the move again, Frye set his sights squarely on Hawaii—a region that has both major sustainability challenges (80 percent of food is imported) and amazing wild and farmed local product. On the islands, he worked first at 12th Ave. Grill, and he then helped Honolulu Restaurateur Kevin Hanney open Salt Kitchen & Tasting Bar, where Frye is now part-owner and chef. At Salt, Frye continues his push for sustainability through supporting a network of Oahu farmers, using whole animal butchery, and making dishes that focus on line-caught fish and local octopus. It’s vibrant, retro, regional cuisine that happens to be cooked by a talented and committed chef crusader.
Interview with 2012 Hawaii Rising Star Chef Quinten Frye
Nicholas Rummell: What inspired you to pursue cooking professionally?
Quinten Frye: I was a kind of a knucklehead when I was younger in high school. I had been in the front of the house for a couple years, working and going to school. I guess cooking caught my attention and saw how cool it was. I went to culinary school, loved it, and haven't turned back since. It kept me out of trouble. Culinary school kind of started it for me, and along the way there were a couple of places that got me further into what I wanted to do.
NR: Do you think culinary school is a good idea for budding chefs?
QF: Not really. I think it's a good idea, but it's definitely overpriced and it puts people in a bad financial situation. A lot of kids coming out of school won't make a lot money. It's insane, but I guess it serves its purpose.
NR: What advice would you give to young chefs just getting started?
QF: Probably try to get as much experience as possible. Stage as many places as you can, travel as much as you can. Continue to learn.
NR: Is traveling something you'd like to do more of?
QF: Absolutely. I'm hopefully going to make it to Southeast Asia, to Thailand and Vietnam. The cuisine and culture there is amazing. I just want to learn more. Obviously there are a lot of cultures there, similar to Hawaii.
NR: Do you think you'll leave Hawaii?
QF: It's hard to say. I never really pictured myself in Hawaii. Right now, I'm staying put. I just partnered with Salt so I'm here for a while.
NR: What culinary trends do you see in the market now?
QF: I've only been here a year and a half. What I've seen recently has been a lot of pop-up restaurants. I feel like Hawaii is a little bit behind the ball on a lot of things. We're definitely ahead of the game at Salt on what's going on out here. Gastropubs and other things might be catching on.
NR: What's the biggest challenge facing your restaurant?
QF: There are a couple. Sourcing is still quite difficult sometimes. Especially on a consistent basis. It is real hit and miss on certain produce or fish. If the ocean is cloudy then not get fish for the day, or if the tako [octopus] guy is not going out then I don't have tako. And it's also a problem appeasing the clientele. Our style at Salt is pretty different than what many on the island are used to, so it can be quite the battle. Slowly but surely people are coming around.
NR: If you weren't a chef, what would you be doing?
QF: Man, I don't know. I'd say now that I'm a bit older, probably a farmer. But when I was a kid probably an engineer (that's what I wanted to do when I was in high school). I took classes for it in high school to pave the way, but I lost track of it