PETER MERRIMAN, Distinguished Chef & Restaurateur
"Serving Handcrafted Food Since 1988"
For over twenty years, Peter Merriman, has served as a culinary pioneer in Hawaii, using an unmatched creativity and a locally inspired way of thinking. Chef Merriman is a man of vision. Famously called "The Pied Piper of Hawaii Regional Cuisine" by The Los Angeles Times, Peter has proudly maintained an unfaltering commitment to creating Handcrafted plates that showcase Hawaii's breadth of local offerings, and in doing so, is ever-advancing Hawaii's thriving culinary scene.
Peter was raised in Pittsburgh, where he had a passion for food instilled in him from a young age. His mother, Woodene, was a noted Pittsburgh Post Gazette food writer, and by the time he was 16, he was doing grunt work for Master Chef Ferdinand Metz at the H. J. Heinz Co. (Chef Metz later headed the renowned Culinary Institute of America.) Merriman attended the University of Pennsylvania where he obtained a degree in Political Science, only to turn around and enroll in a three-year Chefs Apprentice Program under the auspices of the American Culinary Federation. The apprenticeship program took Peter to Jackson Hole Wyoming where he worked as a butcher. At the Woodstock Inn in Vermont, Peter completed his ACF cooks apprenticeship under the supervision of Chef Hans Schadler. He then went on to various stints in resort areas across the United States and Europe, including a summer working amongst the vineyards of France's Champagne region and a year at the prestigious Frankfurt Intercontinental Hotel.
After accepting a position with the world-class Mauna Lani Bay Hotel and Bungalows, Peter arrived on the Island of Hawaii in early 1983, and was quickly promoted to the position of Executive Chef of the Resort's Gallery Restaurant. It was at the Mauna Lani, that Peter began to develop a novel relationship between his Handcrafted dishes and the farmers and ranchers who provided for them.
In a time when a typical restaurant's fresh ingredients were sourced only from large distributors, and local producers were forced to sell at the same price points as their imported counterparts, Merriman went against the grain. He was the first in Hawaii to go directly to local farmers and ranchers to source his menu, and was happy to pay a higher cost.
Integral to Merriman's vision was a commitment to serving plates that are fresh and completely crafted by hand. He believed that in order to provide the best Handcrafted Hawaii cuisine, it was essential to offer fish caught the same morning and to incorporate vegetables that were harvested and served shortly thereafter, dictating that he buy his products as locally as possible. Not only did this kind of thinking help build his personal success, but buying directly from local businesses helped to stimulate the surrounding local economy as well. Peter famously told his farmers "I want to see you guys drive up in a Mercedes one day."
In 1991, Merriman was the Founding President of the Hawaii Regional Cuisine Chefs Organization, a group of 12 of Hawaii's premier chefs dedicated to promoting the cuisine of Hawaii and local agriculture.
Peter's reputation as an innovative, locally-minded chef flourished, and in 1988, he and wife Vicki opened their signature upcountry restaurant, Merriman's, in Waimea. Merriman's quickly became the culinary crossroads for Hawaii Regional Cuisine, earning critical acclaim from diners and publications worldwide. The New York Times raved: "Everything at Merriman's…features the freshest local ingredients paired in exciting ways," and San Francisco Magazine exclaimed that "His Wok-charred Ahi is to die for."
It was at Merriman's Waimea that Peter garnered the attention of the James Beard Foundation and as a result, he has been a Finalist in the "Best Chef Northwest & Hawaii" category three distinct times. The upscale eatery is nationally recognized as the "home" of Hawaii Regional Cuisine, and has been famously proclaimed, "A gourmet in cowboy country" by Hana Hou, the Hawaiian Airlines Magazine.
In November 2003, Peter tried his hand at a more casual dining concept when he opened Merriman's Market Café, located in the Waikoloa King's Shops on Hawaii Island. His culinary innovation remains the predominant creative force here as well, but the menu is rooted in Mediterranean flavors in a Tapas style, ranging from Hummus with Warm Pita to the Tagine Roasted Fresh Island Catch.
Following the successes of both Merriman's Waimea and Merriman's Market Café, Peter has expanded his culinary reach with the opening of two newer Merriman's locations on Hawaii's neighboring islands. In 2008, Merriman opened another Merriman's in Kapalua, the prestigious and scenic resort on Maui's West Side, and most recently, in 2009, Peter launched a Merriman's in Poipu, Kauai that offers two choices to its diners: a casual café downstairs, and a fine-dining alternative upstairs. In February 2011, Peter will be opening Monkeypod Kitchen by Merriman in Wailea, Maui.
In addition to his Merriman's locations, Peter launched a joint venture with TS Restaurants in 1994, when both partnered in opening "Hula Grill," located on Maui's famed Ka`anapali Beach. Hula Grill marked the first attempt to marry the traditional steak and seafood of Hawaii's local fare with the ideals and culinary excellence of Hawaii Regional Cuisine. Hula Grill has been touted "the best fish house in the islands" by Honolulu Magazine.
All of Peter's Merriman's restaurants share a common mission statement: "Do the Right Thing!" Each is deeply rooted in the moral traditions of Hawaii Regional Cuisine, and every menu is designed to prominently display Hawaii's organic flavors in a Handcrafted fashion: "Our interpretation allows the predominant natural flavors of the food to come through. If you combine too many flavors, you've disguised the food and you've confused the palette," Peter says. "We showcase the farmer's product by handcrafting an uncomplicated presentation so our guests can authentically taste the lettuce organically grown in Waimea; they authentically enjoy our wonderful, local, vine-ripened tomatoes."
Having been defined by their commitment to providing Handcrafted cuisine that showcases local products since the first location opened in 1988, Merriman's restaurants are considered to be the first and greatest Hawaii practitioners of the "Locavore" movement. Not only do the Merriman's restaurants use 90% local product in their dishes, a standard unsurpassed within the Hawaii culinary world, but many of their growers also farm organically. Additionally, Chef Merriman is always eagerly pursuing any improvements that he can make to better the impact that Merriman's has on the `Aina [land that feeds].
Chef Merriman has dedicated his career and his life to mastering the craft of food. He is preparing to launch an entirely new joint venture in early 2011, which he plans to grow into a multi-location chain in just a few years. Monkeypod Kitchen by Merriman's is a Gastropub that will be distinguished by its dedication to the craft of food, drink, and merrymaking. Best known for his successes in fine dining, Monkeypod introduces a new market for Merriman-one where beer lovers, families, and foodies unite. Rooted in Merriman's passion for the craft, Monkeypod's culinary team will make almost every item on the menu from scratch, as well as feature thirty-six handcrafted microbrews on tap. Monkeypod will be a space where diners feel welcomed into a casual and joyful environment, one immersed in a playful interpretation of the culture and lifestyle of Hawaii, all the while embodying Peter's lasting commitment to locally-sourced, Handcrafted plates, and striving to minimize any negative impact on the earth.
When asked about future aspirations, Peter responds: "My style has always been handcrafted food,
which is both creative, and pays respect to the classic dishes from great cuisines. I enjoy innovation
within the culinary realm, so it seems like I'm always moving forward to further showcase Handcrafted
Hawaii Regional Cuisine (HRC) and the farmers and ranchers that make HRC possible. Stay posted, we have
some exciting things on the horizon!"