Culinary Cocktail Collaboration

March 2nd, 2016

Something told me it might not be a good idea to pursue a Q&A with famed chef Chris Kajioka and multi-award winning bartender Justin Park about their upcoming event March 26th at Park's new Bar Leather Apron. I've been to that new place, and it's very small. While it's clearly one of the greatest cocktail lounges to open since Bevy, adding the James Beard "Rising Star" nominee to the already elevated experience means no way we're getting a seat.

Learning that Chef Kajioka is nearing completion on a Chinatown (!!!!!) restaurant has the entire city - foodies or not - up in arms to try it. Many of us weren't in the 1% that could afford enjoying his cuisine when he was at Vintage Cave. I was lucky enough to know someone, and when it was so good that I had to go back as a paying customer, I had saved up for two months to do it. It was so worth it.

These two gentlemen are highly regarded for good reason; they are very talented at their craft. I'll still run the Q&A they took time from their busy schedules to send back to me over e-mail because there IS a waiting list for the event! Don't delay in reaching out! Or (better yet) expect to see more collaborations with Park and Kajioka once SENIA opens this spring.

Justin Bar, lead bartender & co-owner, Bar Leather Apron; photo courtesy Bar Leather Apron Chris Kajioka, executive chef & co-owner, SENIA; photo courtesy SENIA

Justin Bar, lead bartender & co-owner, Bar Leather Apron; photo courtesy Bar Leather Apron
Chris Kajioka, executive chef & co-owner, SENIA; photo courtesy SENIA

How did you two meet?

Justin: We were introduced by my business partner Tom Park, who is an Iolani grad along with Chris.

Chris: Tom and I went to the same high school and have many mutual friends. We also share the love for great food and wine.

When/how did you come up with the idea to collaborate?

Justin: Tom and I had the idea to do periodic collaborative events with local chefs, both established and up-and-coming. We both love good food, so why not?

Chris: We have always wanted to do something together since Bar Leather Apron opened. I admire Justin and his craft. It came together very easily, knowing we wanted to showcase a charity.

Would you say the culinary/cocktail community has grown or held steady these past 5 years?

Justin: Absolutely, it’s grown. There’s a lot more awareness and knowledge by consumers about cocktails and spirits. I’ve definitely noticed more of a willingness to try new things.

Chris: It has grown tremendously over the past five years. This is a very exciting time to be in the restaurant and bar industry in Hawaii. There are a lot of like-minded passionate people who are proud of where they come from.

Who are some of the people that influence you and your work?

Justin: My guests. When they are excited to try new things, or if they have experienced other great cocktails around the world and are excited to share their experiences.

Chris: My peers inspire and influence me, as well as my mentors whom I learned from. My son, Cade, is also a huge motivating factor for me. Total game changer.

What would be your dream collaboration if money was no issue (with who and where):

Justin: I would love to do a pop-up or guest bartending stint at Bar K, Tom’s and my favorite bar in Osaka. To experience the Japanese bar culture first hand and to see how the Japanese guests react would be amazing.

Chris: It would be in Tokyo! I would want to cook with Chef Hideki Ishikawa and Chef Joel Robuchon—I admire both of these chefs. Their knowledge, expertise of craft and true sense of what hospitality is inspires me.

Justin, have you ever paired cocktails with someone/something so exquisite!

No, but I did do an event with Chris at Leather Soul Downtown for their guests. It was great to work alongside such a talent!

Chris, those lucky enough to try your cuisine know you make best use of many different types of tastes and textures. Is there anything you would like to share for this upcoming menu?
There’s nothing fussy. I just want to make some delicious bites and have fun. It’s really not about us, it’s for the charity.

What are you most looking forward to about this event - working together? The public's response? Being able to give to the children's cancer center? All of the above? Something else? What is the MOST exciting part about this (it's all so exciting to me!)

Justin: I’m very excited to be working together with Chris. I respect what he has done so far tremendously, and am so excited to see what he does next at Restaurant SENIA! When Tom told me about Hawaii Children’s Cancer Foundation, it was a no-brainer. HCCF is such a great cause, and I am honored to be working for them.

Chris: I love collaborating with people I admire, so it will be great working with Justin and Tom and their amazing staff. I very rarely go to bars, but I really love Bar Leather Apron. Reminds me of the great bars in Japan! The main motivation was the charity. My wife’s sister passed away at a young age from cancer, so it really hits home. Children with cancer puts a lot into perspective. I am happy to give my time.

Event details (or is it already sold out? I'm guessing it's already sold out.....) otherwise it's just reservations via email yes?

We are sold out at this time, but accepting waiting list requests via

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