Olay’s food is never far from reach—in addition to its tidy restaurant on Iwaena Street, its mobile kitchen sets up shop throughout the week at community centers and local high schools. The menu covers nearly as much ground as its employees do; options range from classics, such as pad thai and beef pho, to more exotic entrees of whole deep-fried snapper in a tangy chili sauce. Curries are Olay's specialty—particularly the peanut, red, and green varieties—as is thai Loco Moco, a heap of minced meat stir-fried with veggies and capped with an over-easy egg. Many patrons stick around for the mango sticky-rice dessert, which ends meals more sweetly than a chair that hugs you goodbye.
Before he came to Hawaii, chef Chai Chaowasaree learned how to shop for cooking ingredients in Bangkok, where his parents owned a restaurant. Over time, he honed his instinct to reach for the freshest fruits and vegetables?and today, that skill comes in handy when he's wandering markets in Oahu or Chinatown in Honolulu. It's this attention to detail that help Chef Chai win a 2011 Chef's Choice Award at the Hale Aina Awards.
He brings his finds to his eponymous restaurant, using them to create colorful examples of Hawaiian and Asian fusion cuisine. At dinner, spicy grilled pineapples sit beside New Zealand king salmon; a lobster reduction flavors a deconstructed scallop pot pie; and Thai-style oxtail soup can be had with coconut milk ginger brown rice. His roots shine through in the braised pork osso bucco, especially, as the recipe was taken straight from his parent's Bangkok restaurant.
Chef Chai's creations have even criss-crossed oceans. He's the executive chef for Hawaiian Airlines, which means that passengers can be treated to his entrees as well as the menu's many teas. The Emerald Sun flowering green tea, for example, is the specialty tea of choice for first-class passengers and geese that stop by the plane's drive-through window.