Begonia one of top guns among young guns in kitchens at the Hyatt

He wouldn’t have participated in a statewide awards ceremony on O’ahu except he was told he had to go, and wouldn’t have called the reporter to do a telephone interview except his supervisor told him he had to call.

But once Kekaha native Romel Begonia begins talking about his chosen profession, and those at the Hyatt Regency Kauai Resort & Spa he has learned so much from, he finds himself easily able to open up.

Loving his work in the kitchen at Donderos, the fine-dining, Italian-food outlet at the Hyatt, Begonia at the tender age of 27 has been the lead cook at Tidepools and the Ilima Terrace as well as Donderos.

He returned to Donderos to learn Italian cooking under Vincent “Chef Vince” Pecoraro, chef de cuisine at Donderos, and was able to chose his own crew of chefs to work with.

He chose fellow young guns, with the ages of the young men in the Donderos kitchen ranging from 23 to 32.

He has nothing but praise for Pecoraro, whom he credits with influencing, heavily, his culinary style. “In other words, he had up my game,” Begonia said.

From Hyatt Executive Chef David “Chef Dave” Boucher, Begonia said he learned management and people skills. From Executive Sous Chef Rafael “Chef Raf” Camarillo, who nominated Begonia for a Hawaii Hotel Association outstanding employee award, Begonia learned a little bit of “everything,” he said.

Earlier this year, Begonia placed third in the prestigious HHA Na Po’e Pa’ahana (the hard-working people) annual awards program, in the category of Outstanding Lodging Employee of the Year.

Had he not been told by supervisors that he was to attend the awards luncheon at the Hilton Hawaiian Village Beach Resort & Spa, he would have stayed at home in Kekaha, which he calls “God’s country.”

The annual HHA awards program honors the hotel industry’s top workers, based on nominations from supervisors and co-workers and judged based on outstanding and exceptional service to hotel guests, co-workers and the community.

Begonia and Frank Cano, an engineer at the Lawai Beach Resort, were the only Kaua’i hotel workers to win statewide honors, and were recognized at the 12th annual luncheon.

Cano placed third in the Engineering/Maintenance Person of the Year category.

There is a category for Food & Beverage Person of the Year, but the judges decided Begonia’s nomination paperwork qualified him for the top category of Outstanding Lodging Employee of the Year.

Supervisors at the Hyatt told Begonia he had to conduct the telephone interview with the reporter, part of his continued training.

His normal shift is 3 p.m. to 11 p.m., but he almost always comes in earlier to make sure everything is in order for the 6 p.m. opening of Donderos. Some 90 percent of the food served in that restaurant is prepared in his kitchen fresh the same day it’s served, he said.

“The food is mean,” he said of the quality product his crew produces at Donderos.

The Waimea High School graduate (Class of 1992) attended Kapiolani Community College and Kauai Community College, in the culinary arts departments, and went to work at the Hyatt in 1995, just after finishing up his college culinary training.

When Dean Seo, Hyatt’s assistant director of food and beverage, talks about Begonia, the key adjective is “tremendous.”

“He is a tremendous asset to the culinary staff, a tremendous leader” who always gives, guess what, a “tremendous performance,” said Seo.

He delivers good food fast, is very creative in his work, and volunteers to help when Hyatt has community events where food is offered, like the annual Visitor Industry Charity Walk, Seo said.

Begonia also gives back to the public education system that produced him, offering services whenever asked at Kauai Community College, Eleele School, Waimea Canyon School and Waimea High School, Begonia said.

Among notables who have dined at Donderos are Tiger Woods, the elder Pres. George Bush, Alyssa Milano, John Travolta, chef Russell Siu of O’ahu, and others, said Seo.

Begonia’s girlfriend, Joy Lagura, 24, is a teacher at the Lihue Hongwanji Mission Preschool.

Business Editor Paul C. Curtis can be reached at or 245-3681 (ext. 224).


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