PO‘IPU — It was a far cry from the ballrooms of the Sultan of Brunei, but nothing new for Culinary Specialist First Class Pete Grabartis, Monday evening.
CS1 Grabartis was joined by Culinary Specialist First Class O’Neil Fraser of the Pacific Missile Range Facility as they competed with other South Shore resort chefs in the Top Chef Pupu Challenge.
“We’re so pleased they decided to join the competition,” said Sandi Kato-Klutke, co-founder of the event. “At first, we sent them invitations to join the group and sample what some of the chefs were doing. One thing led to another, and somewhere along the way, they ended up being part of the competition.”
Grabartis, who has “19 years and some change” with the United States Navy, said when they got the call from Guy Higa, executive chef at the Kaua‘i Marriott Resort and Beach Club, they figured this was something they could get involved in.
“This was an event we could actually compete in,” Grabartis said. “There was no central entree to fall apart and it’s nothing too fancy, just an appetizer sampler.”
But Grabartis is modest in his capability as his tour in the Navy had him preparing meals for crews aboard Navy ships as well as an international field of dignitaries, said Tom Clements, the public information officer at PMRF.
“They’ve cooked for crews aboard all kinds of ships,” Clement said. “Even aircraft carriers.”
Grabartis admitted that the Monday event which involved guests boarding a bus at the Kaua‘i Marriott and touring several South Shore stops where they sampled presentations by chefs paired with appropriate wines from Better Brands, was one of the smaller events he worked.
“The only other bigger event than this was when I had to prepare a meal for the Sultan of Brunei,” Grabartis said. “That involved about 250 international dignitaries.”
Grabartis said for the Monday event, he and Fraser got help from Jasmin Ortiz and Debbie Scott who both work in culinary at PMRF.
“They do all the work,” Grabartis said. “I simply watch and tell them. They do all the work.”
For the Pupu Challenge, a fundraiser for the Hawai‘i Hotel and Lodging Association, Grabartis’ crew worked on a sampler platter consisting of shrimp and crab, stuffed chicken, rondellettes Jamaican, Jerk Chicken, spring rolls and beef and shrimp kebabs.
Guests vote on each of the stops with points being awarded for presentation, taste, originality and best use of local products.
Kato-Klutke said the overall winner of the South Shore Pupu Challenge will join Higa, the winner of the Central area, on the North Shore in December where they go up against chefs in that area.
She is hopeful that event will be televised.
As the group arrived, Grabartis said he needed to talk to them before the platters were brought out.
“I need to explain some of the items,” he said. “I need them salivating before the platters come out.”
Grabartis said he and Fraser oversee the PMRF galley where they prepare between 200-250 meals three times a day for the enlisted personnel at the base.
Previously, he’s worked on a fast frigate which he describes as the second smallest ship in the Navy.
His shipboard experience there had him preparing between 1,200 to 1,800 meals for the ship’s crew.
As the platters disappeared in the sea of guests, Kato-Klutke invited the PMRF chefs to join the entourage which would eventually end at the Grand Hyatt Regency.
“You need to see what kind of competition you were up against,” Kato-Klutke said.