ʻUlu Ambassador: Chef Dan Robayo

Dan Robayo - Chef de Cuisine at Kohanaiki

"Our staples and the ancient canoe crops are communal by nature...Preservation, education, and a knowledge of how to work with these ingredients is paramount to our sustainability."

- Dan Robayo

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Dan Robayo moved to Hawaiʻi Island with his wife and two young children in 2017 to open Magics Beach Grill in Kailua-Kona as Executive Chef. Influenced by his father's Venezuelan heritage, his mother's southern upbringing, and his extensive world travels, his culinary creations are a delightful blend of bold flavors inspired by the seasons and his relationships with his local community. Through his wife's family, who have been rooted in Hawai‘i for five generations, Chef Dan has forged a profound connection with the land and its bountiful offerings.

This connection with the land fostered Robayo’s desire to work with ingredients “grown here, not flown here”, and has established a personal policy of always working with and featuring local ingredients both at Kohanaiki, and with his Pa’ina Pantry catering company.

How did Dan learn about ulu? Within the first week of his move to Hawai‘i, he picked an underripe ‘ulu off a tree grown on his property and began experimenting. After many failed attempts to create something delicious, he reached out to Maureen Datta, the owner of local farm and food hub Adaptations, Inc. Dan stated, ​​“She hooked me up with some more and I started playing more with it,” and “she was definitely the first person who guided me with it.” His success with a velvety ‘ulu hummus restored his optimism, and he realized this fruit was  “sweet, fibrous and adaptable to any application.” Tapping into his South American upbringing, he tested a recipe for tostones and his ʻulu journey has flourished since.

Not only did his experience with ‘ulu show him the resilience of this fruit, but it established a life-long relationship with Datta whom he partners with for both Kohanaiki and Pa’ina Pantry. Dan stated, “Our ohanas are close and she is my access to 75% of the farms we deal with. I couldn’t design the menus that I do without her partnership”. Ready for a new journey, he stepped down as the Executive Chef at Magics in 2022, and now works with an exclusive club in Kailua-Kona, Hawai‘i.

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As Chef de Cuisine at Kohanaiki, he updates the weekly aina inspired menus at their oceanfront Beach Restaurant, as well as the food truck situated in the community. He also utilizes the onsite garden for all menus and seasonal dishes. Whenever possible, Chef Dan incorporates HUC sourced canoe crops, and has already partnered with the HUC for an on-site cooking demo showcasing the HUC crops and telling the important story of how and why these crops are vital to our local agricultural future.  Kohanaiki is located in a culturally significant area on the Kona coast, and is the home of two species of endangered endemic birds, the Ae’o (Hawai’ian Stilt) and the Manu ’o Ku (Least Turn), and Kohanaiki places a high importance on conservation efforts. Environmentally protected areas are of utmost importance and are designated off limits with no exception to residents!

Dan says that he enjoys sharing Hawaii's food culture with Kohanaiki's members, and educating them about how fragile our food system is, and our reliance on imported food. The members are all hungry to learn as much as they can to build a connection with the ‘āina.

Dan’s the man when it comes to supporting the co-op and helping us tell the story of "how" and "why" we advocate indigenous crops. He is a beloved HUC ambassador and an ally in our mission to help increase awareness of Hawaiʻi's abundant agricultural resources.

Get to know Chef Dan Robayo and bring his culinary delights into your kitchen through his Crispy Croquettes & Taro Latkes Recipes!


Recipe: Chef Dan's Kalo Latkes

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