By Emi Suzuki
Chef George “Mavro” Mavrothalassitis, started coming to Sumida Farm long before the idea of farm to table restaurants or Chef/Farmer partnerships were a trend. As the Executive Chef at La Mer in the late 80’s at the Halekulani, he was passionate about sourcing the best ingredients. As soon as he arrived in Hawai’i, he visited the farm, forging a bond of mutual respect and friendship between our businesses that has spanned decades. Third generation Sumida Farm Operations Manager David Sumida and Chef Mavro routinely appeared in publications and on TV together where Chef Mavro often said Sumida Farm watercress was the best in the world.
When Chef Mavro opened his own restaurant in 1998, Uncle Dave attended the opening and blessing, a memory he cherishes. Chef Mavro made a point to include watercress in every season’s menu. Once Aunty Charlotte, the oldest of the Sumida third generation siblings, was scanning Chef Mavro’s new menu of the season and didn’t see any watercress included; she fired off an email asking why no watercress—turned out she overlooked the ingredients on the first dish and quickly apologized—how could she think Chef Mavro forgot about watercress?!
Kyle and I first dined at Chef Mavro when we were only 18 years old. My parents took us out to a celebration meal, our first fine dining experience. We were young and valued quantity over quality, but the bites we had during our three-course tasting were transcendent. I remember the main course involving a perfectly poached lobster that swam in a gourmet buttery bath topped with a small dollop of caviar. It took me all of three bites to finish the dish, and two licks to clean the plate, getting every bit of that rich sauce, but that moment made me rethink how I approach food—cherishing and appreciating flavors and ingredients. Kyle devoured every bite, along with 4 baskets of the free bread, trying to fill his teenage body with sustenance, but loving the flavors. The crown jewel of the night was Chef Mavro’s lilikoi malasadas—the dish everyone came for and the one Chef Mavro could never remove from the menu. Kyle still says it is his all-time favorite dessert.
In 2010, Kyle and I once again met Chef Mavro and his wife Donna at the farm when they were hosting a class for culinary students. Chef Mavro truly believed the next generation of chefs should know where their ingredients came from and appreciate the work and care that went into cultivating the crops they showcased on their menus. This meeting was one of the many sparks that eventually led Kyle and I to raise our hand to manage the farm.
When Chef Mavro sold his restaurant in 2019 to his protégé, Chef Jeremy Shigekane, Uncle Dave was so happy. Happy to know the restaurant would continue and would be in the hands of such a skilled and thoughtful chef, a “local Mililani boy,” in Chef Jeremy. Chef Jeremy is not your stereotypical French trained, fine dining chef/owner. When I think of the stereotype, I imagine Chef Skinner, the hot-headed chef from Ratatouille; Chef Jeremy is the complete opposite—he is calm and kind, and truly wants to help everyone around him.
When Aunty Barb was diagnosed with glioblastoma in January of 2020 she fell ill quickly and unexpectedly. What was originally designed to be a 9 year transition plan to take over farm management for Kyle and I, quickly evaporated as we worked to immediately fill in for her and ensure the farm was able to continue operating. During this uncertain and emotional time, we turned to trusted vendors and partners for support and help. Chef Jeremy is one of those people, who offered so much kindness and genuine care when we needed it most. Tragically, we lost Aunty Barb just 6 weeks later on Valentine’s Day 2020. As we grieved this loss, the COVID-19 outbreak was officially declared a pandemic and the world began to shut down.
As fine dining restaurants like Chef Mavro closed its doors for what was supposed to be a 2 week “pause,” Chef Jeremy and his team decided to remain open and pivot to fine-dining take out. This was so novel at the time, no one could imagine eating perfectly executed French food from a plastic to-go container, and Chef Jeremy paved the way. I remember his Sous Chef at the time, Chef Jenny, telling me “We know the community must still eat, so we will feed them.” She shared with me the struggles of trying to source take out containers as all restaurants scrambled to offer take out options. Chef Jeremy and team started turning out the best take out and prepped and delivered free meals to hospitals, as a thank you to front line workers. He advocated for local businesses, farmers, fisherman, ranchers; sharing his experience and learnings from the economic challenges of the 2008 Great Recession. He was a steady and calm leader in a chaotic time, and I will always respect the courage and strength he demonstrated.
As our farm weathered the serious challenges of the sudden management transition, the pandemic and all the hardships of 2020, we took time to enjoy take out meals from Chef Jeremy—it was the bright spot in a dark time for us.
For our daughter’s 8th birthday, she requested his famous beef bourguignon, which was a part of a rotating take out menu. It was not on the menu that week, but he made a special portion for her, and gifted her a bottle of “champagne” sparkling grape juice, which she proudly drank from a wine glass on the grass overlooking our fields at sunset.
When he was able to open in person dining again, Kyle and I came back to enjoy a celebratory meal—making up for several birthdays and anniversaries that were missed during the shutdown. I savored every bite, knowing now how special each moment is and how quickly things can change.
Last March 2021, we took our Front Operations Manager, Lana, her husband Mike, who now works as our Field Operations Manager, Uncle Dave and his daughter, my cousin Anna, out for a birthday and one year work anniversary meal. Chef Jeremy and mixologist Deon prepared an amazing watercress cocktail for us to start the meal, which delighted the group who never thought a cocktail could include watercress!
There are just too many moments to recount that speak to how much respect and love we have for Chef Mavro and Chef Jeremy and I have to remind myself, this isn’t a eulogy! This is an ode to a dear friend, and a blessing and prayer for the next venture, which we will happily and hungrily support! Supporting local is a hot phrase, but the true meaning of the phrase to me is about friendship, kindness, and mutual respect; uplifting one another and strengthening communities. Mahalo Chef Jeremy and Chef Mavro for the many years of supporting local and we can’t wait to see what the next chapter has in store for you.