Issue 16.3: June/July 2013

Notes From the Underground

Story by Michael Shapiro
Photo by Olivier Koning


Your average guy would be satisfied with putting a lava lamp and a beat-up acoustic guitar in the basement and calling it a man cave. Takeshi Sekiguchi, the Japanese real estate tycoon who developed Maui’s Grand Wailea resort, is clearly not your average guy. His idea of a man cave involves importing 150,000 red bricks from Pennsylvania and creating a dark labyrinth reminiscent of a Roman catacomb. Then hanging pieces from his nearly billion-dollar art collection, including his Picassos, on the walls. Above the tables in the semiprivate alcoves, Swarovski crystal chandeliers shower opulence upon the diners.


Even stranger: Sekiguchi’s $20 million retreat, christened Vintage Cave, is in the basement of Ala Moana Center, directly under Shirokiya (which he also owns). Perhaps strangest of all, Sekiguchi turned the no-expense-spared kitchen over to a young, untested executive chef, Chris Kajioka.


Kajikoa, who grew up in Hawai‘i and went on to the Culinary Institute of America in New York, had been making the rounds in San Francisco’s fine-dining circuit. When he first heard about Vintage Cave, he demurred. “I was happy in SF,” he says, and he didn’t want to leave it. But Sekiguchi flew him to Honolulu, and Kajioka saw the bricks. “I was, like, holy … this doesn’t look like Hawai‘i. I’ve traveled, and I haven’t seen anything like it.” If that weren’t enough, Sekiguchi made the young chef an offer he couldn’t refuse: to build the kitchen of his dreams on an unbustable budget. “He said to me, ‘Never compromise.’ From day one,” says Kajioka, “I bought the best.”


That includes the ingredients to a prix-fixe menu that averages seventeen courses: fish shipped in daily from Tokyo’s Tsujiki Fish Market, beef from Four Story Hill Farm in Pennsylvania, golden Osetro caviar from the Caspian Sea. “All I have to do,” says Kajioka, “is not mess them up.”


For now Vintage Cave and its delectations are available to the public, who’ll pay for that privilege: $295, and that’s without wine pairings, making an evening at Vintage Cave a once-in-a-lifetime experience for most, but one that Kajioka says is worth having. “This is a world class venue,” says the chef. “The food also has to be world class to compete. It’s a challenge, but it’s a good challenge.”