ICE Grad Opened HICraft Kitchen in Hip Hawaii Neighborhood
After 15 years in fine dining, Carlos Jorge applied his restaurant opening expertise to a fast-casual artisanal sandwich concept.
With two engineering degrees under his belt, Carlos Jorge (Culinary, ‘01) enrolled at ICE at the behest of family and friends who knew his talent for cooking. He had worked in catering while earning his undergraduate and graduate degrees and had a hunch that he might like the restaurant industry. This inkling led him to a 15-year career in fine dining followed by the recent opening of his own fast-casual sandwich shop in Hawaii.
When Carlos graduated from ICE in 2001, he worked at Herbsaint and Bayona in New Orleans before returning to New York for stints at The Mercer Kitchen and Butter. Then he kicked off what would become a trend in his career of opening restaurants for large, illustrious hotels.
He started with a position as executive chef of The Raleigh Hotel in Miami Beach, where celebrated chef Eric Ripert consulted on the food program. Next, Carlos opened The Resort at Singer Island, followed by the St. Regis Hotel Princeville on Kauai, Hawaii, where he was under the purview of chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten. Finally, he worked with restaurateur Stephen Starr at the W Fort Lauderdale.
In 2014, Carlos served as opening executive chef of Zuma New York, where he worked long, taxing hours and directed a team of 175 cooks. “Zuma opened my eyes to the exacting standards of a giant corporation and taught me how to manage numbers on a grand scale, but I was running like a hamster on a wheel,” he says. “I thought, I can’t keep making other people rich, opening up all of these restaurants. I was the opener. I was the specialist in openings.”
Carlos saved enough money to open a restaurant for himself for once. A voice in the back of his head told him he left things undone in Hawaii and didn’t give the tropical state enough of a chance. “I visited a few times and realized I could do something small and fast-casual, using the level of technique and cuisine expertise that I’d amassed over the years and translate it to the simplest of all comfort foods,” he says.
That is how he came up with HICraft Kitchen, the fast-casual operation that he opened in March 2019. At HICraft Kitchen, Carlos creates sandwiches, soups and salads with ingredients sourced locally and condiments made from scratch. “It’s about trying to keep true to the name HICraft Kitchen,” Carlos explains, the “hi” referring to both “high” and the abbreviation for Hawaii. “It’s a higher craft of sandwich, a higher craft of what you would envision.”
On the menu, there are about 20 hot and cold sandwiches, with a handful of vegetarian choices. Guests can choose from options like The Parm, combining chicken cutlet with fresh mozzarella and marinara on a roll, or The Stack, a double-decker club with house-roasted, organic turkey, applewood smoked bacon, tomato, lettuce, avocado and red onion chutney. The most popular order is the Shorty’s Rib, which features short rib that has been braised for 17 hours, resulting in a buttery, rich, juicy sandwich. Soups include split pea with smoked ham hocks, Portuguese bean and mushroom bisque.
“Most of my purveyors are from right here on Oahu,” Carlos says proudly. “My pasture-raised chicken comes from about 20 miles north of here, I get my pigs from a female-run farm on the west coast of Oahu, and I source my beef from Makaweli Meat Company on Kauai. Both in the food, as well as the ambiance and decor, it’s all about Hawaii.”
Carlos also sourced almost all of the wood for his sleek, modern space from the island of Oahu. When possible, he used reclaimed wood, like the old floors from local Waialae Bowling Alley. “I like to do woodworking and build furniture in my spare time,” he says. “I utilize that which other people may define as trash.” The restaurant has light wooden tables, benches, counters, chairs and partial walls, with an open kitchen that allows guests to see the sandwich masters at work.
HICraft Kitchen is located in a hip neighborhood just west of Waikiki called Kaka’ako. “Envision Williamsburg circa 1992 when it was just on the fringes of becoming the unattainable beast that it is today. That’s the way Kaka’ako is now,” Carlos explains. “There are all sorts of artistic, collaborative spaces and forward, edgy cuisines, both fast-casual and full-service.”
Within Kaka’ako, HICraft Kitchen occupies a space in the new residential and commercial complex Keauhou Lane. Carlos was drawn to it when he learned the Portland-based developer behind the project had signed an organic supermarket and other like-minded restaurants. “We’re fortunate to be in this up-and-coming area and we’re getting great word-of-mouth,” he says.
The place is getting worthy buzz because it’s different from other sandwich shops on the island. “Hawaii is a little set back in its ways,” Carlos says. “Everything comes out of a can. There’s no problem with that, but we do everything from scratch, from our aioli to our dressings. It’s just not done that often at fast-casual places here. I had to teach my cooks how to make Caesar dressing.”
While Carlos has had a difficult time finding cooks that are enthusiastic about making everything from scratch and have experience doing so, he has taught his staff the value of homemade condiments. He even inspired one of his cooks to move to New York and pursue a culinary education at ICE.
By serving up dishes that people don’t expect from a regular sandwich shop, Carlos is doing his part to change the way Hawaiians look at fast-casual food. “Sandwiches, soups and salads. That’s all we do here,” he says. “We just do them in a way that people aren’t ordinarily accustomed to seeing.”
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