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Daily Inspiration: Meet Michael Kitano

Today we’d like to introduce you to Michael Kitano.

Hi Michael, we’re thrilled to have a chance to learn your story today. So, before we get into specifics, maybe you can briefly walk us through how you got to where you are today?
I have been in the hospitality business on and off for ten years +. I went the culinary school route after the college life didn’t work out. I used to watch the original Iron Chef TV show and read books by Chef Anthony Bourdain and decided to give the culinary arts a try. I learned the basics although was caught off guard when one of my Chef Instructors didn’t know what chicken and waffles was; as he asked the class what two items go well with each other.

Soon after graduating, I was placed at one of the restaurants in Disneyland. Unfortunately, this didn’t last too long as it wasn’t what I went to school for. I bounced around restaurants to restaurants until I was hired by a French restaurant. There I truly learned techniques, the brigade system, and terminology on certain items but more importantly, experience. The long hours, the craziness, the high level of stress but I enjoyed every moment. I was taught sauce making by an older French saucier. He spoke no English and I spoke no french. But just off observation and learning, my sauces have won several awards; the latest being the 2021 OC Fair Sauce Division for my Korean inspired BBQ Sauce.

I eventually did get burnt out and started working for my father. Soon thereafter, I was asked by a church goer at a local church if I could help out in their kitchen. I jumped at this opportunity as they allowed me culinary freedom. I soon started planning and preparing my own dishes for service which people loved. I always wanted to open my own restaurant however due to timing, unforeseen circumstances and the pandemic, opening would not have been good.

Instead of opening a brick and mortar location, I decided to launch my own pop-up eatery. I call it “Hapa Meals” as a spinoff of a well-known franchise burger joint’s kids meals. Plus, my children are “hapa” loosely translated as “half”. My wife is Caucasian and I’m Asian; thus having “hapa” kids. I launched over Super Bowl weekend back in February serving up chicken wings with different types of in house made sauces. From that point on, I continued to market myself and reach out to local breweries where I am currently popping up.

Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and if not what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?
One of the biggest struggles so far is crowd size. I order all of my goods a few days before my events mainly due to storage. I don’t want to run out yet I don’t want to overly purchase. Since I’m fairly new at this, it’s still a learning process.

Can you tell our readers more about what you do and what you think sets you apart from others?
I own and operate an Asian/island fusion pop up eatery specializing in combining cuisines with Asian/island flavors. Throughout culinary school and even today, I’m constantly researching what flavors go well with each other but not to an extreme. I’m well known for my sauces. Sauce making is quite difficult as one ingredient can ruin everything.

I’m most proud of all my awards. I only started competing just to gain that experience as I’ve always gone to fairs and seen ribbons on items that I knew I could have made better.

I believe the way I can combine different cuisines sets me apart. I recently learned how to smoke meat and creating a unique taste using different wood and my own rubs and sauces.

Do you have recommendations for books, apps, blogs, etc?
I enjoy reading Cook’s Illustrated and do occasionally listen to various BBQ podcasts.

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