The Koa Table: Good Food for Good People
Twenty-eight-year-old Philip “Ippy” Aiona is everyone’s favorite son on Hawai‘i Island. The youngest person to be featured on “Food Network Star,” the chef was also featured in Forbes as one of 2012’s “Best 30 Under 30.”
Aiona recently opened his new restaurant, The Koa Table at the Kings’ Shops in Waikoloa, where he hopes to perpetuate the Hawaiian foodie culture among locals and visitors alike.
“I’ve been in the restaurant business my whole life,” said Aiona. “My mom is an Italian from New York and my dad is a Hawaiian native. My dad had a Hawaiian plate lunch restaurant in Waimea (Kamuela Deli) when we grew up, and mom missed real Italian food, so she opened her Italian restaurant (Solimenes) in Waikoloa. I grew up in those restaurants and then I went to French culinary school. So I have a huge background in a bunch of different kinds of cuisines.”
Growing up in his father’s Hawaiian plate lunch restaurant, Aiona would stop by the restaurant every day after school to do his homework. Local residents would often help him with school projects and visit with him while they ate. After graduating from Hawaii Preparatory Academy in Kamuela, Aiona left the Big Island to pursue his culinary dreams at Le Cordon Bleu in San Francisco.
Today, Aiona fuses fresh local ingredients into his au courant European cuisine to put a new twist on classic comfort food style meals.
Although showered with fame and praise at a young age, there is nothing pretentious about this home-grown Big Island boy.
“I opened my first place and I got super lucky when I won international Iron Chef in Canada,” said Aiona. “I got the opportunity to enter a lot of these cool competitions to catapult my restaurant career. I opened Ippy’s Hawaiian BBQ across the street first, and then I wanted to open a place that was kind of fun, so I opened what was the Three Fat Pigs. Then I wanted to try something different and opened The Koa Table.”
Aiona’s vision for the Koa Table was a place where he could serve the type of comfort food he grew up with. He describes the menu of his new restaurant as a self-reflective journey.
“Growing up, we had a koa table in our house that is almost an exact replica of the one we have here in the restaurant,” he said. “We very rarely sat down for family meals because both of my parents were in the restaurant industry, but when we did, it was at this koa table. I have the best memories of that table. So my concept and why we bought the replica koa table for the restaurant is because when you eat here, you’re basically coming to my house and I’m going to cook for you. The food I make here is what I would cook for you if you came to my house.”
The Koa Table feels homey for such a large space. Pictures adorn the wall aside the staircase, mimicking the hallway in the house where Aiona grew up. Everything in the restaurant is family-oriented, from the food to the decor to the employees. When asked about his favorite go-to comfort food, Aiona didn’t take long to consider his answer.
“I always tell people that if I was on death row, my last meal request would be loco moco,” said Aiona. “I mean, oh my God, it’s right there, you know! It’s so good.”
In terms of where he sees himself in the future, Aiona said he likes to live in the now. He hopes he is still in the restaurant industry and still creating in the kitchen.
As for today, he just wants to serve good food to good people.
“The Koa Table is open for locals and tourists alike,” said the chef. “I want it to be a place where locals can come in with their families, sit down for a nice full meal at an affordable price and not be intimidated by the food. It’s all a play on the comfort food we grew up with here in Hawai‘i. By doing that, the restaurant also becomes a place where tourists will come and eat and taste this kind of food—the kind of food we eat on the island.
Ippy Aiona has only begun to share his talents with Hawai‘i Island. The Koa Table is just another stepping stone in a lifetime of culinary adventures.
The Koa Table is located in the Kings’ Shops in Waikoloa, 250 Waikoloa Beach Drive.
For more information, call (808) 339-7145.