In their own words: Chef Luis Axalan on the meaning of Ohana

“In Their Own Words …” grants a forum to chefs to discuss issues in and out of the kitchen that are important to them. If you’re interested in submitting a topic, email

As the Hawaiian Islands prepare for their month-long love letter to cuisine at the Hawaii Food & Wine Festival, where Chef Works® will serve as the official culinary apparel sponsor for the ninth-straight year, we thought it would be great to get some perspective from a chef on the island.

Luis Axalan is the executive sous chef at Pearl Country Club Aiea on the island of Oahu. He wanted to use this space to talk about the meaning of family. But in Hawaii, family can mean a lot of different things.

Here’s Chef Luis – in his own words …

In Hawaii, Ohana means family. But the word is much bigger than just immediate family. Ohana means all of your relatives, and your friends, and your co-workers and anyone else who is important to you. As a chef in Hawaii, I always feel like I have an Ohana that is always there for me in the community.

I have been in the industry for more than 11 years. Like many, I worked my way up from dishwasher to line cook to sous chef to executive sous chef. I have the privilege of working under Executive Chef Aurelio Garcia. He’s an amazing chef, a staple in Hawaii, a mentor and a teacher.

Executive Sous Chef Luis Axalan in his Springfield Chef Coat and Berkeley Bib Apron.

Ohana is alive and well in our kitchen. And we need it! Anyone who has ever worked in the industry understands the struggles. There are long hours and sacrifices. There is blood, sweat and tears. There are hot kitchens, busy, non-stop service, managing and menu planning. But you make those sacrifices because it is your chosen career. And you make those sacrifices because of the people you work with.

They are my Ohana — at least one of them.

My other Ohana is the at home – where I’m the father of two beautiful children. What makes my job so great is that when I’m done, I get to come home to them. You need to have that balance in life to survive this career.

Go to any beach on Hawaii on any given Sunday and you’ll see they are packed with locals, families and friends enjoying time together. Hawaii has so many different types of wonderful cuisines and regional flavors and Ohana is about enjoying all of that together.

Being a chef in Hawaii is an amazing way to make a living. The locals appreciate the beauty of what we’ve been blessed with. The tourists understand they are coming to a paradise.

We truly are an Ohana.


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