Hawaii: In Real Life ~ Isaac Bancaco

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I first met Isaac Bancaco in 2010, after he had just returned home to Maui to become the chef de cuisine at the Grand Wailea’s Humuhumunukunukuapua’a. He was on Oahu for the day to met as many media as possible, since he had been away for almost a decade.

“I didn’t grow up cooking. I may have gone away to culinary school because it seemed like a good way to meet girls,” he joked. He went through a series of interesting career turns after graduating from the Western Culinary Institute in Portland, OR — he started at Ming Tsai’s Blue Ginger in Wellesley, MA, and in a couple of months, had the opportunity to be a sous chef there.

“I wanted to come home, but I couldn’t turn down such a fantastic opportunity,” Banacaco said. “My grandparents insisted I stay to learn and grow. They said home will always be here for me, and they were right.”

He stayed for four years with the harsh East Coast winters, then moved to the milder Los Angeles to open two Roy’s restaurants in a three-year period. Onyx Fusion Bar & Restaurant discovered him there, and lured him back to Massachusetts, where he stayed for a bit before the Grand Wailea called him back home. He’s now the executive chef at Pineapple Grill (@PineappleGrill) in Kapalua, tweaking the menu and balancing the chef’s dilemma of price, quality, and fiscal responsibility in using as many local products as possible. A group of us talked story with him over breakfast at the Pineapple Grill this past weekend to get to know him and his work style. You can also follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @Ibancaco to see more.

If you want to see more of our conversation, click here as we talk about how he works with farmers, what he sees as food trends, and his favorite comfort food. Big mahalo to Peter Liu (@PeterLiu47) for being my Maui cameraman! for Oh, wait, did you want to see our food? Here’s a quick look at our brunch, which was sponsored by Edible Hawaiian Islands Magazine (@EdibleHawaiian).

Brunch at Pineapple Grill

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We snacked on a platter of 100 percent local products: Papaya with regular strawberries and the smaller, super sweet white strawberries; and lilikoi halves filled with Surfing Goat Dairy goat cheese sorbet. Everything was incredibly sweet, yet there was no added sugar — it was all natural. I think Kimo Simpliciano (@KimoSimpliciano) is responsible for some of this goodness.

Pineapple Grill
Kapalua Resort
200 Kapalua Dr.
Kapalua, Maui, HI 96761



Food look so good and see I will visit Maui later and see Pineapple Grill seem like the place for breakfast or brunch.


I really want to try the Crabby cakes benedict topped with opal basil hollandaise. <3


Delicate Blossom:  Very nice interview...fuud pix are guud tuu!  I was curious about the trending line of questions and wondered about these chefs who are "gypsies" of sorts.  Do they feel that it is a necessary "evil" to go all over the world in order to develop their palate and repertoire?  Or can they be creative just within their own realm and "dream up" new and exciting things?

Melissa808 moderator

 @Annoddah_Dave I didn't ask Isaac that question, although I'm sure I know the answer based on what other chefs have repeatedly said throughout the years: Yes. 


As with any job, you can't create things in a vacuum. You need to travel and learn new things from other cultures and professionals. Otherwise you'll get stuck doing the same things in the same way with the same tools & ingredients.


 @Melissa808 Delicate Blossom:  Thanks.  It came to mind after reading Cat's Blog on Fuud Movies and the Jiro Dreams of Sushi movie.  But as you said, he is stuck doing only one thing, albeit at an excellent level.