My love affair with cooking started with a love affair with good food.
Literally growing up in the restaurant industry, the kitchen was always a place where energy, love, creativity and amazing aromas and ingredients converged. Then again, it was a restaurant, another convergence of sorts. One where foodies, idealists, liberals, conservatives, locals, tourists and even the occasional derelict would converge all for the sake of the same thing…good food and company. My father, the consummate host was the magnetic personality in charge of the restaurant aptly named “ The Spice of Life” or aka, The Spice. Located in a fishing village in coastal Maine, crusty Maine fishermen would converge with blue-blood summer residences in a clash of classes. Fortunately, the bustling bar was kept separate from the “fine dining” room that was reserved for the more discerning guests.
Food was our business, the people were our passion.
Flash forward several decades later and things haven’t changed much at all. Well, I guess you could say the climate is a little more gentle as life on Maui compared to the New England coast is quite a lovely reprieve. The principle remains the same.
Pray, tell, how did I become a very busy private chef on this little island in the middle of the South Pacific all within 6 months? Well, I would say it was predestined. I ignored the nudge to go to Culinary training after graduating with a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Chicago. My best friend went straight to CIA (Culinary Institute of America) and I was insanely envious.
Life After College
Saddled with a chip on my shoulder and a mountain of student loan debt, I went off into the wild blue yonder of corporate America ( that’s what you do right??) and was never so lost, unhappy, out of balance and unsatisfied as I was that first year out of college. So, what does one do? Find a passion and pursue it and/ or find comfort in food. I’m so grateful for a speedy metabolism or I would have been enormous that first year out of college!
I remember the first delicious thing I made for a group, nothing fancy, but I remember that my execution was pretty excellent. I’m ashamed to admit that it was merely steak fajitas — sizzling steak with onions and peppers, nice soft steamed tortillas with the perfect accouterments. I pretty much nailed it. To me, it was all about confidence.
There were many hits and misses and in the early days — more misses than hits. I recall making a Thai inspired peanut sauce for the Mom of a boyfriend of mine after I had proclaimed that I was a great cook. It had so much garlic in it that it was inedible. Although, she was very kind to move it around her plate in an effort to mask bits of it in her green salad that she heaped on top of the pasta. What a gracious lady…she was probably was up all night with heartburn.
Flash forward through a series of experimental recipes, relationships, and really gnarly bike crashes.
As I entered my 30’s, raising a family brought heaps of challenges. Fortunately, none of my kids had any dietary situations, but my husband was diagnosed with a serious Auto Immune Disease in 2009. My immediate response was to dig deep into studying nutrition and all the ways food can be used to heal instead of just satiate. Everything from Ayurvedic to Paleo and everything in between, I realized that if I was presented with a restriction, I had the clever ability to work around the confines of those restrictions to create something with beauty, depth of flavor, texture all the while retaining its healing properties. It became an obsession and a passion.
My husband was healed from his autoimmune disease with a recent visit to the neurologist saying “ I don’t see any signs of MS” 8 years later. Moving from the domestic front, I had the great honor of working with a talented Chef in Durango, Colorado and also the great fortune of finding my way around the San Juan Mountains where wild foods grow in abundance. Living in the mountains, I took my cuisine to a professional audience, cooking for retreats, hosting foraging walks followed by dinners featuring the amazing wild mushrooms we harvested just that afternoon.
I was in my element and it was amazing.
Opportunity knocked on the door and Maui came on our radar. What good fortune for us to move immediately to a biodynamic farm in Keokea with a landowner who was kind enough to let me try my hand at a multi-course, truly farm to table meal for a group of lovely ladies, many of whom I consider my friends and clients now. With even more confidence under my belt, I began to talk about what I do and happened upon a concierge for a luxury rental company, a fellow surf mom.
She started to send me bookings and I jumped in, feet first. I created a website, a business name, logo and hit the ground running. Resume? The owner of a very high-end, eco-adventure company asked me to send a resume as I inquired with him about doing some work for his clientele. With no formal training or certificates in Culinary, I crafted a letter to him that told my story about my love affair with fine cuisine and some basic information about my informal training. He must have appreciated my heart and passion because he called me two weeks later to cook on a yacht for two high-profile guests on Christmas day. I am now his “go to Chef” and because the nature of his business is ecotourism, I answer the phone half expecting a famous tagline from the film Mission Impossible.
“Chef Maja, the mission, should you choose to accept it….” and usually followed by some super ambitious order for chef services that I am always delighted to fulfill usually involving an interesting form of locomotion (helicopter, boat, horse or all of the above) and campfire or one burner stove.
That was my first six months of being open for business!
The greatest joy in my line of work is definitely the people. I love people, I am passionate about cuisine, farming, and gorgeous produce. I am blessed beyond measure to love what I do and get to do it in the capacity that I can here in such a cornucopia of mediums. Culinary artist, chef, passionate foodie, epicurean, locavore… I am all of these things but the love for people is truly my passion. Aloha and Bon Appetite! Chef Maja