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Mediterranean Cuisine Goes Hawaiian

Meridia restaurant showcases Mediterranean classics using 95% local ingredients.

Westin Hapuna Beach’s signature restaurant, the Ocean Grille, underwent a $4 million renovation in 2018, re-emerging at completion as the Mediterranean-inspired Meridia. The location on one of the planet’s most spectacular coastlines—Hawaii Island’s Kohala Coast -- is the perfect spot for this casually elegant, contemporary restaurant. It sits tranquilly on a bluff at the southern end of the luxury resort overlooking the white sand beach and sapphire blue ocean. 

Guests may enjoy handcrafted cocktails, charcuterie and crudo in the open-air interior lounge and bar, while al fresco dining is offered on the expansive – and romantic -- lanai for sunset and under the stars dining.

Menu offerings are a feast for all the senses with bright, bold colors and intricate flavors. Dishes include an array of classic Mediterranean dishes with roots in Portugal, Spain, France and Italy, all primarily prepared with sustainably grown Hawaii Island ingredients. In fact, 95% of the items are local with much plucked daily from edible gardens surrounding the restaurant, including Portuguese Cabbage, Kale, Ulu, Eggplant, Hawaiian Chili Peppers and numerous herbs.

Hapuna’s honey bee hives also live in the garden with 5 gallons of the sweet and healthy delicacy syphoned off by caretakers about every two months for use in vinaigrettes, desserts and even some savory dishes.

Freshly caught seafood from Hawaiian waters figure prominently on the menu with selections varying from season to season. Ono, Mahi Mahi, Opah and Ahi among them, as well as Kona Lobster, Kona Shrimp, Kona Clams, and Abalone and Kanpachi harvested at the Hawaii Ocean Science and Technology Park in Kailua-Kona. Puna Chicken, Up Country Wild Boar and Grass Fed Island Beef are sourced from the island’s ranches, farms and forests.        

Hearts of Palm and Fiddle Leaf Ferns from Hilo, Ali‘i Mushrooms from the Hamakua Coast, Tomatoes from Waimea, Big Island Goat Cheese, Kona Sea and, of course, renowned  Kona Coffee are among the restaurants frequently used products. That Mediterranean staple, Extra Virgin Olive Oil is one of the few imports found countertop in Meridia’s kitchen with up to 20 different blends primarily from Spain and Sicily on hand at any given time. 

Heading up the stoves at Meridia since 2019 is Chef de Cuisine Junior Ulep. A self-proclaimed country boy from Haleiwa on Oahu’s North Shore, Chef Junior’s background belies that statement with stints at many of Hawaii’s most lauded restaurants and apprenticeships with a roster of chefs that reads like a “Who’s Who” among Hawaii’s and the world’s culinary greats. Prior to being recruited to lead the kitchen team at Meridia, he clocked time in restaurants at Four Seasons  Resort Hualalai, CanoeHouse at Mauna Lani and Mauna Kea Beach Hotel all on Hawaii Island. On Lanai, he was among the chefs at the Manele Bay Hotel, as well as the Lodge at Koele; and on Kauai he spent time in the kitchen at Ku’kuiulu residential resort. Among his mentoring chefs: Philippe Padovani, Eric Leterc, Edwin Goda, George Gomes, Peter Abacar and Ben Takahashi.

“I was always ready for battle when I entered Chef Padovani’s kitchen, it was like being in the military! Everything had to be absolutely precise, impeccably fresh and clean. As he always said, ‘It’s the French way or the highway’, Chef Junior says. “I spent seven years with him at Manele Bay and he built me into becoming his sous chef there.”

Despite the pedigreed on-the-job training he experienced over some 30 years, Chef Junior is quick to credit his late father Francis and his mother Rosita for inspiring his “always work hard” ethic. 

“I’m always experimenting, always learning and 90% of the time I’m working the line with my team of 20-something cooks,” Chef Junior says.

What started out as cooking for his younger siblings as his parents worked and then morphing into a dishwasher job at a five-star bed and breakfast while studying criminology at state college in Oregon, led Chef Junior to where he is today. Flash forward and now Chef Junior shares some of the signature dishes he’s created at Meridia and turns out beautifully plated nightly.

To start : Meridia Cataplana - Island Wild Boar Sausage, Kona Clams, Kona Shrimp in White wine with Garden Chili Peppers and Polenta Croutons; Puna Chicken Empanadas with Smoked Spanish Paprika and Piment d’Esplelette Peppers; Raviolo al’Uovo – Island Raised Egg, Pancetta, Loffer Farms Corn, Shallots and Preserved Lemon; and Bacon Wrapped Dates with Passion Mustard, Manchego Cheese and Arugula.

Moving on to the main event, highlights include: Paella Mixta with Bomba Rice, Wild Boar Sausage, Chicken, Kona Shrimp, Clams, Peas and Saffron; Braised Big Island Short Rib with Saffron Risotto, Broccolini and Heirloom Carrots; and Plancha Hawaiian Ahi with Warm Ancient Grain Salad, Fiddle Leaf Ferns and Extra Virgin Olive Oil.          

For reservations or more information phone (808) 880-1111 or log on at dining@westinhapunabeach.com

“Every day is the Super Bowl in our kitchen, it’s a place filled with passion by a group of culinary professionals with the mastery and will to turn out winning dishes every time.”

“It was Michael and Laurie Gibbs at the Manchester Inn in Ashland who, after about a month washing dishes allowed me to become a prep cook and ultimately changed my career path. I fell in love with cheffing.” 

“People come first for me. Listen to your clients and deliver what they want. Equally important, take care of your team: happy cooks, happy wait staff, happy teams make happy, delicious food happen.”- Chef Junior

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