Chef Peter Merriman

Chef Peter Merriman, Distinguished Chef & Restaurateur

For over twenty years Peter Merriman has served as a culinary pioneer in Hawaii utilizing both an unmatched creativity and a locally inspired way of thinking. Famously called “The Pied Piper of Hawaii Regional Cuisine” by The Los Angeles Times, Peter proudly maintains an unfaltering commitment to showcasing Hawaii’s breadth of local offerings, and in doing so, he is ever-advancing Hawaii’s thriving culinary scene.

Peter was raised in Pittsburgh, where a passion for food was instilled in him from a young age. His mother, Woodene, was a noted Pittsburgh Post Gazette food writer, and by the time he was 16, he was doing “grunt work” for Master Chef Ferdinand Metz at the H. J. Heinz Co. (Chef Metz later headed the renowned Culinary Institute of America.) Merriman attended the University of Pennsylvania where he obtained a degree in Political Science, only to turn around and enroll in a three-year Chef's Apprentice Program under the auspices of the American Culinary Federation. The apprenticeship program took Peter to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and to Woodstock, Vermont, where he studied at the Woodstock Inn, under the supervision of Chef Hans Schadler. He then went on to various stints in resort areas across the United States and Europe, including a summer working amongst the vineyards of France’s Champagne region.

After accepting a position with the world-class Mauna Lani Bay Hotel and Bungalows, Peter arrived on the Island of Hawaii in early 1983, and was quickly promoted to the position of Executive Chef of the Resort’s Gallery Restaurant. It was at the Mauna Lani that Peter began to develop a novel relationship between his dishes and the farmers and ranchers who provided for them.

In a time when a restaurant’s fresh ingredients were sourced only from large distributors and local producers were forced to sell at the same price points as their imported counterparts, Peter Merriman went against the grain. He was the first to go directly to local farmers and ranchers to source his menu and was happy to pay a higher cost than if he were to buy the same ingredients from the mainland.

Merriman believed that to be able to offer fish that was caught the same morning and to use vegetables harvested the day that they were served was essential to providing the best gourmet Hawaii cuisine. Not only did this kind of thinking help build his personal success, but buying directly from local businesses helped to stimulate the surrounding local economy as well. Peter famously told his farmers “I want to see you guys drive up in a Mercedes one day.” It was his gourmet interpretation of local Hawaiian ingredients and a commitment to the local producers and economy, that placed Chef Merriman at the helm of Hawaii Regional Cuisine (HRC), a culinary and agricultural movement that embodies these standards.

Peter’s reputation as an innovative, locally-minded chef flourished and in 1988 he and wife Vicki opened their signature upcountry restaurant, Merriman’s, in Waimea. Merriman’s quickly became the culinary crossroads for Hawaii Regional Cuisine, earning critical acclaim from diners and publications worldwide. The New York Times raved: “Everything at Merriman’s…features the freshest local ingredients paired in exciting ways,” and San Francisco Magazine exclaimed that “His Wok-charred Ahi is to die for.”

It was at Merriman’s Waimea that Peter garnered the attention of the James Beard Foundation and as a result, he was a Finalist in the “Best Chef Northwest & Hawaii” category three distinct times. The upscale eatery is nationally recognized as one of the “homes” of Hawaii Regional Cuisine, and the restaurant was famously proclaimed, "A gourmet in cowboy country" by Hana Hou, the Hawaiian Airlines Magazine.

Peter has since expanded his culinary reach to the Market Café, located in the Waikoloa King’s Shops on Hawaii Island, Merriman’s Kapalua on Maui, and Merriman’s Poipu on Kauai.

In addition to his Merriman’s locations, Peter launched a joint venture with TS Restaurants in 1994 to open the “Hula Grill,” located on Maui’s famed Ka`anapali Beach. Hula Grill marked the first attempt to marry the traditional steak and seafood of Hawaii’s local fare with the beliefs and culinary excellence of Hawaii Regional Cuisine. Hula Grill was touted “the best fish house in the islands” by Honolulu Magazine. Monkeypod Kitchen by Merriman in Wailea, Maui is his most recent venture.

All of Peter’s Merriman’s restaurants share a common mission statement: “Do the Right Thing!” Each is deeply rooted in the moral traditions of Hawaii Regional Cuisine, and every menu is designed to prominently display Hawaii’s organic flavors instead of masking them: “Our interpretation allows the predominant natural flavors of the food to come through. If you combine too many flavors, you've disguised the food and you've confused the palette,” Peter says. “We showcase the farmer’s product, not a complicated preparation, so our guests can authentically taste the lettuce organically grown in Waimea; they authentically enjoy our wonderful, local, vine-ripened tomatoes.”