Christian Jorgensen: The ‘hardest working chef’ on the West Side
KAANAPALI – Continuing the story of the popular, master chef who had starred on the U.S. Mainland, in Asia, and more recently at The Westin Maui, CJ (Christian Jorgensen) one night in 2003 mapped out a concept for his new restaurant. The idea was it would be called CJ’s Comfort Zone Deli and Diner and offer comfort food at reasonable prices.
CJ drove by the newly opened Fairway Shops along the main highway near Maui Eldorado in Kaanapali every day on the way to work, and it had space. The chef wanted to offer foods like his grandma used to make but with an international flair.
Equally important, being on his own – even in the demanding restaurant business – meant he would have more time to spend with kids. It was actually line two of his written business plan, and amazingly, he has been able to pull it off.
He and a partner poured half-a-million dollars into the Fairway Shops business, spending $80,000 alone for a state-of-the-art ventilating system.
“When we first opened, we had a bakery, but we produced too much dough or two little dough, so we shut it down,” said the quotable CJ in front of an egg croissant recently.
“My only home run has been the Hana lunch box, $12 a person. You get a sandwich of your choice, a quarter of pineapple, bag of Maui chips, a drink and a Hana Bar (a blend of chocolate and other ingredients CJ won’t specify.” All come in a returnable cooler.
“If people call up ahead of time for a lunch to take to Hana, I tell them, ‘Sir, we don’t do pre-orders. We make it right in front of you. You just come by between seven and eight,” he explained.
Customers, he noted, often buy a cup of coffee and egg sandwich while they are waiting, “and when they return the cooler all tired at the end of the day, we sell them dinner. So in one day, we sell them breakfast, lunch and dinner.”
Despite inflation, the restaurateur says he has managed to keep the average price of an entree to close to $10 by maintaining a small staff and not using servers, busboys or expensive-to-clean dishes (he uses paper plates). Customers pick up the gourmet food at the cash register.
The menu includes more than 65 items posted on a colorful blackboard listed in orange chalk. Top sellers include Eggs Benedict, coconut prawns, mochiko chicken and mahi mahi, often served with roasted or mashed potatoes or homemade potato salad.
Expanding over the years, CJs also operates a successful catering business that has provided thousands of meals the last eight years for the Hyundai PGA golf tournament in Kapalua and the Maui Invitational Basketball Tournament.
CJ spends about an hour a day sourcing and changing recipes.
A sous chef arrives at 5 a.m. to order produce and other perishables.
As a top chef, CJ said he has received numerous offers to join elite resorts or restaurants, as well as to do TV. He has appeared on the cable TV Food Network and feels he could have given “Top Chef” finalist Sheldon Simeon a run for his money, had he chosen to compete as well.
Earlier this year, CJ had a major setback. Playing soccer on vacation in his native Denmark, he injured his back. It led to major complications. Hospitalization for two months followed. Wife Marilyn, who has been part of the business from the beginning, pushed up her hours to keep CJ’s going without seeming to pause. CJ is on the job again and trying to slow down a bit.
Perhaps it is fitting CJ named his place the Comfort Zone. The master chef from Denmark is as comfortable as can be living on Maui. He is comfortable at home, too, cooking dinner almost every night.
“Everybody knows me as the ‘hardest working chef’ on the West Side. On Saturdays, I’d get to the restaurant at four in the morning, (later) pick up a couple kids and drive to Kihei for a soccer game, drive to Central Maui for a second game, and get in the car and come back to cater a wedding. And I barely missed any practices.” CJ was the coach, and he taught Marilyn – who had never held a soccer ball – to coach, too.
Though he is proud of the success both of them have enjoyed, he is the proudest when people greet him simply as “chef.”
(CJ now appears on the cover of a new special edition of the “Maui for Millions” book available at the zone. Check out my daily photo blog at http:wordpress.com or write voices@ voicesofmaui.com.)