GALA’s lumpia.
GALA’s lumpia.

Ryan Tatsumoto
Hawai‘i Herald Columnist

The end of April marked the beginning of a new story — a story about the realization of a dream that took root more than two decades ago.

Long before his career took him on a triangular journey between the 50th; Seattle, Wash., and the Bay Area, Chef Kelly Degala and his wife, Kirsti Mittag-Degala, had dreamed of opening a restaurant of their own. They even had a name for their pipe dream restaurant — GALA, reflecting both the concept with which life is meant to be celebrated and enjoyed, and Chef Degala’s name and his proud Filipino heritage.

And now that dream is finally real.

Chasing the Dream

Hawai‘i-born and raised, Chef Degala launched his career after earning a culinary degree from Kapi‘olani Community College in 1984. His first stint took him to Fuller’s Restaurant in Seattle’s Sheraton Hotel, where he worked his way up to sous chef. In 1993, Degala returned home to become the executive chef of the Harlequin in the Alana Waikiki Hotel.

A year later, he opened the Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant at the Aloha Tower Marketplace, where he remained for several years until being appointed corporate executive chef of the Gordon Biersch empire in the Bay Area.

Chef Degala returned to Seattle in 1998 when he was named director of culinary development and corporate executive chef for the Anthony’s Restaurants group. Three years later, the Bay Area called Degala back, keeping him happy and challenged for the next decade, primarily as executive chef and chef partner in Va de Vi Wine Bar and Bistro and Pres a Vi global kitchen and wine bar.

It was during this period that Chef Degala began experimenting with the concept of globally inspired small plates with a changing seasonal menu. I sampled his cuisine for the first time during one of our annual vacations in the Bay Area — his offerings included locally inspired Loco Moco with a braised short rib and veal demi, Peruvian-style hamachi sashimi, Italian truffle risotto, and Spanish-style roasted potatoes with Serrano ham and Romesco sauce.

Washington state called again and Degala headed back up the coast to become the executive sous chef for the W Hotel Seattle for a couple of years . . . until Hawai‘i’s Kosasa family recruited him as corporate executive chef of the expanding ABC Stores empire, culminating with the opening of Duke’s Lane Market & Eatery.

GALA Honolulu

Located at 808 Sheridan St. in the 808 Center (same building as Sushi Murayama and DADA Salon) behind the Walmart/Sam’s Club parking structure, GALA Honolulu is as quaint as restaurants can get. The two- and four-top tables can seat about 36 guests, with another 10 or so seats just outside the front door. The space was previously occupied by Urban Bistro, and before that, Five Spice Kitchen. Earlier this year, the operator approached Chef Degala about taking over the space. After discussing the offer with his wife Kirsti, they decided to finally take the plunge and open their own restaurant.

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Ryan Tatsumoto is a clinical pharmacist by day. In his off-hours, however, he and his wife enjoy seeking out perfect marriages of food and wine. Ryan is a certified sommelier and a certified specialist of wine. The Windward O‘ahu resident also writes a column for San Francisco’s Nichi Bei Weekly called “The Gochiso Gourmet.”

GALA’s pancit. (Photos by Ryan Tatsumoto)
GALA’s pancit. (Photos by Ryan Tatsumoto)

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