Chef Maho Hakoshima calls his cooking “eclectic,” which makes sense when you hear his story.
His mother is German and his father is Japanese. He was raised in New York City.
“My parents grew up dodging bombs on the way to school during World War II,” Maho says. “In the 1950s, they both immigrated to the United States, where they met in New York City. My mother was a modern dancer. My father a mime. So, they were performers, and there was an instant connection.”
During his childhood, Maho spent a lot of time in Germany visiting family. He says he often ended up spending time with his grandmother, who was an amazing cook.
“I would go with her on a daily basis to an open-air market in the village square by the church tower. From a very young age, I loved that connection to food,” Maho says. “I helped cook. Then we’d all sit down to eat, and inevitably the conversation would go to what we were going to have for our next meal.”
After graduating from high school, Maho went to culinary school in Germany and studied classical French cooking. He says that while that education laid the groundwork for his career in the kitchen, his palate has changed and the menus he creates today have little to do with his classical training.
“I would call my cooking New American cuisine,” Maho says. “I like touching on different cultures and flavors from around the world, from places I’ve visited and experienced with my better half and taste tester Peggy Gilday … It’s interesting for chefs to be able to try new things — to combine flavors and styles and use the ingredients that are in season. Customers enjoy that variety too.”
After culinary school, Maho ended up back in New York City working in restaurants and for a caterer.
Then, he landed a job as the executive chef for an investment firm’s dining operation.
“It was unbelievably rewarding as a chef,” Maho says. “I worked five days a week. I had weekends and holidays off. I still had time to enjoy life.”
But, like many New Yorkers, Maho’s world changed abruptly after Sept. 11, 2001. He had two young sons at the time of the attacks, and suddenly, New York felt like a scary, inhospitable place to raise a family. A friend had been telling Maho to come to Jackson for years, and after a two-week vacation in the Tetons, Maho made up his mind. One year after the attacks, Maho moved his family west and started his business, Maho Catering.
Fast forward 20 years and Maho Catering is a Jackson favorite that’s routinely recognized by the annual Best of Jackson Hole awards. And for good reason — Maho’s cooking style is adventurous and his daily visits to the market with his grandmother set the groundwork for a habit he continues today. He likes to see what is available from local farmers and ranchers or visit regional farmers markets, and then come up with ideas of what to cook.
This reliance on fresh food results in a frequently changing menu and a penchant for combining flavors in unusual ways. A sophisticated palate may detect flavors from China, Italy, and the Middle East in his creations, but often people don’t notice the specific influences he’s incorporated into a particular dish, so perfectly does Maho blend flavors into something uniquely his own.
Maho’s sense of adventure in the kitchen spills into his lifestyle — he’s a skier who likes to race in local downhill events, and, like most people in Jackson, he loves being outside and pushing himself as hard as he can. One of his sons, Henry, has followed in his footsteps and is pursuing ski racing in college. The other, Lucas, has a knack for the arts like his grandparents and is studying theater.
For the Hakoshimas, it’s all in the family.