Chef Paris Nabavi
Chef/Owner of Sangrita Grill + Cantina and Pizza Paradiso Mediterranean Grill
Chef Paris Nabavi
Step into Chef Paris Nabavi’s beautiful outdoor kitchen at his Kāʻanapali home, and you’ll be immersed in the warmth of his Persian culture, seasoned with plenty of aloha! Here in his backyard is where he first began planting an edible, organic garden, in order to teach his young daughter Layla where food comes from and how to prepare it.
The backyard garden was a beautiful experiment that blossomed into a far-reaching support network for educational gardens across the island. After the initial planting of Layla’s Edible Garden, Chef Nabavi had 10 pounds of organic seeds left over. He donated the seeds to Maui School Garden Network—the first of what became an annual purchase of organic seeds for all 47 school gardens in Maui County. Lehn Huff, coordinator of Maui School Garden Network, calls Chef Nabavi “our guardian angel.”
Chef Nabavi believes in karma, the idea that good actions beget good outcomes. “If you educate the children about where the food comes from, they will bring that home,” he says. “You can affect their families and the whole community.”
Nabavi was born in Tehran, Iran, where he learned at an early age the importance of philanthropy from his loving parents. After graduating from French culinary school in London, he worked in France and Italy and traveled in India, the Middle East and Southeast Asia soaking up the different cultures and cuisines along the way. His career path led to fine hotels and restaurants in Vancouver, California and Texas, before finally bringing him to Maui in 1989.
After four years as Director of Food & Beverage at the Kapalua Bay Hotel (site of the scenic point where he proposed to his wife Donna!), the hotel sold, and Chef Nabavi knew it was time to strike out on his own.
In 1995, Chef Nabavi opened Pizza Paradiso Italian Grill—serving Italian, comfort food—at Whalers Village, and three years later he opened a second Pizza Paradiso Mediterranean Grill at Honokowai Marketplace serving Italian, Greek and Middle Eastern food. In 2004, he opened Cilantro Fresh Mexican Grill in Lahaina. In 2013, Chef Nabavi was awarded “Exceptional Small Businessman” of the year for Maui County.
His newest venture, Sangrita Grill + Cantina, opened in Kā‘anapali in 2014, serving Mexican soul food at reasonable prices. The venues ambience has been recognized with multiple awards, including “Best New Restaurant” 2015 by Hawai‘i Magazine. That same year, Chef Nabavi earned the ‘Aipono Lifetime Achievement Award, as voted by readers of Maui Nō Ka ‘Oi Magazine. The award recognized not only the success of his four restaurants over the last 20 years—employing more than 60 people even through two recessions—but his incredible generosity to the Maui community.
Several times a year, the Nabavi’s invite 24 dinner guests into their outdoor kitchen to share in the creation of a traditional Persian menu from family recipes. In exchange for this special culinary experience, each guest donates to Grow Some Good, a Maui nonprofit that establishes edible classrooms to connect students and families to their food sources and inspire better nutrition choices. These popular and lively evenings at the Nabavi’s have become a wonderful example for the community of how philanthropy can simply be an enjoyable part of life.
Just as he once planted a vegetable garden for his daughter, Chef Nabavi is now sowing the seeds for Maui keiki by involving Maui restaurants in the support of these essential programs. He hopes the results will be widespread and long-lasting—and sustainable.
“Realizing that each one of us has the kuleana to educate and nourish our children as well as ourselves is an urgent need,” Chef Nabavi says. “Revolutionizing the way our families eat at home and at school is a lofty goal but one we can attain—of that I am sure.”