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John Heckathorn was one heck of a feared food critic

January 10, 2012 - Carla Tracy

According to HawaiiNewsNow TV, a memorial service is set for today “for veteran journalist, feared food critic and respected educator John Heckathorn.”

“Visitation starts at 5 p.m. at Diamond Head Memorial Park and the service follows at 6 p.m.”

In news reports and on Facebook, it’s been said the former Honolulu Magazine editor suffered a heart attack on Christmas Day and that he had just taken a new post at Hawaii Pacific University as an assistant professor.

Many people on Maui and in the Hawaiian Islands are affected by his passing. He was one of the top journalists in the state and he had the perfect nose for all things culinary.

“He gave me one of the worst reviews I ever got at Hali‘imaile General Store,” admits celebrated Maui Chef Beverly Gannon. “He just hated it.”

But over the 22 years that Heckathorn has been writing about restaurants, they worked things out.

"We ended up being good working friends,” says Gannon. “He was a true foodie, a walking encyclopedia of knowledge. John will be sorely missed.”

I know that he certainly made an impression on me. Heckathorn will always go down in my book as the writer who penned, “The kalua duck was so rich and smooth that if I could walk on water, I'd walk to Lahaina to eat it again."

With that one statement, he literally catapulted the Lahaina Grill (formerly David Paul’s Lahaina Grill) to the top of Hawaii’s culinary map. It won Hale Aina awards for Best Maui Restaurant for years. And, what an ego to write it!

According to more editorial by HawaiiNewsNow TV, "No matter if it's gonna be good or bad, that's why I remember 20 years ago when I first opened a restaurant, I was so scared of him," recalled chef Chai Chaowasaree.

"All of that experience and talent and that wisdom, that's gonna be missed," said A. Kam Napier, editor of Honolulu Magazine. "People may not know this, but he wrote about all kinds of things going on around town: investigative pieces, personality profiles, long form Q&A's with governors and mayors," said Napier.

Heckathorn continued to write a dining column for the magazine. He also established a daily blog called "Biting Commentary" last year and He filmed six episodes for KGMB-TV.

"He's so smart, his writing is amazing, and his sense of humor, too. We went to Chinatown, we just laughed, we just joked a lot. I'm very fortunate to get to know him," continued Chaowasaree in the editorial by HawaiiNewsNow TV.

Heckathorn taught at University of Pennsylvania, St. Peter's College, Rutgers University and the University of Hawaii. He joined Hawaii Pacific University's faculty this past fall.

"I know he was really excited and energized by the HPU experience, teaching journalism, not just to teach, but to keep learning as well," said Napier. "I think we're gonna be missing a thoughtful voice for the future of media."

Heckathorn is survived by his wife and three daughters.

I can just see him and another late, great food writer, Shirley Fong Torres (the Wok Wiz of San Francisco, who passed away last year), riding on celestial clouds, sipping expensive champagne and nibbling on Osetra caviar. But wait. Heckathorn notes that it’s too salty, not briny enough. So he asks St. Peter for some Beluga.

With his suit jacket on and his hair perfectly coiffed, he joins Shirley in a hearty belly laugh. They savor the caviar, and patiently waiting for their next ambrosial course. Ah, heck. Hawaii’s greatest food writer certainly will be missed.


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