Ronnie kelii lee-apolo

I was born and raised in Honolulu, Hawaii, and moved to San Jose, California, when I was 13. That’s where I got into the punk scene and started going to shows, drinking 40oz of King Cobras, and hanging around with skins, punx, skaters, taggers, and thugs. We were all outcasts of society, and that’s why I fell in love with being a cook; it was all the same. I went to a lot of different high schools but never graduated. I was smart but had a problem being present in any school.

It all seemed like a waste of time to me, just like anyone who pays to go to culinary school. I had no direction and couldn’t find anything I wanted to do, so I started working around 16. My first job was at Sprouts because I got tired of panhandling for beer. They eventually let me go, probably because of my tri-hawk and studded jacket. Later, I got a job at Famous Dave’s as a dishwasher, washing almost 300 trays daily, sometimes even more. I loved cleaning and learned everything about dishwashing – how to clean it and handle my domain, the dish pit.

That job shaped my entire life. Afterward, my long-time friend and lead singer of Mokosos got me a job at Google. Being 18 years old at Google sounded great! I found myself going to work for Bon Appétit under Chef Hilary Bergh. She opened the culinary door for me. After that, I worked two cooking jobs, then three.

I bought cookbooks and taught myself by learning from other chefs. Being cool helped me ground myself. I taught classes on cooking and learned all kinds of cooking styles, from classic French to pasta, Hawaiian, Asian, Mexican, and fusion. But I like my food how I like my music – from the streets. So, I stuck around making street food. I dug my hands into almost everything I could with cooking. Eventually, I started a page called Kitchen Rot @kitchen_rot and began doing food pop-ups supporting the local underground cooks.

What is your favorite street food?

Tamales, hot dogs, tacos, elote.

Which restaurant or food stand do you recommend? (Different from yours) (Add its Instagram handle if possible)

China chens in San Jose.

What is your guilty pleasure?

Hangover food, soups and a Mexican coke a cola

What ingredient do you find overrated?

Bay leaves I find them unnecessary

What ingredient do you think is underrated?


What is your favorite kitchen tool?


What is your worst kitchen nightmare?

Forgetting something at closing time.

📸 @_aortiz408