In 1964, Hideo “Indian” Aramaki was offered the job as chef of the Disneyland Tahitian Terrace. “I took a cut in pay,” Indian recalled, “but when I saw the cleanliness of the kitchen, the equipment and the way things were run, I was happy.” Two years later he was promoted to executive chef over all the food establishments in Disneyland, a post he held until his retirement in 1985.
Hideo, who was born September 2, 1915, played semi-pro baseball in 1935 with the Cleveland Indians. They dubbed him “Indian”—the same nickname he had been given by boyhood pals in his town of Puunene, Hawaii. Many years later, Walt Disney asked Hideo if he was actually Indian, and he replied that he was Japanese. Walt liked the nickname, though, and ordered a new name tag for Indian.
To this day, he is one of the only Disneyland employees who has been allowed to wear a tag with a nickname.
Considering the awards and honors that Indian gathered over the years, it’s hard to believe this culinary expert had no formal training. In fact, the long road to his career as a chef began humbly enough soon after his graduation from high school, in the sugar cane fields of Maui, where he went to work to help support his family.
Though Indian was considered twice for the major leagues, he never made it because of racial barriers of the time. When World War II broke out, Indian and his wife, Keiko, were interned in Poston, Arizona. Finally, because Indian’s brother was in the Army infantry, they were released from the camp.
After a brief stay in New York, Indian moved to Chicago, where he began his career in the kitchen. “Imagine a Japanese named Indian starting a Jewish-Chinese restaurant on Chicago’s south side,” he chuckled. “I didn’t know much about cooking, but my wife did.” Indian proved to be a quick study. The family soon moved back to California when Indian was appointed executive chef of the Kono Hawaii Restaurant in Santa Ana.
Then he came to Disneyland, where he cooked for numerous celebrities and visiting dignitaries such as Emperor Hirohito and Empress Nagako of Japan.
Though Indian had no formal training of his own, he helped to train many other chefs, including several at Tokyo Disneyland and Epcot Center. Even though the food is produced in quantity, he emphasized the need to maintain uniformity and high standards. “Simple, good food cooked and served right,” he said. “That’s the main thing.”
“Never stop learning,” he was quick to add. “Always try to do better.”
Hideo Aramaki passed away on September 7, 2005.