I’m one episode behind in keeping up with the 4th annual Hawaii Food and Wine Festival and it’s hard being a public stomach, writing about it and then recovering. So after the first forays in Maui, I had two days on Whole Food Market salads and lots of sparkling water.
The prior two nights of Ka’anapali Culinary Experience had already filled me doubly but the Chef’s Stadium at the Hyatt Hotel proved a challenge not only to the chefs but also my capacity to ingest. Thankfully it was seated with a set list of oral songs to come and not a standup routine grazing at the tables of chefs and restaurants.
And you couldn’t ask for a more spectacular setting in the Garden Area on the beach of the Hyatt, overlooking the island of Lanai in the distance as the sun was getting ready to set and the quarter moon rise perfectly between swaying palms.
One thing HFWF does well is get the venue right but also they have a spectacular array of tables laid out right down to the flowers and menu positioning as well as five wine glasses for the order of accompanying pairings. And through the night, the dishes came out like clockwork with a speedy serving team racing around with the chefs furiously cooking in the open air.
I should not here before proceeding that one of those wines stood out boldly, was superb in its fruit weight and length as well as its balance. And it’s Australian. Molly Dooker Blue Eyed Boy 2012 from the McLaren Vale was so good, I had to track it down in Honolulu to have some for the rest of the trip. As it turns out, Molly Dooker wines are not really available in Australia due to them shipping everything they produce tot he US and I’m ordering a few cases back home of this one and The Boxer. Here in Honolulu, I’ve already hit Tamura’s for an island stash for next week and it’s also available at R.Fields in Foodland.
The Ka’anapali Kitchen Stadium for Under the Maui Moon is a great concept with a lineup of close to a dozen chefs and their teams lining up to produce each dish so you watch them being made.
Kinda like Iron Chef Lite or Top Chef v2.2 in style and action. And aside from the superstar local talent, we even had a few ring-ins like Chef Sheldon Simeon—a current fave of mine at MiGrant—who just came along to help out on his night off.
So here’s what I had to suffer through for my writing. It was a joy to meet up with Alan Wong and Roy Yamaguchi—the producers and food curators of HFWF—and the event has grown and streamlined in its fourth year as well as expanding to the Big Island for the first time. Alan and Roy in leis below) took a big risk the first year and backed it up the second, assuring its success as an annual event. I’ll keep coming if they keep inviting me!
First course: Kampachi with Osetra Caviar, Uni, Preserved Lemon and Blossoms. Chef Moourad Lahlou of Aziza in San Francisco really kicked it. You can’t go past Kampachi as the fish du jour as well as Hamachi and Abalone which are farmed on the Big Island. The taste of this dish aroused all the taste buds—sweet, sour, bitter and umami—with a great melding of flavours yet allowing each to stand out.
The new chef de moment in Maui, Isaac Bancaco of Ka’ana Kitchen in Wailea rang all the bells with Course 2. I never was a big fan of Abalone until I went to the ‘farm’ where they are raised an understood the subtleties of it by having it cooked fresh out of the tanks with Tetsuya narrating as we ate. Now I can’t go past it and this dish was incredible because it was also cold!
Kona Cold Abalone with Kim Chee Shave Ice was a conundrum. The abalone was chewy as it always is yet cooked to perfection and just a hint of spice while the kim chee shave ice assaulted the tongue with cold and sharp taste yet created another layer over the abalone like mustard on a hot dog.
Course three was the table favourite. There were three travel writers of the ten seated and fortunately we were not obnoxiously opinionated nor were we checking our social media feeds constantly. But we all shot our food as served and this one was a stunner visually and flavor wise. I wanted seconds!
It was a Black Eye Lobster Risotto with Roasted Pork Belly, Dragon Fruit and Sea Asparagus. Local Boy Gregory Growhowski had home-court advantage as he is the Hyatt Executive Chef and also directed the proceedings on the day here. We were all instantly struck by the flavor profile of richness as well as the texture palette of crisp greens, sweet grit of the dragon fruit and creamy richness of the black rice risotto. Plus there was the overarching mouthfeel and crackle of the pork belly. Out of this world.
Course four had a hard act to follow but Chef Floyd Carooz of White Street in New York hit the ball out of the park with his Banana Leaf Wrapped Roast Baby Goat with Hearts of Palm, Heirloom Tomatoes Cucumbers and Mint. This was not ‘Goat—The Other Grey Meat’, rather a delicate yet slightly gamey-delish delight with rich support for the vegetable backup. Superb.
On no! More Meat!!!! Course five was the creation of lauded TV chef Ming Tsai of Blue Ginger in Boston and he’s a repeat here year after year. His Pig Two Ways: Szechuan Crusted Loin with Braised Shoulder Ratatouille, Sushi Rice Cake abd Mi La Mango Puree deserved fireworks as an accompaniment. But this is where the Molly Dooker Shiraz cut through and completed the dish. Brilliant pairing.
Usually I don’t do dessert, being a diabetic, but this was too much to resist. Bev Gannon is THE Maui chef with her Hailemaile General Store and this dessert topped an incredible meal. Kula Strawberriy with White Chocolate Ginger Bavarian Parfait that you had to crack through a square cup of dark chocolate to get through. Heaven.
Now a few nights rest before the Feastival starts again on Oahu and I find myself face to face with Morimoto over a cascade of crustaceans–him on pure white and me in basic black Hawaiian.