For the third year in a row the Modern Honolulu hotel played host to the O‘ahu opening evening event of the Hawai‘i Food & Wine Festival. As in previous years, as is appropriate since the “hosting chef” is none other than Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto (his eponymous restaurant has its Hawai‘i location in the Modern), the evening had an Asian theme, with the majority of chefs serving Asian-influenced bites.
Here’s a sampling, and you can also head to the gallery to view the full collection of photos.
We’re told that the Festival events serve excellent wine, but we always gravitate toward the cocktails, especially since it gives us a chance to catch up with some of our favorite bartenders, like Tony Abou-Ganim (The Modern Mixologist) and Julie Reiner (Clover Club, Pegu Club, Flatiron Lounge). These are Tony’s vodka cocktails, the Sarah’s Smile (left) and Zig Zag (right), and one of Julie’s tequila concoctions, the Silver Sword (middle).
Event tip: Go for the lower level cocktail bar first at this event because they run out quickly. The wines are usually upstairs, but everyone starts out downstairs and wants a nice refreshing drink. If you really like cocktails, you should hit this station first, even before food.
A few food favorites below (hover over the photos for complete descriptions, including the highlighted ingredients and the local producers). This first one is by Chef Floyd Cardoz (North End Grill), an ‘Ahi Tartare with Ogo & Quail Egg that was definitely our favorite of this event and possibly my favorite of all three O‘ahu evening events we attended.
There were several dessert stations, but I’m spending all my blog post time on this Macadamia Nut Honey Mousse with Pineapple Sherbert & Macadamia Crunch by Chef Stephen Durfee (Culinary Institute of America) because the lighting was so awesome. And because we had VIP early access (if you purchase a VIP ticket, it gives you entrance an hour before other guests), I was able to wander around and get some fun shots of the chefs instructing their assistants. The sherbert really hit the spot because at this hour, it was still brutally sunny and hot. Yes, I get dessert early-on at grazing events. It’s very efficient. (My Kā‘anapali Fresh post explains the strategy.)
The Modern Honolulu holds this event on their pool deck, which is actually two levels and extends around back to a semi-hidden area, so you have to make sure to explore thoroughly. (Also, if you hit the upper area first, it’s much less crowded.)
The upper level has not only the wine, but also a second cocktail bar. This time, Francesco Lafranconi and Chandra Lam Lucariello (both of Southern Wine & Spirits) and Jim Meehan (PDT) were sharing the upstairs bar. Meehan was in charge of whiskey drinks, and had a julep-like concoction on his menu, called A River Runs Through It (below, left).
Francesco had something called a Japanese Alibi (above, right) on his list, made with TyKu coconut nigori sake, Kai coconut pandan vodka and peanut butter. I was dubious about it at first, but I tried a sip of someone else’s and immediately went back to stand in line for one of my own. It was creamy and nutty and a little bit like Thai iced tea.
The next day, I took a half-day off work so I could attend the “Sweet Endings, Sweet Wine” seminar with pastry chefs Michelle Karr-Ueoka (formerly of Alan Wong’s and about to open up MW Restaurant with her chef husband/fellow AW alum Wade Ueoka) and Christina Tosi (Momofuku Milk Bar). Alan Wong’s Restaurants’ beverage director Mark Shishido selected dessert wines and apertifs to go with the desserts.
This was the only seminar I attended during the festival, although there are several offered throughout the course of the five-day event, both on food and on wines. I did chat with some other folks who attended the other food seminars, though, and the consensus seemed to be that on the whole, if you are a big fan of the chefs participating in the seminar, it’s a really cool personal experience. They’re very amenable to answering questions, and the ones who do the seminars are pretty personable and can be fun and goofy, especially together. On the other hand, while you do learn a few tips and tricks, it’s not an in-depth seminar, more like a demonstration. Of course, you can ask all the questions you want, so there’s opportunity to learn all sorts of things. They are a bit pricey, so you have to consider carefully if you feel that the up-close-and-personal aspect is really worth it to you.
I was hoping to get a chance to talk to Christina Tosi one-on-one for a bit, but I muffed it—I left the office too late and arrived just before the start of the seminar. Our friend Melissa had saved me a seat and had been chatting with Chef Christina right before I got there…d’oh. And because she was making desserts for the fancy $1,000/head dinner that night, she had to leave before the seminar finished.
Tosi’s demo dish was her Cake Truffles, which I’d made at home before. She advised using white chocolate and a lighter coating (not as aggressively flavorful as chocolate) to allow the liliko‘i cake to shine, so these are pale yellow where mine were brown with a yellow center. Her coating was made from powdered cake mix, though you can use anything. She did advise that in Hawai‘i we might have to choose our coatings more carefully since some ingredients—like crushed pretzels—can absorb moisture from the humidity and end up with a less-than-ideal texture.
Since the audience was hesitant to ask questions at first, Michelle asked one of her own. “I always like to ask people if they had to choose the last dessert they would ever eat, what would they pick?”
“You guys might be disappointed by my choice,” Tosi said. Her pick? Chocolate chip cookie dough. “We never have just plain chocolate chip dough at Milk Bar,” she explained. They have to push the envelope, so their batters are always crazy concoctions, nothing plain and simple.
After the ice was broken with that first question, audience members started asking a few of their own. They wanted to know what food the Milk Bar crew had tried while in Hawai‘i and what they’d enjoyed. A sampling: Leonard’s malassadas, Matsumoto’s shave ice, Ted’s Bakery pies (do you sense a theme here?), garlic shrimp in Kahuku, loco moco and kim chee fried rice at Diamond Head Market. “You guys are so lucky,” Tosi said. “The flavors here—no where else has flavors like you have! I’m not kidding!”
Another attendee asked about Tosi’s cookie technique. If you’ve used her cookbook, Momofuku Milk Bar (in addition to the Cake Truffles, I’ve made a few other things from it), you know that she has a very lengthy creaming process for the cookie dough. She likes cookies with a fudgy center and crispy outside (me too!) and to achieve that, she’ll use glucose in the dough and/or refrigerate the dough first and bake it directly from the fridge (not from room temp).
To go with the Cake Tuffles, Mark selected a Banyuls dessert wine. In case you’re wondering, Banyuls is an AOC (an area with a special official designation to produce an item, like Champagne), so saying “Banyuls dessert wine” is like saying “Champagne sparkling wine”—it’s kind of redundant.
Before her demonstration, Michelle led us through a tasting of six Hawaiian chocolates.
The three flat, square pieces were all produced by Madre Chocolate, but the chocolate itself came from three different farms. The second from the left and the second from the right both used chocolate from the same farm, but produced by different chocolate makers. The left one was sweeter and fruitier while the right, made by Madre, was more bitter (which I liked better). It was interesting to see how the different chocolates expressed different flavors; some had a distinctly fruity quality and, it turned out, a couple of those had been grown on land where pineapples and bananas had previously been farmed. The texture of the chocolate, too, varied—the Madre pieces had a much smoother mouth-feel, less grainy than the others. The piece on the far right was produced by the Original Hawaiian Chocolate Company; I’m not sure where the others came from because my notes were accidentally thrown away by one of the cleaners who came through to tidy up the tables between seminars.
We also tried, from left to right, Cocchi Vermouth di Torino, New York Malmsey Madeira and a late-bottled vintage of Dow’s Port. I don’t think these were specifically meant to go with particular chocolates, just with chocolate in general.
Mark’s recommendation for pairing dessert wines is that whatever you select, it should be as sweet or sweeter than your dessert, otherwise the sweetness of your dessert will make the wine seem thin and bitter in comparison. The vermouth was my favorite, followed by the port. I didn’t care much for the Madeira. I can’t remember why now, because my notes were lost.
For her demonstration dessert, Michelle showed us how to make her version of a Fudgsicle. While she walked us through the steps, I asked her what her answer would be to the question Christina Tosi had already answered—What would be her pick for her last dessert?
“Gummy Cokes!” shouted Mark—it’s an inside joke among the Alan Wong’s staff. (She really does like them, though.)
“No…mine is boring, too,” Michelle said. “Apple pie with vanilla ice cream.”
So, before I explain the “Fudgsicle” you have to understand that although she, like most chefs, takes her inspiration from “childhood memories and things I’m craving,” Michelle’s not normal. I mean that in the best possible way.
You see, she likes to do “studies” in specific ingredients. Where an ordinary person would think “reinterpretation of a Fudgsicle, OK, something frozen, creamy and chocolate-y,” Michelle makes her “Fudgsicle” an ode to chocolate in its various forms. The dessert is actually a trio of chocolate items: the top is a cacao nib tuille, sticky and toffee-esque; in the middle, a cacao fruit pulp granité (like coffee cherries, cacao pods have a gooey pulp inside that surrounds the seeds, which are what chocolate is made from, the same way coffee comes from the seed inside the coffee cherry), tart and palate-cleansing; and on the bottom, a fudgy, frozen chocolate crème, like the best chocolate pudding you’ve ever had, but frozen.
This was fan-freaking-tastic. I could eat these for days! I might even pick it as my hypothetical last dessert. But it would have to be a bigger portion.
That concludes our first two days at the Hawai‘i Food & Wine Festival. I’ll get to the next two days as soon as I can!
Disclosure: Access to events was provided by the Hawai‘i Food & Wine Festival, but no compensation was received for this post, and the opinions expressed are strictly my own.