Two great food festivals in one! Mālama Maui, the closing event of Kā‘anapali Fresh, also served as the opening event for the Hawai‘i Food & Wine Festival. © 2013 Sugar + ShakeThis year’s Kā‘anapali Fresh weekend food event culminated in the opening event for the Hawai‘i Food & Wine Festival. We got to enjoy several days of #KFRESH13 fun as well as the Mālama Maui #HFWF13 dinner.

I’ll be writing more about our Kā‘anapali Fresh weekend later, but I wanted to get this quick little post up to give you a taste of the upcoming Hawai‘i Food & Wine Festival. #HFWF13 kicks off on O‘ahu tomorrow night, starting with the Under the Modern Moon: Morimoto & Friends event at the Modern Honolulu hotel. This event always has an East/West theme (Chef Masaharu Morimoto’s restaurant anchors the hotel); 15 chefs, nine wineries and five mixologists will be featured.

Hawai‘i Food & Wine really pulls in the big name chefs; if you’re a celebrity chef stalker, these events are worth checking out — just like the winemakers at the Kapalua Wine & Food Festival, the chefs are pretty stoked about being in Hawai‘i and are quite happy to pose for photos and chat with people. Oh, and they make some pretty decent food, too.

Chef Marcel Vigneron (Modern Global Tasting, Inc.) © 2013 Sugar + Shake Chef Hiroyuki Sakai of Iron Chef fame (La Rochelle). © 2013 Sugar + Shake

For Mālama Maui, the format was unusual for a food festival event — the dinner was all reserved seating, and the courses were brought out one at a time. Loved it! The worst part about tasting events is the standing in line and trying to balance your food and drink while you eat. I always feel rushed through sampling all the food. This way, we got to savor each dish and sit around people-watching while the next course came out. (Also, each course was paired with a wine selection.)

And what made this dinner even cooler was that the Hyatt Maui had set up a stage where the chefs plated the food in front of the guests, all working on each others’ dishes. That was the best part — seeing some of the world’s top chefs all happily garnishing their fellow chefs’ work. I even caught Iron Chef Hiroyuki Sakai (he was always our favorite on Iron Chef) bopping to the jazz music as he waited for more plates to be brought to his station. (Didn’t manage to get a photo of that, though. Bummer.)

Mālama Maui participating chefs (in black, with lei) from left to right: Hiroyuki Sakai, Rick Tramonto, Marcel Vigneron, Greg Grohowski, Bev Gannon. © 2013 Sugar + Shake

We got to have lunch with Hyatt Maui’s Chef Greg Grohowski the next day, and he said that when he suggested they do the stage table for plating, organizers thought he was nuts. But it turned out so well and was such fun! I think it made people less impatient for the next course, too, since you could see the chefs working so hard to make the plates beautiful. (And you could see exactly how much work 300 plates are to set up.)

Mālama Maui featured six chefs:

Course One: Chef Marcel Vignernon (known for his appearances on Top Chef; Modern Global Tasting, Inc.) — Masago Fried North Shore Tilapia with Hearts of Palm Salad, Herbs, Hawaiian Chili Pepper Water, Citronella Oil & Thom Kha. This was an excellent dish with an amazing crispy-skin piece of tilapia; Shake picked this as his favorite because of the fantastic sauce and crispy skin.

Course Two: Chef Greg Grohowski (pictured below, right; Hyatt Regency Maui) — Big Island Kampachi with Pickled Maui Onion Jasmine Risotto, Lavender Sea Urchin Cream, Poha Berry Gastrique & Hawaiian Ogo. The fish was good, but I probably would have been happy if a bowl of this risotto was plonked down in front of me with a healthy dollop of the lavender-uni cream. @Melissa808 messaged me and said she would be happy to come over from her table to lick up any sauce I wasn’t going to eat. 

Chefs Rick Tramonto (Tramonto Steak & Seafood) and Greg Grohowski (Hyatt Regency Maui Resort & Spa). © 2013 Sugar + Shake

Course Three: Chef Rick Tramonto (pictured above, left; Tramonto Steak & Seafood) — Hawaiian Shrimp & Corn Cappuccino with Mango Ceviche & Coconut Crema. I really liked this refreshing dish; it was light and just the right amount of creamy and tangy. It also came plated with little quotes concerning food. The one I got said, “Food is our common ground, a universal experience.” – James Beard. Shake got “One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.” – Virginia Woolfe.

Course Four: Chef Sheldon Simeon (another Top Chef alum, our local boy star on the show; he just — literally the day after this event — started at Māla Wailea) — Chow Funn and Pork Belly with Pipinola & Achiote. Filipino flavors all the way, Italian-style presentation. “Pohole is out; pipinola is in!” Sheldon declared to me. OK, I can get with that; I like pipinola better than pohole, anyway. (Pipinola are chayote squash shoots.)

Chef Sheldon Simeon's dish: Chow Funn & Pork Belly with Pipinola & Achiote. © 2013 Sugar + Shake

Course Five: Chef Hiroyuki Sakai (famous in America, of course, because of Iron Chef; La Rochelle) — Roasted Beef with Fried Pate Brick and Wrapped Vegetables in Miso Sauce. Honestly, I was expecting something more dramatic from the Iron Chef, but this was an exceptionally tender piece of beef with an incredibly flavorful sauce. We couldn’t figure out the “Fried Pate Brick” part, but someone told us later that the pate was the wrapper around the vegetables.

Iron Chef Hiroyuki Sakai's dish: Roasted Beef with Fried Pate Brick and Wrapped Vegetables in Miso Sauce. © 2013 Sugar + Shake

Course Six: Chef Bev Gannon (Bev Gannon Restaurants) — Goat Cheese Panna Cotta with Roasted Maui Figs; Chocolate Macadamia Nut Tart with Bacon; Lavender Macaron with Kiawe Honey and Vanilla Bean Ice Cream. Chef Bev’s trio of desserts was killer! It took the longest to plate of any of the dishes, but you could see why. My favorite was the lavender macaron (it was stuffed with ice cream — a lot of it!) and Shake liked the Chocolate Mac Nut Bacon Tart. Of course. (It was crazy bacon-y.)

If this has whetted your appetite, there are still tickets available to the various events happening the rest of this week. They’re not cheap by any means, but as I said in my post on Vintage Cave, if you value food as an art form and the experience of tasting the work of these talented chefs is something that excites you, this is a unique experience. I’m sure I’ll never get to go to most of these restaurants and it’s clear that the chefs are having fun being here and playing with their food.

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Disclosure: Sugar + Shake were hosted by the Maui Visitors Bureau, Kā‘anapali Beach Resort Association, Kā‘anapali Fresh and the Hawai‘i Food & Wine Festival. Travel, accommodations and access to events were provided by the hosts, but no compensation was received for this post, and the opinions expressed are strictly our own.