Yes, readers, I have been gone a long time… The great thing about writing for myself is that I get to choose what I write about and when I turn it in. The awful thing about writing for myself is that it gets pushed to the end of the list when all the work projects and family obligations and gee-I’d-like-to-have-some-clean-underwear-type chores start piling up. I’m hopeful that this second half of the year I will get to have more “me” time, to cook, to write, to play with my camera.

The main house at Ala Kukui. © 2017 Sugar + Shake

This is a blog post I’ve been meaning to write for a year now. And the more time passed, the more embarrassed I got that I hadn’t done it yet. In May of last year, Shake and I were invited to spend the weekend in Hāna at the Ala Kukui cultural center retreat. This invitation was extended to ask us to experience—and provide feedback on—what they intended to be the first in a series they would call Hāna Kū.

Kau‘i Kanaka‘ole, executive director of Ala Kukui. © 2017 Sugar + Shake“Hāna Kū,” Ala Kukui’s executive director Kau‘i Kanaka‘ole told us on the first night, “when we were growing up, basically meant ‘country jack.’ ‘Oh, you so Hāna Kū,’ we would tell each other. Unsophisticated. But now, we can appreciate that being Hāna Kū means you know a lot about the land and how to live off it. That’s valuable mana‘o (wisdom).”

Hāna Kū is the brainchild of Kau‘i and her cousin Kuha‘o Zane (of Sig Zane Designs). The two wanted to connect the hunters, farmers and fishermen of Hāna with the chefs who use the fruits of their labors—who take those raw ingredients and transform them into something else. The idea was to foster an exchange of information: the knowledge of Hāna—how to go out and find your food, how to grow it—traded for the experience of seeing what could be made from it. Both sides would take something away from the weekend.

By the time we arrived in Hāna, after provisioning up in town, Ala Kukui was bustling with board members and their families and other invited guests. Fish was being cut up, smoked meat being heated…it was the start to a seemingly never-ending parade of amazing food, most of it hunted, gathered or grown by the people we were dining with.

Cutting freshly caught fish on a handmade cutting board. One of the Ala Kukui board members is a master woodworker who teaches local students. © 2017 Sugar + Shake

The chefs invited for the weekend: Mark “Gooch” Noguchi of Pili Group and Mark Pomaski of our favorite Hilo restaurant, Moon and Turtle. They came with their families in tow—wife, Amanda Corby Noguchi, and daughters, Elee and Frankie, for Gooch, and Mark’s wife, Soni. Our primary guide for the weekend was Naihe Akoi, whose father, Sam Akoi, shared amazing stories on our first evening of the bounty of the land and sea that he grew up with. One of the best things about the weekend was the true sense of family from the entire group.

Chef Mark Pomaski. © 2017 Sugar + Shake Chef Mark Noguchi. © 2017 Sugar + Shake

We’ve known both chefs and their families for quite a while, so they had no qualms about putting us to work. And, really, this was an all-hands on deck type of weekend—it was awesome. I’ve never been so excited about chopping vegetables before in my life. Shake even got recruited by Gooch to observe and help with butchering three wild boar that had been trapped and dispatched by our teachers for the weekend.

We spent the weekend visiting a local farm and harvesting vegetables, going down to the beach (a night-fishing opportunity also presented itself…but I was sleeping…), and spending a lot of time talking-story with our providers.

Growing strong in Hāna. © 2017 Sugar + Shake

Hana Ranch Farm’s Kini Oliveira harvesting. © 2017 Sugar + Shake Bounty of Hāna. © 2017 Sugar + Shake
You are never too young to help. © 2017 Sugar + Shake You help pick, you eat first. © 2017 Sugar + Shake

Off to get the puaʻa (wild boar). © 2017 Sugar + Shake

Butchering the puaʻa (wild boar). © 2017 Sugar + Shake

Carrots of all colors. © 2017 Sugar + Shake

No cell phones here. Kanikapila time. © 2017 Sugar + Shake

Community. © 2017 Sugar + Shake

Ala Kukui holds its third Hāna Kū this weekend, with an open-to-the-public ‘Aha ‘Āina dinner event on July 15. Tickets are $175 each, a fundraising effort to support and sustain knowledge-exchange programs like Hāna Kū. The dinner will feature chefs Mark Noguchi, Mark Pomaski, Sheldon Simeon (Tin Roof), Isaac Bancaco (Ka‘ana Kitchen at Andaz Maui) and Bella Toland (Travaasa Hāna).

Mahalo nui loa, from the bottoms of our hearts, to Kau‘i and Kuha‘o and their ‘ohana, the Corby-Noguchi ‘ohana, the Pomaskis, the Akoi ‘ohana, and all the other incredible people who participated in the weekend and gave freely of their time, mana‘o and friendship.

For more photos, visit my gallery