This year, we were invited to attend two of the Hawai‘i Food & Wine Festival events—Kā‘anapali Kitchen Stadium: Under A Maui Moon, a cross-over event with Kā‘anapali Fresh, and Corks & Forks at the Convention Center.
Of all the HFWF events, the Kā‘anapali dinner is my favorite. In large part, OK, it’s because I am lazy and spoiled and this event is a seated dinner so you don’t have to stand in line and you get real silverware. It’s more like a chef’s tasting meal featuring a half-dozen different chefs as opposed to the Convention Center event which is a smorgasbord of food.
Under A Maui Moon, like last year’s Mālama Maui, featured the chefs plating on a large stage table in front of the diners. It’s nice to see the chefs all helping out to plate each other’s dishes. It’s like an all-star assembly line. Even chefs who don’t have a dish at the dinner come out to help.
Chef Mourad Lahlou of Aziza in San Francisco (below, left) brought local boys Sheldon Simeon (right) and Chris Kajioka (center) as his “little helpers.” Sheldon, of course, is a Top Chef runner-up and Chris ran what was considered probably the hottest ticket in town, Vintage Cave. I would make some analogy about having Hall of Fame athletes playing for your local scrimmage team here, except you know, I’m not in to sports.
The first two courses of this meal were my favorites of the entire week of eating (that’s everything at Kā‘anapali Fresh and the two HFWF events we attended).
First, Mourad Lahlou’s kampachi with caviar and preserved lemon. Apparently, Lahlou had started the preserved lemon for this dish a year ago. Deeeeeelicious! Also wonderful, the toasted quinoa (the little grains at the side), which added a great crunch to contrast with the silky fish. (The menu description said there was uni, but there didn’t seem to be any on the actual dish.)
The fourth course, Banana Leaf-Wrapped Baby Goat from Chef Floyd Cardoz, gave some people the heebie jeebies.
Honestly, if no one told you what it was, you probably wouldn’t have had any clue. It was very nicely seasoned and had no trace of gamey flavor. It was also a fairly large serving, so I refrained from eating the whole portion, for fear of filling up—a decision I regretted because I didn’t care much for the next course.
The last course before dessert was from Chef Ming Tsai of Blue Ginger, a double helping of pork. (I wonder if people object to goat so much in part because there’s no word for it to distance you from the animal, like pork for pig and beef for cow.) On the right, a Szechuan-Crusted Pork Loin, and on the left, a Braised Pork Shoulder Ratatouille. This was served with a “Sushi Rice Cake,” what’s known as yaki onigiri here and in Japan, a grilled rice cake with a crunchy outside and softer interior. This one was pretty far off the mark—way too hard to eat, even with a real fork and knife.
Finally, dessert! Last year, Chef Bev Gannon of Bev Gannon Restaurants (she has three) did the dessert course. This year, dessert was her course again, but it was actually her daughter, Teresa, a Maui Culinary Academy student, who created it. The presentation was rather incredible—a multi-tiered affair in a shot glass with a tiny scoop of sorbet nestled in a chocolate basket perched on top. You punched through to dig down to the layers of strawberry and ginger cream at the bottom of the glass.
I hope that next year, if she does this event again, Gannon gets to do a savory course. It seems unfair that she should have to do dessert when she herself notes that it’s not her forte.
We had a week to recover from all our KFRESH eating before the Corks & Forks event. The HFWF Convention Center event tends to have the largest number of local chefs featured so we end up doing almost more socializing than eating, getting to catch up with chefs we don’t see most of the rest of the year.
The other reason we like the event: bartenders. Yes, it’s the Food & WINE festival, and I was told that this year the wines were better and more plentiful than before, but if you read this blog regularly, you know wine’s not our thing. So we get excited about the mixologist stations scattered around the venue. We staked out a table right in front of Julie Reiner and Tony Abou-Ganim.
Christian Self of Bevy was at another station—Shake went and visited him—but I missed him on my trip around the venue. (I only made one and a half circuits because as I’ve declared previously, I’m lazy, and I generally get table guard duties because I’m the grouchiest looking.)
This year we used our early entry privileges more wisely and tried to scope out the various offerings and then strategically go back for the items we really wanted instead of the usual really-not-a-strategy of just going around the circuit picking up one dish after another just because it’s the “next” one. I went around, shot everything (but not the placards, which is pretty dumb) and then we reviewed them back at the table to come up with our hit list. This event offers so many dishes that I find it impossible to try everything, so the pick-and-choose method meant that, for once, we tried everything we really wanted before we got too full. What follows are some of our favorites. (You’ll find additional shots in the gallery, though still not everything that was offered.) I do wish HFWF would take a cue from KFRESH and put the descriptions of the chefs’ dishes in their program because I failed to photograph all the dish placards this year, so I had to scour the internet to figure out what some of these were.
We started with Chef Mavro’s Mochi Cake topped with Oxtail Rillette and Quail Egg because when I stopped at his station, his wife, Donna, was taste-testing and had Chef make a plate for me, too. “Ees zis for photo or for eating?” he asked. “Ummm, both? Is that OK?” Of course it’s OK, because Mavro’s a sweetheart.
The mochi cake here is essentially the same as the one that’s served with his Wagyu dish currently on his Fall Menu. This was a little difficult to eat in this setting, but tasty.
Happily for me, our group was comprised of dessert-first minded folks. Which is what I informed Chef Christina Tosi of Momofuku Milk Bar when I scooted up to her table and she caught me apprehending four plates of Guava Horchata Layer Cake. She cheerfully helped me gather the plates, “That’s the way to do it!”
I also hit up Chef Mark Freischmidt of Halekulani for his bon bons. These were amazingly beautiful.
Chef Johan Svensson of BLT Steak was looking all suave in his shades. “I’m not sure if the chicharrons came out spicy enough. Tell me what you think,” he told Shake. The beef tartare was excellent; the chicharron was yummy and crunchy, but some of us had spicy ones and some of us had pretty plain ones.
I think I’m getting better at my candid people photos (that’s Chef Jonathan Waxman of Barbuto prepping his dish below, left), but I still feel goofy asking chefs to pose and hold up their food. Fortunately, these folks are all experienced pros, so when they see you aiming a camera, they’ll often just hold it up and smile, no prompting needed, like Chef Grant MacPherson of Scotch Myst (below, right). As you can see, his lamb burger is kind of bigger than your mouth.
When I did my trip around the venue, I told Chef Chai Chaowasaree, “Oh my god, Chai, those shrimp are huge!” I mean, they were probably about as big as my hand, from palm to finger tip, and rather fat.
“I know! They gave me these and they were just supposed to be the side! The clam is the main part of the dish,” he said. “Take one!” I told him I’d come back later after I’d shot everything. One of our group went back to get it and came back with plates of clams, sans shrimp. “What happened to the shrimp?” I asked. “I don’t know; they don’t have them anymore,” said our forager. I went back to see if I could sweet-talk Chai into some shrimp. “We ran out!” he said. “They were so big; we started cutting them up but we still didn’t have enough.” So there ya go—if you want something, get it before it’s gone.
The cheese was a little too cheesy for me, but that’s just me—Shake and our other friends happily ate my cheese. (We all had multiple helpings of this. You’ll see why.)
The venue is pretty big—you have to be ambitious to make your way around more than once, plus with all the people, there are some areas that get a little blocked off just by nature of the layout. Kenney was stationed in one of these little corners and, being a bit of a showman anyway, decided to take his meat show “on the road.”
He wheeled his butcher block all over the place, passing our table a few times. We flagged him down each time.
The last dish I’m sharing was my personal favorite of the evening, a beef heart tartare from Chef Gary Matsumoto of the Hawai‘i Convention Center. I’ve had beef heart before and found it chewy and without any qualities that would make me want to eat it. I didn’t hate it; it just didn’t seem like something worth seeking out again. This dish changed my mind. Just call me Khaleesi.
The flavor was great and it wasn’t chewy at all. And, it was topped with shavings of cured egg yolk. “You have to go back to that station and take pictures of these egg yolks,” Shake said. “It’s so cool. They have a whole bowl of them!”
Yeah, they were pretty cool. I kind of wanted to steal a yolk.
So, that’s it! There are some additional dishes and what-not in the gallery. If you attended, what was your favorite?
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.