Whether you are planning your first trip or are a loyal repeat visitor to the Aloha State, The Hawaii Food and Wine Festival is yet another reason to stay, eat and continually return to Hawaii. What sets this festival apart from all the rest, making it deserving of your must-do list, is the fact that virtually all of the ingredients served are grown, raised, or caught right there in Hawaii.
This year the festivities kicked off in Maui, just after the Kaanapali Fresh Festival — which is reason alone to plan a visit. Both festivals will impress you with their transformation of Hawaii, a land where once almost every food item was imported, whereas now the state grows much of what the public eats.
Farmers and fishers are consulted, embraced, and revered for their magic in producing and catching some of the tastiest homegrown products available on the planet. The two days of events at the Kaanapali Fresh Festival serve to introduce locals and guests to the pleasures of this “locavore” haven and salute the farmers, fishers, and chefs who delight us with every bite.
If you start in Maui, plan on attending Friday evening's “Progressive Kaanapali Dinner.” Guests start at the Westin Maui Resort and Spa where they enjoy savory tastes infused with coffee, created by the resorts culinary team. Saturday starts with a trip to the market to revel in local bounty, followed by a tour and lunch at a coffee plantation to celebrate the 200 years of coffee production in Hawaii. The evening's signature event boasts a tasting of farm-to-table cuisine with carefully selected wines that highlight the artistry of local chefs and farmers. The level of cuisine and wines provided by Southern Wine and Spirits is a stellar example of the quality found on the island.
Having tempted their taste buds with the celebration of Kaanapali Fresh, everyone is quickly ready to indulge in the pleasures of the Hawaii Food and Wine Festival, which stages its opening event, “Malama Maui,” at the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort and Spa on Sunday evening. The kickoff featured sunset cocktails overlooking the Pacific, palm trees swaying to smooth jazz, and six global luminary chefs collaborating on a dinner extravaganza using Maui’s finest ingredients.
After enjoying marvelous Maui, it’s time to hop over to Honolulu to continue the excitement of the world class festival, where over 70 renowned chefs from around the globe have gathered to utilize only Hawaiian products in their gourmet offerings. The culinary team is anchored by the festival’s founders, Alan Wong and Roy Yamaguchi, both of whom are Honolulu-based James Beard Award Winners.
Besides five signature evening events, there is a series of educational experiences and seminars lead by four master sommeliers and top flight winemakers. The impressive array of culinary talent includes Ricardo Zarate of Mo-Chica in Los Angeles, and Celestino Drago (Drago Restaurant Group).
Check in at the Hyatt Regency Waikiki Beach Resort and Spa, just one of the venues for the many festival activities. Located to take advantage of shopping and the beach, this aloha-spirited welcoming resort offers daily activities through its cultural center to enhance your understanding, appreciation and enjoyment of the Hawaiian culture.
Before the festival begins, dine at Japengo where Pacific Rim cuisine is at its most authentic. Executive Chef Sven Ullrich spares no expense in selecting the finest ingredients to prepare each item with the utmost concern for genuine regional flair. Ever vigilant about honoring the traditions of each dish, chefs from Beijing taught the kitchen staff to make their authentic fried rice, and it took weeks to perfect! That is just one example of the care that goes into each dish. The hip décor, intimate spaces for private parties, and beautifully presented cuisine make Japengo “a must” on your culinary tour of Waikiki.
The Hawaii Food and Wine Festival signature event is sponsored by Hawaiian Airlines, “Under the Modern Moon: Morimoto & Friends at The Modern Honolulu.” It includes 15 world class chefs from Asia and the Pacific, and stellar wines presented by the winemakers themselves — including Jim Clendenen, whose Au Bon Climat label is world renowned. You will also get to meet mixology magicians who offer creative sips in a cool, hip, environment.
Try Chef Chai’s Restaurant before you leave the city. As a TV personality and executive chef of Hawaiian Airlines, the only domestic airline to still serve complimentary meals even in economy class, Chef Chai's Pacific fusion cuisine blends Hawaii’s finest ingredients with Asian influences, European technique and a pinch of health food savvy for good measure. The combination makes for unique items such as lobster bisque without the butter and cream, healthy stir fry, and a lighter version of coconut cheesecake — all full of flavor, delicious, and actually good for you!
Culinary demonstrations and wine seminars add to the daytime activities sprinkled in between the evening’s other special events. Saturday’s “Rooftop Garden at Hawaii’s Convention Center” and Sunday’s “Savory Ever After at Ko Olina Resort” showcase the talents of countless chefs from the Islands, Mainland, and Pacific Rim — all designed to thrill and delight the attendees who come from near and far to experience the culinary excellence that is Hawaii.
Have we convinced you yet? You better make sure to mark these two events on your gourmet calendar, and make these festivals a culinary destination for years to come!