by Leslie Kelly
Aloha from Maui, the Magic Isle known for its super sweet “Gold” pineapple, onions, sugar cane and the best banana bread on the planet.
Those local foods and many more were the delicious focus of the second annual Ka’anapali Fresh, a recent two-day celebration showcasing the island’s hard-working farmers and ranchers and the chefs who transform those ingredients into memorable meals. The whole farm-to-table movement is truly blossoming in this tropical paradise that, for much of its history, has been fairly single-minded in its approach to agriculture with cattle, cane and pineapple among its most successful crops.
That’s not to say there weren’t small farmers producing a diverse lineup of delicious things to eat. Chuck Boerner has been organically growing starfruit, apple bananas, tamarind, cinnamon, papaya, rambutan, dragonfruit, jackfruit, durian and avocados the size of small footballs for more than 35 years on his 50-acre ONO Farms near Hana.
Agritourism has become a flourishing business with visitors ponying up part of their vacation budget to have an experience on local farms. (Sign me up for the BBQ at Surfing Goat Dairy!)
As the interest in eating local has grown, so have the relationships between ambitious chefs and food producers. Along with the stellar selection of seafood, many resort menus now prominently feature Maui-grown products.
Those fruitful partnerships were the foundation of the incredible gala that closed the event, an evening during which guests sampled sumptuous bites prepared by the island’s best chefs using local ingredients. Each culinary talent was matched with a local farmer and the results were amazing, especially when paired with an outstanding lineup of wines from around the world selected by Southern Wine & Spirits. (The 2011 Black Chicken Zinfandel from Biale Vineyards in Napa Valley was my fave.)
Other highlights from this year’s Ka’anapali Fresh:
A fun DIY cocktail class where guests were challenged to create their own signature drink using ingredients such as mint, basil, jalapenos, ginger, pineapple, lime leaf and just about every type of booze you can imagine, including two local spirits, Ocean Vodka and Old Lahaina Rum, made with raw Maui sugar.
A progressive dinner that began at the Westin and featured all-star chefs creating a dazzling lineup of small plates: seared ahi poke wrapped in spicy mustard lettuce from Ho’opono Farm, smoked Kona Kampachi with coffee emulsion, and crispy pork belly biscuit slider with redeye gravy were among the standouts.
Dessert was served a 10-minute walk away at The Sheraton, where guests got their sweet cravings satisfied by world-class pastries including a gorgeous take on a classic. The Baked Hawai’i – starring pineapple, of course — was prepared by Hula Grill.
This moveable feast was fantastic, but it was only a prelude to a breathtaking performance by ukelele virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro, who thrilled the crowd with a wildly entertaining two-hour show.
The following morning, after breakfast at the busy farmers market, the K-Fresh party bus headed to Ka’anapali Estates coffee plantation, where sixth-generation Maui resident and MauiGrown coffee bean farmer Kimo Falconer talked participants through the process of growing and roasting coffee. This year marks the 200th anniversary of coffee being grown in the 50th state. I’ll drink to that! And also toast to the continued success of the growing efforts to bring farmers and chefs together at wonderful events like Ka’anapali Fresh.
You can click on each picture to enlarge. Photos Courtesy of Peter Liu.