Since 1969, restaurant, hotel, travel & other witty reviews by a handpicked, worldwide team of discerning professionals—and your views, too.

Edible Maui
From the 'Aina to the Diner

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Chuck Boerner of Ono Organic Farms with Wolfgang Puck
Chuck Boerner of Ono Organic Farms with Wolfgang Puck

Hawaii's original economy was based on agriculture. Ancient land divisions such as the ahupua'a were complete ecological and economic systems unto themselves. These land divisions are most certainly still recognized today by traditional Hawaiians. Ahupua'a may best be described as pie-shaped land divisions with the pinnacle high up in the mountains and the wide base reaching quite far out into the ocean. In addition to providing all the necessary food staples—sweet potato, banana, kalo from the uplands and the plains, shellfish from the brackish water along the shoreline, many varieties of limu (seaweed) and fish from the ocean—the ahupua'a also functioned as water management systems. There is nothing more critical to the island way of life than fresh water. As rainwater flowed down the mountains, it would be used on its path for drinking, bathing and irrigation.

With the arrival of American and European immigrants in the 19th century, the rich resources available within each ahupua'a were then used to produce large scale sugar cane and pineapple crops. These industries drove the Hawaii economy for over 90 years. The closing of the plantations, however, did not mean that agriculture in Hawaii vanished. Small local farmers have continued to till the soil and diversify their crops. These farmers and the importance of their practices to the culture of Hawaii have become a growing interest to visitors as a result of the increasing global concern in preserving our world's natural resources and multicultural practices. Although agriculture has, in modern times, struggled—through the plantation days of sugar, pineapple and, later, coffee—agriculture still ranks right behind tourism in importance to Hawaii's economy.

Alii Kula Lavender cuisine
Ali'i Kula Lavender cuisine

Factor in the hundreds of food service operations that serve what the farmers grow, and small-scale farming takes on even more significance. Hawaii Regional Cuisine, a culinary movement that began more than a decade ago, requires high-quality local produce. Thus, the partnership of tropical farmers and innovative chefs has made the delicious bounty of the islands available to residents and visitors alike, and it has given Maui Nui—a chain of four islands including Maui, Kahoolawe, Lanai and Molokai—a place in the ranks of global agritourism destinations.

Let's begin right in Central Maui, where Maui Community College’s (MCC) state-of-the-art Paina Building may be best described as the culinary crossroads of the island. Here, students, instructors, farmers, producers, chefs and restaurateurs converge. This award-winning culinary arts program not only turns out talented young chefs, servers and managers to staff the island's restaurants, but also operates a lunch restaurant and food court that spotlights local products. The Pā'ina Food Court and the Leis Family Class Act fine dining restaurant feature Maui-grown and Maui-made products, including lettuces from D & D Farms, micro-greens from Warren Watanabe's farm, corn and onions from Uradomo Farms, hydroponic watercress from Geoff Haines at Pacific Produce, and great homegrown beef from Alex Franco and the Maui Cattle Company.
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