It stands to reason that a festival dedicated to the emerging food scene of an area would have plenty to eat. Even so, I don't think we were prepared for the barrage of food that awaited us.
We kicked off the weekend with a media lunch event at the Ali'i, where we were staying. We were greeted with leis, and mixed and mingled until Fred Torres, cultural director of the Ali'i, announced the commencement of the lunch by blowing the traditional pu shell horn to the four directions and offering a blessing.
The lunch was prepared by the Hyatt Regency's Chef Greg Grohowski, with each course paired with a beer from Maui Brewing Company. To enhance the pairing, Chef Grohowski incorporated the beers into the dishes. We started with a salad of Kula greens and strawberries, with a macadamia brie crouton and Maui Brewing Co. Golden Ale vinaigrette.
With this dish we were privileged to get a sneak preview at Maui Brewing's Golden Ale, which they would release officially on the final night of the festival. It's a full-bodied ale made with fresh lilikoi and guava, which only came to rise on the finish, adding freshness to the brew.
Next up: Maui Cattle Co. tenderloin, sweet potato hash, edamame and hamakua mushrooms, Maui Brewing Co. Scotch Ale demiglace.
Maui Cattle's beef is extraordinairily lean, so they used papaya to tenderize the beef. It was positively fall-apart tender. The Scotch ale, a higher-ABV and heavily malty ale, added sweetness to the demiglace. Delicious.
Finally, Kula strawberry shortcake on a lavender scone with whipped sour cream.
The chef joked that this was his least photogenic dish, but i'm inclined to disagree. This was paired with Maui Brewing Co.'s CoCoNut Porter, the beer that put them on the map.
Brewer Garret Marrero is passionate about his craft, affable and loquacious on the matter. He's also easy on the eyes.
The hardest part was trying, and failing, to show some restraint. After all, this was a substantial meal, and we had to save room for the evening's kickoff event, the progressive dinner spanning three Ka'anapali resorts.
The first stop was at the Hyatt, at the south end of the beach, for appetizers. The theme was seafood, with a huge raw bar in the center. Among the highlights we really enjoyed were some okonomiyaki-esque Korean pancakes.
And Chef Gevin Utrillo and Sushi Chef David “Jay” Ledee's ceviche tacos, in crisp wonton shells with guacamole.
All this while sipping sake or champagne as the sun made its way to the horizon between Lanai and Moloka'i. As dusk fell, it was time to head to the Westin for the second course.
We were greeted with mai tais — not a bad start — and almost immediately drawn to the local taro farmer, explaining how taro is grown. Nearby, a family member pounded taro into poi in the traditional method.
Poi is a word that strikes fear and dread into the heart of mainlanders. Everytime I've uttered it, I'm met with a twisted visage of disgust or horror. Personally, I think it's got a bad rep. Yes, it's bland and it's pasty, and those are its charms. I tasted the freshly pounded stuff. Still bland, still pasty, yet had a fluffier, almost chewy texture. I'm not saying poi is going to take the US by storm, but it's an important food to consider. It's nutrient-rich, low-glycemic and very high in fiber. Consider that the next time you settle in for a plate of potatoes.
Being the main course, heavier plates prevailed at the Westin, presided by Chefs Garrett Fujieda and François Millet; our highlights were a super tender Colorado lamb chop, a hearty slab of pork belly on a Chinese spoon with a dollop of poi underneath, and seared beef and hamakua mushroom poke. And, of course, there must be fire dancing.
Our final stop was the Sheraton, whose original building is the oldest hotel on the strip, a bubble-balconied tower backed up against Black Rock. As we strolled across the expansive lawn, warm breezes blowing in from the sea, we were serenaded by the cheerful tones of Hawaiian group Nā Leo.
We've had the pleasure of seeing them before, here at the Stern Grove Festival, and they kept the mood light and fun as we enjoyed our sweet ending to the evening. Chef Greg Gaspar celebrated Ka'anapali's local coffee farm with an array of coffee-themed desserts, including a memorable Ka'anapali coffee creme brûlée. As we lounged on the lawn in the warm evening, listening to the sound of the nearby surf, the full moon — the blue moon — rose above us, flooding the yard with light. A guy could get used to this …