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Ka’anapali Fresh: Grand Tasting

Disclosure: We were guests of Ka'anapali Fresh for their inaugural event last year. All our travel expenses were covered. I was not paid to write this post, and all opinions are my own. 

The apex of last year's inaugural Ka'anapali Fresh event was the grand tasting, held on the grounds of the Royal Kāʻanapali Golf Course. Think of it as being along the lines of SF Chefs or the Pebble Beach Food & Wine festival, only far more intimate. And, in Hawaii, ergo not freezing. 

Several of Maui's best chefs set up pavilions to dish up small bites of their most creative offerings. 

Ka'anapali Fresh ©dpaul brown

But it was more than just a feast for attendees. The chefs' dishes were being judged, and a winner would be declared.

Ka'anapali Fresh ©dpaul brown

To us, the most memorable dishes came from Japengo restaurant, who served up some phenomenal poached abalone, as well as beautiful seared wagyu beef. 

Ka'anapali Fresh ©dpaul brown

There were plenty of wineries represented, mostly Californian, but Joto Sake got our attention, particularly the Chikurin Fukamari "Depth" Junmai. Aromatic, fruity, yet light. Perfect for the balmy evening, and compatible with practically anything. 

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Ka’anapali Fresh: Media lunch and progressive dinner

Ka'anapali Fresh ©dpaul brown

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. 

Ka'anapali Fresh ©dpaul brown

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. 

#kfreshmaui Kula greens and strawberries, macadamia brie crouton, 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.

#kfreshmaui papaya-marinated Maui cattle tenderloin, sweet potato hash, edamame and hamakua mushrooms,  scotch ale Demi glace

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.

#kfreshmaui Kula strawberry shortcake, lavender scone, 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. 

Ka'anapali Fresh ©dpaul brown

Brewer Garret Marrero is passionate about his craft, affable and loquacious on the matter. He's also easy on the eyes.

Ka'anapali Fresh ©dpaul brown

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. 

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Ka’anapali Fresh, celebrating the Maui food scene

Sorry, guys, but this is going to make you jealous. It just is. We went to Maui. And it was as marvelous as you would expect. 

Actually, no. Let me restate that. It was more marvelous than you would expect. And here’s why. 

We’ve been to Maui once before, about a decade ago, and to Kaua’i and O’ahu a decade before that. Both those trips were fabulous, except for one thing: The food. For countless years, the Hawaiian food scene has been synonymous with spam musubi, schlocky luaus with tiki buffets and uninspired plate lunches. If you stayed in a place with a kitchen, you could try to head that off with a trip to the grocery store, only to be faced with expensive, sad produce flown in from the mainland. 

On Maui in particular, most of the arable land used to be dedicated to two major commodity crops: Pineapple and sugar cane, almost all of which was for processing and export. Consequently, any produce for actual human consumption on-island had to come from somewhere else. But that’s changing. 

The commodity crops have scaled back considerably, and a new culture of small, independent family farmers is on the rise. Farmers markets are cropping up across the island. Fresh produce is now becoming so available that even the chefs of the big resorts are featuring it. And this was the central premise for the inaugural Ka’anapali Fresh food and wine festival, a three-day bacchanal celebrating the emergence of this new food culture that took place August 31-September 2, 2012. 

dpaul and I were invited to attend, courtesy of the Ka’anapali Beach Resort Association, representing the collective of resorts that sprawls up the West Maui coast north of Lahaina. These run the gamut from shimmering high rises to low-slung bungalows. Some are hotels, others are condo/timeshare resorts, coming in at a wide range of prices. What they all share is access to one of the best beaches in Hawaii, overlooking the channel to Lanai and Moloka’i.

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