Organizers of the inaugural Hawaii Food and Wine Festival dubbed their grand finale “From Mauka to Makai,” and held the mega tasting on the great lawn of the Hilton Hawaiian Village as the sun set over the Pacific on October 1, combining spectacular views with dramatic bites.
Hawaii Food & Wine attracted some of the best chefs from Hawaii and the mainland, including Celestino Drago, John Besh, Rick Moonen, Alan Wong, Michel Ginor and Michel Nischan, who all showcased local ingredients on eco-friendly plates while exchanging pleasantries.
Alan Wong presented a a number of different seafood preparations on a single plate, including sweet Keawa Nui Farms Molokai shrimp, Sumida Farms watercress, Big Island baby abalone, Hamakua mushrooms and a seafood ball coated with crispy puffed rice.
Michel Nischan from Connecticut’s Dressing Room served grilled ribs alongside chopped salad. The one-time partner with philanthropist and actor Paul Newman is also a proponent of providing local, healthy food to under-served people through his Wholesome Wave program.
Providence chef Michael Cimarusti served Kona kampachi with pearl tapioca, tomato, shiso and smoked sesame.
Michael Ginor from Hudson Valley Foie Gras and Lola, both in New York state, presented his favorite ingredient three ways in an inspired Thai Laab Salad featuring Hudson Valley foie gras, duck confit and tamarind and palm sugar-glazed duck crackling in a lettuce wrap.
Chef John Besh, the former Marine who’s found large-scale success on TV and in New Orleans with restaurants like August and Luke, filtered the South through a Hawaiian prism, presenting slow cooked Molokai shrimp and Andouille over baked jalapeno cheese grits.
Christian Self, formerly the head bartender at The Modern Honolulu, recently started consulting and doing a pop-up in Honolulu’s Chinatown. He shared a central bar with three other cocktail talents, including strong>mixologist Francesco Lafranconi and bartender Julie Reiner.
One of Christian Self’s cocktails was the PDT, which combined Absolut Pears, fresh lime juice, agave nectar, pasteurized egg whites, Nalo Farms sage, club soda and chipotle Cholula.
Dean Fearing, the longtime chef at The Mansion on Turtle Creek, went solo in Dallas with Fearing’s. One of the forefathers of contemporary Southwest cuisine prepared his signature chicken fried quail with Big Island birds, Fearing’s cornbread pudding and Texas barbecue sauce.
RM Seafood chef-owner Rick Moonen offered his take on a Hawaiian classic – poke – tossing striped marlin with tropical vinaigrette, hearts of palm, Wailua onion, lemon balm and inamona, a savory condiment that combines salt with roasted candlenuts (aka kuku’i).
The Hawaiian Food & Wine Fest started with a VIP reception, dazzling views of the pink sunset and finished with fireworks, visible through the palms. This punctuated a memorable three-day fest that apparently pleased organizers, who’ve already announced, “We’re growing in 2012.”
Note: Oahu Visitors Bureau organized a six-day island tour, and my complimentary admission to Hawaii Food & Wine was part of the experience.