There were so many tourists and locals that Kapi’olani Community College Farmers Market felt like a farmer-filled Mardi Gras. Of course, New Orleans has nothing as scenic as Diamond Head, the famous volcanic crater that serves as the backdrop for the sea of farmers market stalls.
Dean Okimoto is a third generation Hawaiian, with a grandfather who farmed above the University of Hawaii and a farming father who served in the 100th Batalion. 20 years ago, Okimoto worked with chefs like Roy Yamaguchi and Alan Wong to develop Hawaiian regional cuisine. He owns ‘Nalo Farms in Waimanalo and saw the need to help showcase and support other local food producers, so he teamed with food writer Joan Namkoong and Conrad Nonaka, Director for the Culinary Institute of the Pacific. They started with 16 vendors in 2003, and now KCC houses dozens of stalls.
About 200 vendors are on the KCC waiting list. As Okimoto said, “A lot of them will probably never get in.” Demand is just that high, and it’s not like locally thinking farmers leave. All but two farmers remain from the original 2003 field, and they only left because they outgrow the market.
Nonaka talked about the value of the KCC for Culinary Institute of the Pacific students, saying, “Our students can not just learn about cooking, they can also learn about the ingredients.”
Okimoto and Nonaka arranged a small sampling of farmers market finds for us, which we enjoyed in a stall overlooking the action. We received Hawaiian Heart of Palm from the Big Island; and grilled Big Island Abalone on the half shell.
We passed stalls as Okimoto and Nonaka provided commentary. Sea Mountain Coffee Company from Ka’u has apparently fared favorably against Kona. North Shore Cattle Catering is known for burgers and beef. Kukui Sausage Co. prepares different sausages, including kimchi, Italian, and pestele, a popular Puerto Rican mix of pork and plantain). FarmRoof is a partnership with the culinary school. The University of Hawaii Kapi’olani Community College sells scones and muffins.
Sweet Gold started growing Hawaiian Crown pineapple in 1986 and added chocolate in the late ’90s.
PCifikool is known for their ginger coolers and ale, but nobody’s as popular as Jeanne Vana, who makes the “ultimate” pesto grilled pizza using her prized tomatoe, and also fries green tomatoes.
Chef Hardy prepared a Mushroom Pouch with Hamakua mushroom, glazed onions, roasted garlic, julienne carrots, spinach and herb butter en papillote.
For Oktoberfest, Chef Hardy coated veal sausage in herbed puff pastry “pretzel.”
Akamai Oatcakes co-founder Sharon Kobayashi also makes fresh juices, plus my refreshing key lime, starfruit and mint lassi.
We saw our friends from Ma’o Organic Farms, who we visited the day before.
We encountered unusual vegetables, including breadfruit.
Some people we encountered during our stay in Honolulu seemed to think the market had become too big to still be useful for chefs, but we did see popular local chef Ed Kenney shopping for restaurants Town and Downtown. He’s a big proponent of Ma’o, and even wore their shirt.
Otsuji Farms prepared a signature Green Drink ($4 small) that tasted better than it looked, combining dinosaur kale, komatsuna (Japanese mustard spinach), pineapple and apple juice. They offered me the option to add mint for $0.50 more, and that was the right move.
Not only was it fun and informative to visit the KCC Farmers Market, we also got a sense for how interconnected the local food community has become. Sure, farmers sell to local chefs. Culinary students learn from shopping at the market. Local residents establish a connection to their food source. But more than that, the community now operates on even more levels. For example, the inaugural Hawaii Food & Wine Festival established Culinary Institute of the Pacific at their beneficiary.
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