Hawaii Food & Wine Festival has become a magnet for mainland chefs in the multi-island event’s first five years. At HFWF15 in Kāʻanapali, during a round-robin media session at Hula Grill at Whalers Village, I asked seven participating chefs a single question, What do you find special and unique about the food on Hawaii? Read their responses.
Stephen Durfee (The Culinary Institute of America)
One thing I found in particular is that people have a preconceived notion for what Hawaiian food is. Especially from the mainland. When you actually arrive here and discover new things that you weren’t expecting, that can be really inspiring. The one thing that I discovered last year was having access to fresh coconut milk. Everybody is familiar with coconut milk, but it comes in a can. To have fresh coconut milk to cook with is really rich and delicious. We used that in our dessert last year, and I loved it so much that I based a whole dessert around that this year.
I just love all the fruits, the vegetables. Right now, I’m loving the fact that there are so many chefs using more local produce. That’s been a trend in the past 5 to 10 years, when everything was getting shipped in. Now it’s all about sustaining communities. Yesterday, I was talking to the chef at Mama’s [Fish House] about how his restaurant is basically sustaining an entire community around that restaurant. That’s what we want to do at Maialino and Marta as well. We want to do more than just cook food for the people that are coming to the restaurant. Also for sustaining the businesses and purveyors that supply us. We want to make an awesome sustainable chain, like a big family. They have that family feel when you come to the restaurants in Hawaii. They’re trying to all take care of each other.
Number one, for an island, it’s incredibly fresh. A lot of times, when you go to the Caribbean, or other islands, they’re shipping in a lot of their product. Here, incredible seafood, incredible vegetables. The fruit is amazing. And it’s almost like you can just pull it off the tree and use it. The lusciousness of these islands really provides an incredible product.