International travel is a strange thing.
On the one hand, an incessant curiosity about the rest of the globe can end up leading you to places you’d previously only dreamt of. On the other hand, constantly keeping both eyes on the horizon can cause you to overlook your own back yard, where adventures, events, and everyday happenings actually make for really good stories.
Even if that backyard is someplace like Maui.
About three years ago, after going walkabout to 64 countries and 49 U.S. states, someone asked me why it was that I don’t ever write about Maui.
“Because Maui,” I thought, “is simply home. Why would I write about home?”
After 30 seconds of thinking about it I realized this was stupid. Maui is the world’s most popular island with over 2 million visitors per year, and not only is it a magnificent island with some of the world’s top events and scenery, but it’s also an island I’m unabashedly proud of and want to share with the world.
One of those events is Kaanapali Fresh—a culinary bonanza of Epicurean proportions that champions locally-sourced produce—and even though I live in Ka’anapali and can hear the festivities from my kitchen, I’d yet to attend this annual event from an insider, hands-on perspective. Thanks to the Honua Kai Resort, however—a gorgeously situated and comfortable resort where my own groomsmen stayed for my wedding—I was invited to participate in this year’s event as it took place in my own back yard.
And the only thing I could think after three days of sampling some of the most expertly-prepared cuisine in Hawaii:
“This is some of the best food I’ve had anywhere in the world. How on Earth have I missed this?”
To let you in on the culinary goodness, here is a quick rundown of what to expect when attending Ka’anapali Fresh.
ʻAhaʻāina O Kāʻanapali
Hosted this year by the Westin Maui, the opening event showcased over a dozen food stations from some of Ka’anapali’s most well-known restaurants. Perhaps most interesting were the old photos of Ka’anapali that were located next to the bar, displaying a time when sugar cane and sand were the main components of the shoreline.
With each restaurant putting their finest foot forward, the food, of course, was off the charts in terms of creativity and taste. Maui Fish and Pasta, for example, offered a banana coconut curried mahi mahi on mint parsley couscous with banana mango chutney, as seen in the photo below.
In keeping with Hawaiian culinary tradition, poi was pounded in the center of the festivities so everyone could learn about the process…
…and attendees were treated to a welcoming hula performed on the lu‘au stage.
Event price: $92.70/person.
Whalers Village Farmers Market
Of all the Ka‘anapali Fresh events this one was probably my favorite. No, not because it was free, but because it was the event where attendees and regular visitors could sit and talk story with the farmers.
Spread out on the grass on the Whalers Village beach path between Leilani’s and Hula Grill, an All-Star list of some of the island’s best farmers were all gathered together in one place. It isn’t too often that you get Maui farmers such as Chuck Boerner of ONO Organic Farms and James Simpliciano of Simpli-Fresh selling food in the same market, but when you do, you better be sure to capitalize on the fresh, locally grown produce that springs with abundance from their stands.
As the only U.S. state that grows coffee, the perky brown elixir, of course, played a large role in the Whalers Village farmer’s market. The staff of Ka‘anapali Coffee Farms displayed their different varieties of beans, and coffee from as far as Kipahulu could be found at Ono Farms. Also on hand were Kula Country Farms with their succulent Upcountry produce, as well as the Kula Fields staff who deliver fresh local produce right to your Maui doorstep.
Event price: Free
Fresh Mixology 101
After the farmer’s market, what’s the only thing better than a boozy lunch on the sands of Ka‘anapali Beach?
When that boozy brunch is administered by bartenders who are wizards in the craft of mixology.
Hosted by the Sheraton Maui, the Fresh Mixology 101 not only showcased a number of Ka’anapali’s signature cocktails, but master mixologists Chandra Micariello and Freddy Sconfienza taught attendees exactly how to make them.
From tips on how much to muddle your mint (“you want to slap it,” says Freddy) to the best way to measure out lemon juice, mixology tips flowed faster than the liquor that arrived faster than we could drink it. Attendees were invited to make their own cocktails with a range of assorted ingredients, and while it might take a while to master the pa‘ina (pictured above and containing Ocean Vodka, chili pepper water, lemon juice, tomatoes, pineapple, simple syrup, smoked sea salt and an asparagus, pipikaula garnish), it’s an entertaining event paired with an exceptional lunch for anyone with an interest in cocktails.
Event price: $43.75/person
Ka’anapali Fresh Signature Event
Saturday night is when Ka‘anapali Fresh completely lets its hair down. It’s an evening of delicacies under the stars, where a generous bar, a cornucopia of food, and live Hawaiian music all combine to create one of Maui’s classiest nights.
It’s also where you can sample food on the cutting edge of dining, such as local venison sourced on Moloka‘i that is now USDA approved. Served with a Moloka‘i sweet potato roll, it was one of the tastier, authentic, and up-and-coming products to make an impression at the signature event.
By the end of the feast—with your body existing in the welcome haze of digestive juices and wine—the live music and slack key guitar take over and seize the night. This year’s guests were treated to HAPA as the main musical act, and even after all of these years, the group continues to be—in my opinion—one of the best musical acts and most talented artists you’ll find anywhere in Hawaii.
Ka’anapali Kitchen Stadium Under A Maui Moon; Hawaii Food and Wine Festival Gala Dinner
Finally, the pièce de résistance of the Ka‘anapali weekend also happens to be one of the opening events of the Hawaii Food and Wine Festival. Hosted by the Hyatt just steps from the ocean, six world-renowned, fantastically-talented chefs literally plated hundreds of meals right before our eyes.
A 6 course meal with accompanying wine pairings was literally prepared under the stars, and everything from lobster tail, abalone, and baby goat graced a menu that redefined luxury.
Event price: $250/person
The elegance and opulence aside, however, the best part of this entire weekend is all of the attention that is drawn to the island’s fishermen, ranchers, and farmers. Hawaii is blessed with a wealth of natural resources and a culinary diversity of produce, and from the mountain to the ocean, mauka to makai, sustainable farming and support for our farmers is imperative to our island’s success. Through the events and dinners, the Hawaii Food and Wine Festival is able to raise funds for local organizations such as the Hawaii Agricultural Foundation, Culinary Institute of the Pacific, Maui Culinary Academy, and Maui County Farm Bureau.
A big mahalo to the Honua Kai Resort for allowing me to be experience this event, and an even bigger mahalo to the hard-working farmers who continue to re-invent the alleged boundaries of what these islands are able to produce.
Did you attend Ka‘anapali Fresh 2014?
Drop a note in the comments below with your favorite part of the event.