When it comes to having a good meal in the Islands — often without breaking the bank — any time is a good time to visit Hawaii. Fresh tropical fruit, unique vegetables and locally caught fish abound on Island menus year round in an eruption of flavors and cuisines. But for those looking to celebrate the best food the Islands have to offer, book a plane ticket to Hawaii in the fall. That’s when the annual Hawaii Food & Wine Festival takes place. It’s a three-weekend event across some of the most idyllic locations on Maui, Hawaii Island and Oahu.
The Hawaii Food & Wine Festival was co-founded in 2010 by Roy Yamaguchi and Alan Wong, two of Hawaii’s most respected chefs and restaurateurs. The epicurean celebration was an indirect result of Hawaii Regional Cuisine, a culinary movement the two Oahu chefs started in 1991 along with 10 other local culinary experts. The movement focused on partnering with local farmers, ranchers and fishers to help reduce food imports and to spotlight the Islands’ diverse mix of culinary influences. It’s why you see tomatoes from Oahu’s Ho Farms, honey from Big Island Bees and kurobuta pork from Maui’s Malama Farm.
The 2017 festival is from October 20 through November 5 and comprises 16 events where food lovers can nosh eclectic tastings, sip handmade cocktails and taste rare wine vintages. More than 100 chefs, 21 mixologists and four master sommeliers from Hawaii, the U.S. Mainland, Asia and Europe are part of this year’s talent line up.
Yamaguchi, renowned for his namesake restaurants Roy’s and the newer Eating House 1849, says today the festival has become a reflection of Islands as a true food destination. “We ask every chef to use a locally-grown, raised or caught product to highlight the great products we have here in our islands,” he says. “We invite chefs who share our passion for sustainability and in turn, they become our best culinary ambassadors for the state.”
Two of this year’s standout events are Lucky 7, celebrating the seventh anniversary of the festival, and Uncorked, the featured wine event. (Both of these signature events are sponsored by Hawaiian Airlines.) These signature food events link the food of Hawaii with its rich culture.
Kicking off the first weekend of the festival on Maui is Lucky 7 on Sunday, October 22. Set on the manicured, oceanfront Halona Kai lawn of the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort & Spa, Lucky 7 is a seven-course sit down dinner complete with tailored wine pairings. Six chefs are participating, including Gregory Grohowski from the Maui Hyatt, Niki Nakayama of n/naka in Los Angeles and Floyd Cardoz of Paowalla in New York City.
“The (Hawaii people’s) love for food is evident everywhere. The plethora of seafood and tropical fruit and vegetables is surprising and the quality is superb,” says Floyd Cardoz. The esteemed chef opened Paowalla, which celebrates his Goan-Indian heritage, in 2016.
Cardoz is a Hawaii Food & Wine Festival returnee and says he’s looking forward to the delicious food, the beautiful beaches and the hospitality. “The people in Hawaii are my favorite part of the festival. They are all very kind and generous in spirit,” says the four-time James Beard Award nominee. “They are very appreciative of our donated time and it makes it special for me.”
For Lucky 7, he says he’ll be making Kanpachi ceviche and coconut-kokum broth with heart of palm and Hawaiian sea salt. “I love coconut and will use freshly pressed coconut milk as a seasoning.”
The celebration continues in early November on Oahu with 12 food events and seminars. But for the enophiles, the can’t-miss event is Uncorked. A true celebration of food and wine, Uncorked will take place on Friday, November 3. There will be 41 stations serving unlimited food and wine tastings spread across the rooftop of the Hawaii Convention Center. Uncorked features 21 renowned chefs, such as Wade Ueoka of MW Restaurant in Honolulu, Nobu Matsuhisa of Nobu, Stephanie Izard of the Girl and the Goat in Chicago and Ravi Kapur of the Liholiho Yacht Club in San Francisco. Each chef will prepare unique dishes to expertly pair with 20 red and white wines.
For Ravi Kapur, the festival is both a homecoming and an opportunity to connect with festivalgoers and all the hardworking people who make it happen each year. The Oahu native opened his restaurant in 2015, and was voted one of the best new chefs of 2016 by Food & Wine magazine in 2016. “Hawaii for me is my home. No matter how long I’ve been gone, when I get off that plane, I’m home. Hawaii has so many cultures represented in its food. We love to eat and we love to share and people pick up on that,” he says. “I enjoy the sense of community and connecting with everyone involved.”
Kapur says he’ll be preparing a raw preparation of locally caught billfish, but he’s waiting until he arrives on Oahu to let the ingredients inspire him. “I like to keep it open so when I get there, I can use what is at its peak at the moment,” he says. “For me, part of my role as a chef is to create food that someone can’t just whip up at home. There should be some elements of discovery, surprise and familiarity.”
From unique tastings utilizing fresh, local ingredients, unique wines and thoughtful cocktails to passionate chefs and a fun, energetic crowd, you’ll find it all at this year’s Hawaii Food & Wine Festival. “We want participants to experience not only the beauty of our Islands and the amazing food, but also the culture and aloha spirit that embodies what we represent here,” says Yamaguchi.