After an outstanding morning drinking world-class wine with Colgin Cellars and Kermit Lynch and an afternoon partially sleeping off all that outstanding, world-class wine, I was super excited for the weekend’s main (sold out) event, the Hawaii Food & Wine Festival Corks & Forks party, this year presented by Hawaiian Airlines, my gracious host for the weekend. I could not wait to try dishes from some of my chef heroes!
The event was held on the rooftop of the Convention Center and you could not have asked for a prettier evening. Just look at that sky!
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The Hawaiian Airlines team and I made our way through the food offerings, devouring every bite we discovered. After attending other food events with big named stars who have to prepare their food under extraordinary circumstances, often impacting the delivery and taste of the food, I can honestly say that I did not have one bite of food that wasn’t exceptional.
I don’t go to a lot of food festivals anymore, they are just too crowded, the people get rowdy and sometimes the food (understanding the constrained circumstances that they are prepared under) isn’t always top-notch. But, this event, it totally blew me away and I would come back again in a heartbeat! The event was sold out, but the numbers were very manageable. I never felt crowded or pushed. If I did wait in a line, it was a quick line. The flow of the crowds was well thought out, everything was planned and organized to the greatest detail. Hawaii Food and Wine Festival team – you rock!
The Hawaiian Airlines team, from their pilots and flight attendants to their social media team and ground staff is one big ohana family that pulls you in, gives you a hug and a kiss, and fills a warm place in your heart. Every single person I met became my long-lost friend and they are wonderful people – which obviously translates when you fly with them!
And the food! Let me share some highlights!
We started with ceviche of Kona and Spanner Crab with buckwheat & yuzu from Chef Tetsuya Wakuda of Tesuya restaurant in Sydney, Australia. The yuzu added a nice bright note and I loved the addition of buckwheat farro.
Next came Nobu-style ceviche from Chef Nobu Matsuhisa. I’ve had Nobu’s amazing sushi in San Diego, so I knew I was in for a treat. One of the Hawaiian Airlines representatives went to high school with the Executive Chef from Nobu’s Waikiki restaurant and when we had finished the ceviche, he added a shot of 100% organic (100% delicious) Leyenda tequila – that went down smooth!
I have not eaten too much taro, except in dumsum, but after having (and loving) Pa’ i ‘ai when I had lunch at Hawaiian Airlines, I couldn’t wait to try it in another form, the taro croquette from Chef Yuji Wakiya of Wakiya in Tokyo, was delicious! These look like meatballs and frankly, I think between the Pa’ i ‘ai and these croquettes, that taro makes an excellent meat substitute.
We stopped to speak with some Australian media I had met at a progressive dinner the evening before at The Modern Honolulu (my hotel host for the weekend, more on them in a separate post). Every person I have ever met from New Zealand and Australia has always been a lot of fun and Julia and Paul were no exception. I could have talked to them all night, but then the food called and we were off again.
Next up was air-dried Kulana ribeye with Naked Cow Dairy Hawaii Tomme and pickled pohole from Chef Ed Kenney of TOWN Restaurant in Honolulu. Naked Cow Dairy appeared at several stops throughout the evening including in the cheese frosting on many cupcakes. I definitely want to check out this dairy on my next trip.
Inside the Hawaiian Airlines tent, their Executive Chef Chai, who I had the pleasure of interviewing was offering a baked stuffed cherrystone clam with Kona lobster, fresh Kuaui prawn, scallop, and crab meat. A lot of times these types of stuffed seafood dishes can turn out greasy or you taste more of the filling than the seafood, but not this bite, the seafood shown through loud and clear!
How could someone resist bites of food that look like this? This was a Pulehu Drumstick with sweet gold pineapple relish and romesco sauce.
Hoping for some of Barbuto’s Jonathan Waxman’s famous chicken, but getting a magnificent Ono with bok choy, heirloom tomatoes, hearts of palm, and sweet onions instead, I had no complaints. I love hearts of palm and rarely see it in restaurants so I was delighted.
Chef Jonathan Waxman was on hand serving his Ono, always a treat to see the chefs in action!
I have had a lot of seafood pancakes lately. Love the one at Berkeley’s Bowl’d and just had the Japanese version at Michael Mina’s new Pabu. The mini Korean Shrimp Pancakes with cucumber kimchee and gochujang sauce, plus a shot of sake being offered by Chef Ming Tsai of Blue Ginger Bar & Restaurant in Wellesley, MA was my bite of the night.
Of course, he was also the total character I have come to expect from watching Top Chef. Here he is posing for me!
If Ming is an over-the-top character then Chef Hubert Keller is the epitome of cool. Laid back, conversational, and downright friendly. He is such a pleasure to talk to. He even shared his DJ’ing hobby with one of the Sydney reporters. He picks out all the music for his restaurants and is one cool cat. Here he is modeling his Thai coconut soup with Kuaui shrimp, toasted orzo, snow peas, tomato, and kaffir lime. It was tangy, bitter, sweet, spicy – delicious!
There were desserts too, many of which I didn’t try, but they all looked delicious, chefs like Christina Tosi of Momofuku Milk Bar and cupcakes from Hokulani Bakery are hard to pass up, but I was in a savory mood. One sweet bite treat I did have was an assortment of chocolates from Mark Freischmidt of Halekulani in Honolulu. Wow! I had a piece of malted chocolate heaven that was to die for!
As I said in my final tweet of the night:
I can’t thank Hawaiian Airlines enough for their generous sponsorship of my flight to Oahu this weekend to attend the festival. They hosted me along with The Modern Honolulu hotel and the Oahu Visitors Bureau.
How about you? Have you been to a food and wine festival? What was the best thing you ever ate? Do tell!