Story by Shannon Wianecki
Photo by Sue Hudelson
In April of last year, Kupu Maui hosted its first meal: brunch at the Ali‘i Kula Lavender farm on the slopes of Haleakala, with chawanmushi (egg custard) and chai-smoked pork shoulder on the menu. Later Kupu feasts have featured lamb tagine served under the moonlight at the Waihe‘e Coastal Refuge and fresh pa‘i‘ai (pounded taro) served beside the taro patch at Noho‘ana Farm. At the Upcountry Ocean Vodka farm and distillery, the winning dish was a faux oyster: delectable slivers of young coconut sprinkled with scallion and ginger, served on the half shell. The accompanying mignonette—a sweet and tangy elixir—was made with organic sugar cane vinegar, from cane harvested onsite. And—it being Ocean Vodka—there were, naturally, liquor-infused chocolates for dessert.
Each Kupu Maui meal has its own flavor, inspired by the locale, because the whole point is creating a movable feast: On the third Saturday of every month, the roving restaurant lands on a different farm or field. Dania Katz came up with the idea last January; since then she and her partner, chef James Simpliciano, have teamed up with a number of Maui farms. What Simpliciano can’t forage on location, he grows himself at one of three farms he manages. Local restaurants lend him certified kitchen space for the cooking; he repays the favor with bunches of beets and bananas. Food at Kupu events is served in creative containers: Bamboo husks become dinner plates; frozen lime rinds make perfect cups for coconut-lime-ginger gelato.
“Kupu” means “to sprout, grow or germinate” in Hawaiian, and it perfectly describes the camaraderie cultivated at these pop-up feasts. Diners forge relationships with the people who grow their food, communal seating encourages conversation among strangers and many Kupu attendees leave with new friends. When dinner wraps up and the bills are paid, Kupu Maui awards “leftover” money to the nonprofit of the hosting farm’s choice; 2012 donations totaled $5,800. “The food is good,” says Katz, “but the community thing really turns me on.” Reservations for Kupu Maui go live online at midnight two weeks before each event—and once-lackadaisical Mauians now set their alarms to avoid missing out.