Issue 17.4: August/September 2014

Regional Goes Global

Story by Mari Taketa

Photo by Dana Edmunds

The late summer sun sinks into the Pacific, bathing 850 diners in a pink-orange glow. Poolside at Waikiki’s Modern Honolulu, Masaharu Morimoto of Food Network’s Iron Chef hands out pork belly lettuce wraps with cucumber-papaya kim chee. Anita Lo of New York’s Annisa distributes Hawai‘i-farmed kampachi sashimi with kombu and avocado mousse. Au Bon Climat’s Jim Clendenen pours his Santa Barbara pinot noirs. Hubert Keller of San Francisco’s Fleur de Lys poses for pictures.

It’s another gala event at the Hawai‘i Food & Wine Festival, the state’s premier draw for global gourmets. What started four years ago as a weekend of workshops, field trips and grazing events across O‘ahu has grown to a full week, from August 29 to September 7, with fourteen events on three islands. The lineup includes eighty-two celebrity chefs from Hawai‘i, North America, Australia, Japan, South Korea and China— all de facto ambassadors for Hawai‘i. “We ask the chefs to use Hawai‘i ingredients to make their specialty dishes. Use our fish, use our sweet potato, use our taro, use our fruits,” says chef-restaurateur Roy Yamaguchi. “Then they’re out there saying, ‘You’ve got to go to Hawai‘i because the papayas or the fish or the beef is great.’”

The festival is a second coming-of-age for Hawai‘i’s food scene. The first happened a generation ago when the Hawai‘i Regional Cuisine movement paired classically trained chefs with local farmers. Yamaguchi was rounding up chef and farmer friends for fundraising dinners for the Hawaii Farm Bureau Federation when he got the idea to take it up a few notches and showcase the entire state. He called up fellow chef-restaurateur Alan Wong, and together with Yamaguchi’s wife, Denise Hayashi, they got to work.

More than five thousand people a year show up for themed events like “A Lucky Modern Buddha Belly,” featuring Asian-inspired dishes, and “Corks and Forks,” presented by Hawaiian Airlines. For Yamaguchi, now a culinary elder statesman, the festival doesn’t end with the last gala. “Culinary students we recruit to help out, kids who are not able to experience this type of cuisine on the Mainland—they get really jazzed up and it changes their lives,” he says. “It’s cool stuff.”