Native Intelligence: Maui

As Hawaiian as ‘Ulu Pie

Story by Julia Steele. Photos by Sue Hudelson.

John Cadman is standing in the midst of the finest collection of breadfruit trees in the world, pole in hand, a stack of fruit piled around him. He’s been harvesting since the sun rose an hour and a half ago; given all the picking going on, it’s surprising when he turns and says, “I didn’t pick breadfruit. Breadfruit picked me.” Of course, he means breadfruit chose me—and choose him it did.

Cadman had had a long and varied food career on Maui when in 2013 he got a call from the Haleakalā chapter of Hawai‘i Farmers Union United: Could he do a cooking demo on ‘ulu (breadfruit)? He was game but knew almost nothing about it, so he headed for the breadfruit festival happening in Hāna, home of that world-class collection of ‘ulu trees. There Cadman took grand prize in the cook-off with a concoction called ‘Ulu Dynamite. Intrigued, he started exploring what was possible with the fruit and quickly “came to realize,” he says, “how valuable ‘ulu could and should be in our food supply.” At the same time he was also experimenting with making sugar-free, largely raw desserts for his own health reasons.

It all came together the evening Cadman drove by a fallen ‘ulu on the road. He didn’t stop, but he couldn’t get that ‘ulu out of his mind. The next morning he went back for it. When he fished it out of his truck three days later, it had ripened into a soft, sweet, aromatic delight. It was then that he had his self-described “ingredient epiphany”: Why not use ‘ulu in his desserts? Two years later Cadman’s celebrated concoctions, Pono Pies, are winning ‘ulu converts across the Islands; in 2014 the pies—which come in pumpkin, haupia sweet potato, mocha, chocolate, mojito or liliko‘i—won best new product at Whole Foods and Cadman won innovator of the year. He is a true locavore; in addition to Maui breadfruit, all Pono Pies use honey and macadamia nuts harvested on the island.

Cadman, who recently introduced ‘ulu hummus to the market, is convinced that ‘ulu is destined for big things, and he is happy to be leading the way. “Mark Twain had a saying,” he grins. “‘You know how to be successful? Find out where everybody’s going and get there first.’”

Pono-licious! John Cadman is the mastermind behind Pono Pies (at left), an award-winning new creation that uses breadfruit as its main ingredient. Cadman, here with fruit in hand and tree behind him, is dedicated to restoring breadfruit as a major food crop in Hawai‘i. “It has,” he says, “so much potential.”

Story by Julia Steele. Photos by Sue Hudelson