Did this: Roast & Roots 2014

About a thousand people turned out for the inaugural “Roast & Roots” on the Big Island this weekend, an event showcasing local farmers, local products and local chefs. The Hawaii Coffee Association, Kamehameha Schools and the Hawaii Department of Agriculture collaborated on this with event planners The Feeding Leaf to help stimulate the “Buy Local” movement.

And there was a lot of movement on Saturday at the Sheraton Keahou Convention Center. So much, that I couldn’t get a shot of Les Apoliona and Roger Kaiwi, the men who actually brainstormed the concept and brought it to life. I did, however, get to judge in the cooking competition, where students from the West Hawaii culinary program were paired up with well-known chefs to create amazing dishes. This wasn’t a regular competition; it was educational, too.

The students started with play money, earned through a series of quizzes. At the end, they could use the money to bid on the ingredients for this competition, as well as “sabotages” that they could throw at the team of their choice to make the contest even harder. According to Tracey Apoliona of The Feeding Leaf, this helped to spur strategic thinking for the students and make them plan ahead. They then partnered with the chefs and revealed the ingredients, and worked together to learn how to bring out the best in the ingredients at hand — which, by the way, were obtained from within a 50 mile radius.

Here’s how the competition culminated:

Roast and Roots 2014

You know it's going to be a good day when this face greets you!

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After the judging, the students served up samples to the hordes of hungry attendees.

In addition to the competition, there was a “Buy Local” marketplace, a people’s choice coffee cupping contest featuring Kona and Ka’u coffees, a “mystery box” demo by legendary local chef Sam Choy, and live entertainment by local entertainers including Na Hoku Hanohano award winners Mark Yamanaka and Raiatea Helm. The cost for admission? Five dollars.

That’s right, with free parking, the entry fee got you a whole day of food samples, coffee samples, live entertainment and a lot of socializing. At the end, they told the audience they could take home the food items on display at the stage as well as the two full-grown banana trees used for decoration in the room. (Only in Hawaii!)

By the way, Rusty’s Hawaiian, a family farm in Ka’u, captured the People’s Choice award in the coffee cupping competition. I know Rusty’s is a favorite among the big coffee geeks out there, so that’s no surprise.

Roast and Roots 2014

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Based on the overwhelming success of this first event, it looks like there will be another one next year. We can’t wait!

These are just the highlights. To see all my photos from Roast & Roots 2014, click here.

Disclosure: Airfare and the $5 admission fee was provided by Kamehameha Schools.

Something new on Maui: Star Noodle’s StarsTruck

On my recent trip to Maui, my friend Julie Yoneyama suggested a little tweet up with some social media friends for lunch so we could check out the new food truck outside Star Noodle. If you’ve tried to get in to the restaurant at peak hours, you know that it can sometimes require a one- to two-hour wait, and local residents just don’t have that kind of time on a workday.

The new venue, called StarsTruck, doesn’t serve the same food as the restaurant, but still offers a number of fusion-y items that are easy to take out or simply eat at the picnic table in front of it. At the moment, it’s just open for lunch, but they’re going to see how it goes as it becomes more popular. After lunch we visited Star Noodle’s sister restaurant, Aloha Mixed Plate, to sample their soon-to-launch poi bowls featuring taro that they grow, harvest, and pound themselves. Now, that’s really local.

StarsTruck

If you go to Star Noodle in Lahaina and don't have time to wait for a table, you might think about trying their grab-and-go food truck, which is just outside their parking lot.

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To see all photos from this trip, click here.

New(ish) Maui eats: Sangrita Grill + Cantina

I recently had to go to The Valley Isle to service one of my clients, The Outlets of Maui, and it was the perfect chance to run around Lahaina and Kaanapali to see what was new since the last time I went. One restaurant that has been getting a lot of buzz — even from chefs — is Sangrita Grill + Cantina, which opened in April.

Owner/chef Paris Nabavi — who also created Pizza Paradiso Mediterranean Grill and Cilantro Mexican Grill on the island — invited me and some of my favorite twitter girlfriends over for dinner on the night he started live flamenco music to make it extra festive.

Now, Nabavi is Persian, but he came to Maui by way of Texas. He said he previously traveled to Mexico a lot due to the proximity, and became obsessed with Mexican cooking when he realized the most authentic items are not all fried and cheesy like the stuff we are used to here in the U.S. He found the ingredients were usually more fresh, and the dishes weren’t masked with oils, creams, or cheeses, so the flavors of the products shined through.

His knack for running restaurants is a no-brainer, since he’s a classically trained chef with a business background. Nabavi held executive-level positions as Director of Food and Beverage for Fairmont Hotels and the Kapalua Bay Hotel prior to launching his private restaurant ventures. Here’s what he ordered for us:

Sangrita Grill + Cantina

Sangrita is located in the Fairway Shops on the Kaanapali shuttle route, so it's easy to get to and there's lots of free parking.

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These are just the highlights. To see all the photos from my Maui excursion, click here.

Sangrita Grill + Cantina
2580 Kekaa Dr.
808-662-6000

New bites for Arancino Kahala’s first anniversary

Arancino has been around for about 20 years in Waikiki, but some of you may know that they expanded to the Kahala Resort a year ago to cater to a different, more upscale crowd. The old Napoli-style favorites at their original Waikiki location remain, but they’ve experimented with breakfast crepes at the Marriott Waikiki and more high-quality, artistic dishes at the Kahala.

Since they celebrated their first anniversary at the hotel last week, I went with Diane Seo to check out the new menu items. (Note: the Miyazaki A5 Wagyu is for a limited time only, for the celebration.) Other than the new items, you’ll find one major change: You can order ala carte, instead of being stuck with a fixed menu. They found that some diners weren’t always hungry enough for an entire meal; others just want to order what they want.

Arancino Kahala first anniversary

As always, one of my favorite starts to a meal at Arancino at the Kahala: Kahuku corn foam with prosciutto and more corn. It's so light, I wish I could eat a whole bowl. But I guess that's the point of an amuse bouche?

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Arancino at The Kahala
The Kahala Hotel & Resort
5000 Kahala Ave.
808-380-4400
www.arancino.com

Hawaii Food & Wine Festival: A look at the visiting chefs

There are 82 chefs and culinary talent from around the world featured at this year’s Hawaii Food & Wine Festival (HFWF), the biggest lineup so far for this fourth annual event.

Make no mistake, the food served by all of the stellar chefs is going to be fantastic, with fresh flavors presented in ways you may never have thought existed. They won’t be full servings, and probably won’t be exactly what you will find on the chefs’ regular restaurant menus, but they’ll bring their style and apply it to local ingredients, so you can get a taste — literally — of their talent.

Here’s a look at the restaurants from four of the visiting chefs, whose eateries I have visited.

Aziza — Mourad Lahlou

I got to eat at Aziza with a group of San Francisco foodie friends back when Vintage Cave’s Chris Kajioka was working there. (I’m not the fangirl type, so at the time, we didn’t know who either chef was; only that the food was supposed to be unique and delicious.) Lahlou was born and raised in Marrakech, and came to the United States when he was 18 to study economics. Missing his home cuisine, he taught himself to recreate his favorite Moroccan dishes using local ingredients.

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The Fourth Annual Hawaii Food & Wine Festival
August 29 to September 7, 2014
For more information, tickets, and the schedule, click here.