Hungry for sweet Kula corn? You may taste it fresh off the cob from Syl's Farm in Kula, prepared as custard and served with duck breast in soy glaze by chefs from The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua.
Or how about ripe, juicy tomatoes from Olowalu Nui Farm? They'll be cooked into a rich Pomodoro sauce served on penne pasta by Basil Tomato Italian Grille.
You may check out these dishes and more from 13 booths pairing top Maui chefs with a host of ranchers and farmers at the fourth annual Grand Taste Education as part of the Maui County Agricultural Festival on April 2 outdoors in Waikapu.
Ryan Luckey of Pineapple Grill in Kapalua is the chef coordinator of this year’s event. Just like other participating chefs, Luckey will team with a farmer or a rancher. He’ll work with John Austin of the new Keawa Nui prawn farm in Molokai.
STEVE BRINKMAN photo
While much of the festival is free such as the flower demos, the livestock exhibits and the keiki zone, the Grand Taste Education tents will charge admission.
Tickets are being snapped up fast, as it's tough to find a reasonably priced sampling of food from Maui's top restaurants since festivals such as A Taste of Lahaina have gone by the economic wayside.
Grand Taste Education takes it even a step further by letting you meet the person who grows the food as well as the chef who cooks the dish for you.
* What: Grand Taste Education offers attendees tastes by top Maui chefs, ranchers and farmers from 13 booths. Enjoy free presentations throughout the day.
* Where: Outdoors at the Maui Tropical Plantation in Waikapu.
* When: April 2 in two sessions: from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and from 1:30 to 3 p.m.
* Advance tickets: Available now through Wednesday. Cost is $25 adults and $15 for children 12 and younger.
* After Wednesday: Cost will be $30 for adults and $20 for children 12 and younger.
* For tickets: Call 243-2290.
"I'm very excited about this year's ag fest," says Ryan Luckey, chef coordinator as well as chef partner at the award-winning Pineapple Grill Kapalua.
"With Charlene Ka'uhane's leadership, we are on course for another great event, and personally I am proud to be a small part in honoring our farmers here on Maui. That's what we really wanted to focus on this year: the farmers."
"We, as chefs, cannot create without their beautiful products, so in our taste-education area, we really want to teach our population about eating healthy vegetables consistently and enjoying what our island climates have to offer."
Since Maui features numerous climate zones, it is diverse in that it grows everything from cabbage to exotic fruit, from grass-fed beef to pork.
"The chef lineup is strong, too," Luckey says. "We are excited to bring back James McDonald from Pacific'o/I'o/O'o farm this year. It's a big plus. We'll also have Peter Merriman, our advisor, as well as Scott McGill, Justin Pardo, just to name a few. Some chefs will be in attendance, and some will be speaking with paired farmers about cooking and growing."
Luckey will be paired with John Austin of Keawa Nui prawn farm on Molokai, and the team will feature the white shrimp that are only available on Maui at Maui Prime Fine Foods in Lahaina and select restaurants.
"We'll feature his beautiful shrimp, and then talk story about his operation and offer tips on preparing and combining proteins and vegetables to make a balanced, nutritious meal," says Luckey. "I will make sweet chile grilled Molokai prawns with garlic fried rice for sampling."
Merriman, a consummate chef and pied piper of local food products, will pair with rancher Alex Franco Maui Cattle Co. to talk and make Korean beef tacos. Now, that sounds different.
Merriman won the Friend of Agriculture Award two times at this event. Maui County Farm Bureau presents it to the chef or Maui restaurant that gives outstanding support of local agriculture through purchases, services and marketing.
Another winner was James McDonald, who will team with Richard Clark of O'o Farm in Kula to make Kaanapali coffee spiced pork over coconut kale. O'o supplies much of the food for McDonald's kitchens, and it's cutting edge.
The ever-effervescent Jennifer Nguyen of A Saigon Cafe in Wailuku will be paired with farmer Jamie Shishido of Shishido Farms in Kula. He's famous for growing kai choy, a Chinese mustard cabbage. The duo will wow the crowds with kai choy chicken rolls of the exotic and fresh Vietnamese kind.
"At A Saigon Cafe, we try to buy our produce solely from the gardens and farms of Maui," says Nguyen. "What we are not able to purchase on island, we try to grow ourselves. We feel that what we grow is as important as how it's grown. With that in mind, we have been learning the principals of biodynamic farming and gardening."
Chef Joey Macadangdang of Roy's Kahana will certainly make a statement with a whole pig from Sakugawa Farms, kiawe-wood roasted and carved on site. Attendees may savor this roasted pork served in steamed buns with cilantro and spicy ginger sauce.
If you simply want to attend the free ag festival and not pay to get in to the Grand Taste Education area, then check out the food booths to be set up with its own set of picnic tables.
You may dine on Uncle Lani's poi mochi, gourmet pizzas by Outrigger Pizza Co., chow fun and smoked meat plates by Maui Volleyball Girls Club, and Kula Romaine Caesar salads with a choice of shrimp or chicken by Takahashi Ohana. There will be much more.
You may also kick back and listen to the full entertainment lineup with emcee Alaka'i Paleka that includes Keali'i Reichel and his halau. Other highlights include giveaways, demonstrations, wellness and health demos and contests. Festival hours are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and parking is free.
Remember, bring your appetites!