Maui County Agricultural Festival is galloping toward us like a horse out of the gate. Now in its fifth year, the fest is coming up right around the corner from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, April 7.
Mark your calendars if you want to learn more about and taste what is being grown on the island, as this is Maui's signature ag event. The scenic luau grounds at Maui Tropical Plantation in Waikapu will once again provide the venue.
While the festival is free and open to the public, there is an event within the event, so to speak, which regulars say is the "best deal in town." For $25 in advance and $30 at the door, it's worth every bite.
Denise Hayashi. (left) wife of acclaimed Chef Roy Yamaguchi, and Maui County Councilman Mike Victorino check out the food prepared by private chef Riko Bartolomo of Asiavous LLC (right) last year. Festival organizers expect more than 7,500 people to attend this year. Smaller crowds will attend the Grand Taste Education.
STEVE BRINKMAN photo
That's because you may taste foods from 12 booths that are manned by chef-and-farmer teams, talk story with them, discover the beauty of agriculture on Maui and learn from experts in stage demonstrations.
"The best way to support local agriculture is to buy and eat what Maui grows," says Warren K. Watanabe, executive director of Maui County Farm Bureau.
"The Grand Taste Education offers ticket holders the best opportunity to have fresh, local and flavorful food for the best value on Maui."
For instance, Chef Isaac Bancaco of Grand Wailea will team with farmers Lynn and Russell DeCoite of L&R Farm on Molokai to serve Molokai sweet-potato andagi with milkshakes sweetened with honey that is raised on the rooftop of the hotel. For the uninitiated, andagi are Okinawan donuts, which are deep-fried.
Chef Marc McDowell of Makena Beach & Golf Resort will team with pig farmer David Finch of Malama Farm in Haiku to present porchetta (pork) mini-sliders with crackling crusts and juicy meat, along with frisse lettuce, fava beans and fingerling potatoes.
Come hungry as the Grand Taste Education is for three hours from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. The chef-farmer teams will be introduced from 10 to 11 a.m., and a number of national and local judges will vote on entries at that time.
Chris Speere, external program coordinator of Maui Culinary Academy, and Peter Merriman, of Merriman's restaurants, will serve as co-emcees.
Learn about yacon, a tuber from the Central Andes that is like jicama with nuances of violet. Chef Jeffery Heubshman of Whole Foods Market will team with Bill and Marta Greenleaf of Greenleaf Farm to serve chipotle-roasted yacon and shrimp salad.
Chefs Francois Milliet and Wesley Holder of Westin Ka'anapali Ocean Resort Villas will pair with Ho'o Pono Farms to make eggplant parmigiana.
Chefs Scott McGill and Chris Schuber of Hula Grill will get taro from Loi's of Honokohau to make pork-and-fish laulau with taro-root fries, and roasted chili-coconut-taro sauce with cilantro-oil drizzle.
Other chef-farmer participants are Jennifer Nguyen of A Saigon Cafe and Jamie Shishido of Shishido Farm, who will do shredded-cabbage-and-chicken salad. Jojo Vasquez of The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua will team with Alika Atay of Maui Sweet Potato Co. to cool you off with sweet-potato ice cream; and Ivan Pahk of Cane & Taro will do a fish dish, farmer or fisher unknown.
Joey Macadangdang of Roy's Kaanapali (which just had its soft opening two weeks ago) will pair with NELHA, the Natural Energy Lab Hawaii on the Big Island, to make Kona kampachi crudo. Crudo means raw, and this will be served with pickled root vegetables.
Chefs Tylun Pang and George Agcolicol of Fairmont Kea Lani Maui will partner with Alex Franco of Maui Cattle Co. for Ko-style Korean beef jun sushi.
Ko is Fairmont's signature restaurant that will reopen April 1 after a $5.6 million redo, and this will be on the menu.
Speaking of new restaurants, James Beard Award-winner Alan Wong of Oahu, who is targeting May as the opening month for his Alan Wong's Amasia at the Grand Wailea, will make an appearance.
"Chef Wong will share his work on sustainability and what a sustainable Maui really means," says event publicist Charlene Ka'uhane.
In addition, Ian Cole of the Breadfruit Institute that's part of the National Tropical Botanical Gardens in Hana will team with private chef Riko Bartolome of Asiavous to tell you all about ulu, or breadfruit. Cole manages the largest ulu collection in the world. They'll make pan-fried smoked salmon ulu cakes with tapioca tartar sauce.
In the Nutrition Tent, bring the children to Whole Foods Market's Heathy Keiki Kitchen. Well-known North Shore Chef Jenna Haugaard and restaurateur Paris Nabavi of Pizza Paradiso and Cilantro fame will offer free classes for keiki 5 to 12 years old.
Let them learn how to make Maui Gold pineapple salsa pizza and natural soda with Haugaard; and guacamole with avocados ground in a molcajete (Mexican mortar and pestle) and turkey club pinwheels with Nabavi.
Check it out, eat and learn. It'll be worth every bite!