Every day, when I come to work and turn on my computer, emails start to pour in about every kind of festival under the Hawaiian sun - and beyond.
I salivate at the prospect of schmoozing with the nation's most acclaimed chefs at Vegas Uncork'd by Bon Appetit. I dream about attending Ka'anapali Fresh, which this year will team with Hawaii Food & Wine Festival on Oahu, to bring in the top guns in the industry to the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort & Spa.
Here are some of my favorite picks. This is in no way a comprehensive lineup, and there are many other noteworthy island events I'll explore later in the Maui Scene section. Loosen your belts, and get ready to grind!
Taste beers from more than 30 craft breweries, sample pupu from at least 20 of Maui’s popular restaurants and food trucks, and groove to live music by Nuff Sedd, Lia Live! and Simply Twisted at Maui Brewers Festival.
TONY NOVAK-CLIFFORD photo
Tylun Pang of Fairmont Kea Lani, Maui (from left), Jeff Scheer of Maui Executive Catering and Riko Bartolome of Asia-Vous are among chefs participating in the Grand Taste Education segment.
STEVE BRINKMAN photo
Shaka Pops won the Maui Product to Market contest in 2012. Look for Shaka Pops in the Food Booth area.
SHAKA POPS photo
The 21st annual East Maui Taro Festival will be pounding with culture, fun, food, music and more April 20 at Hana Ballpark. It’s all about taro, or “kalo,” the starchy Hawaiian staple made into poi.
Photo courtesy Travaasa Hana
Ka‘anapali Fresh and Hawai‘i Wine & Food Festival will team up Sept. 1 at the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort & Spa with seven of the nation’s top culinary talents.
Photo courtesy Hawaii Wine & Food Festival
Kapalua Wine & Food Festival will bring in two of San Francisco’s finest chefs and you may savor cuisine by local award winners and sip from hundreds of wines.
THE RITZ-CARLTON, KAPALUA photo
Celebration of the Arts
From Friday to March 31
at The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua
Now in its 21st year, the event is all about Hawaiian culture and bringing together some of the state's most reputable artisans as well as educators, entertainers and cultural practitioners.
This year's theme, 'E ulu . . . e ulu mau . . . to grow and grow forever,' gives a nod to the days of old Hawaii while looking to the future.
But for me, it's all about the Hawaiian food. This year's highlights will include a panel discussion on food sovereignty and an awa tasting that will be presented like a wine seminar. The Celebration Lu'au and Show is also a big draw. It will be held from 6 to 8:30 p.m. Saturday.
"The luau will almost be like a variety show this year," says Clifford Nae'ole, the Ritz's cultural adviser and the founder of the event. "Kahulanui is a nine-piece jazz band from Kona that will rock the house. Its horn section is tough. They take it to the next level."
The luau fare is as authentic as it gets and includes fresh ahi and octopus poke, poi, kalua turkey, uala (sweet potato), opihi (limpets), laulau, kalua pig, chicken long rice and more.
* For tickets: Most of the daytime events are free and open to the public. The luau costs $90 for adults and $45 for children 5 to 12, plus tax and tip. Call 669-6200 or visit www.celebrationofthearts.org.
Maui County Ag Festival
April 6, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at
Maui Tropical Plantation in Waikapu
The sixth annual Maui County Ag Festival is a literal one-stop "shop" for all of the people and the products, which make up Maui's diverse agricultural industry. The event is an opportunity to talk story with ranchers, chefs, farmers and purveyors.
This year, the 200th anniversary of coffee in the islands will be spotlighted. Attendees can check out the live culinary competition with Maui-grown coffee as the key ingredient. Sponsored by Kula Fields and Rimfire Imports, the Chefs Challenge is free and open to the public on the Main Stage from 2 to 2:30 p.m.
Emceeing the event will be island favorite Sheldon Simeon, chef of Star Noodle in Lahaina and Leoda's Kitchen & Pie Shop in Olowalu (who finished in third place recently on the popular Bravo Channel's "Top Chef" competition) and chef Perry Bateman of Mama's Fish House in Kuau.
They will coordinate the judging with distinguished food experts Mark Ellman and Chris Speere, as well as Mainland writers. The Chef's Challenge and the majority of other offerings at Maui Ag Fest are free and open to the public.
Festival attendees will be able to peruse Maui's largest Grown on Maui Farmers Market (they should bring their own reusable bag); check out the Maui Food Product to Market contest; and see the Food Innovation Center for panel discussions and presentations by successful Maui business people.
The festival's centerpiece will be the Grand Taste Education, where admission is $25 until March 31 and $30 from April 1 to 6. The event pairs 12 Maui farmers and their select produce with 12 of Maui's hottest chefs.
"This year their assignment is to take an item that might usually be served as a side dish and reinvent it as an entree," said Maui Ag Fest event publicist Charlene Kauhane. "Some of the featured products include breadfruit, peas, beets, papaya, cauliflower and taro."
* Aside from the Grand Taste Education, admission to the Ag Fest is free. Grand Taste tickets can be purchased online at www.mauicountyfarmbureau.org. For more details, see the Maui County Ag Festival supplement in the March 31 issue of The Maui News.
Front St. Jazz & Blues Walk
April 5 and 6
at restaurant venues on Front Street in Lahaina
Now, this is my kind of festival. It's kind of like a pub crawl with stellar island food and music combined.
Bill Burton, head of the Maui Jazz Society, will again bring in top musicians such as headliner Melveen Leed (who has obviously switched back from country to be in a jazz fest), and venues from Pioneer Inn to Hard Rock Cafe.
"The whole point is for you to stroll up and down Front Street, have a drink and a pupu at, say, Kimo's, and a drink and a pupu at Longhi's, enjoying top jazz and blues music," says Burton.
Other venues are Captain Jack's and the Old Lahaina Prison.
* For details: Call Burton at 661-0202 or visit facebook.com/thefrontstreetjazzandblueswalk.
Hawai'i Avocado Festival
From 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
April 13 at Sheraton Kona Resort & Spa
Big Island avocados will be the star of the show at the 7th annual Hawai'i Avocado Festival on the lawn fronting Sheraton Kona Resort & Spa at Keauhou Bay on Kaleiopapa Road.
Nicknamed the "alligator pear" because of their shape, skin and texture, avocados pack a nutritional punch and are a source of healthy monounsaturated fat, according to festival organizer Randyl Rupar, who adds that the popular annual event "supports Big Island food sustainability in a fun and informative way."
Event festivities include recipe contests, culinary demos, free avocado samplings, arts, crafts, food booths, healing arts and performing arts. The festival is free and open to the public.
* For details: Call (808) 334-3340 or visit www.avocadofestival.org.
13th annual Maui Matsuri
from 2 to 9 p.m. May 11
at UH-Maui College in Kahului
Natto may be an acquired taste because of its slimy texture and stinky smell. But the popular and traditional Japanese staple, made from soybeans fermented with Bacillus subtilis, will be spotlighted in a contest.
Yes, ooey-gooey natto- and slurp-the-noodles saimin-eating contests will be part of the fun, along with food booths, Obon dancing, craft and commercial vendors, demonstrations, exhibits and hands-on activities for adults.
* For more details: The event is free and open to the public. Call Maui Matsuri at 283-9999.
East Maui Taro Fest
from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
April 20 at Hana Ballpark and Travaasa Hana
The 21st annual cultural and food festival is all about taro, or "kalo." It's based on the "elder brother" of all plants and will be pounding with nonstop fun.
Enjoy Hawaiian music and hula and peruse the 20 food booths, the 40 arts-and-craft booths, the ag tent and the farmers market. Cultural demos of poi pounding, kapa cloth making and lauhala weaving will provide plenty of photo ops. It's family friendly and free and open to the public.
"We'll also have a couple of things happening at our Travaasa Hana property," says Danny Mynar, general manager and Hana boy. "We'll have a restaurant tent with drinks as well as fried poi balls and taro-based foods."
Travaasa Hana will offer hotel/airfare packages in conjunction with Mokulele Airlines.
Maui Brewers Festival
2:30 to 7 p.m.
May 18 at Maui Arts & Cultural Center's
The Maui Brewers Festival will be flowing with the best craft beers from Hawaii and beyond. Join hosts Maui Arts & Cultural Center, Maui Brewing Co. and Paradise Beverages for a leisurely day of tasting beers from more than 30 craft breweries, sampling pupu from at least 20 of Maui's popular restaurants and food trucks, and grooving to live music by Nuff Sedd, Lia Live! and Simply Twisted.
* Tickets: Cost is $50 for general admission, $60 on event day and $95 for a VIP Rare Beer Tasting (plus fees). Call the box office at 242-7469; or go to mauiarts.org.
Vintage Wine Weekend
May 24 to 26
at Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea
Last year, it was called Four Seasons, Four Pinots. But the event has expanded to include other top varietals along with a performance by Makana at the gala finale May 26.
The three-day party is under Four Seasons' Unforgettable Events series, featuring master sommeliers and top vintners. Wineries are Kosta Browne, Patz & Hall, Costa de Oro, Brewer-Clifton, Domaine de Chrisey and Witching Stick Wines.
The weekend will start May 24 with a VIP "Private Cellar" event inspired by La Paulee, a famous celebration in Burgundy.
On May 25, guests will take part in one of three winemaker dinners at Spago, Ferraro's and DUO.
The weekend will conclude with the Oceanfront Gala, featuring 40 exclusive wines and action stations set up across the wide lawn, where Makana will play Hawaiian slack key.
* For more details: Event tickets range from $115 to $195, plus tax and tip. Call the Four Seasons concierge team at 874-8000.
32nd Kapalua Wine & Food Festival
June 6 to 9
at The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua
The grandaddy of 'em all continues to mature like a fine wine with age, and it's still a ton of fun. The Ritz will bring in acclaimed winemakers as well as highly touted celebrity chefs Nancy Oakes and Gary Danko of San Francisco to do cooking demos with elegant lunches.
"The Kapalua Resort is once again proud to offer a stunning backdrop for such a high-caliber connoisseur's event," says Tom Donovan, vice president and general manager of The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua.
"The Kapalua-centric chef showcase on Friday night is going to be an outstanding demonstration of innovative talent within Kapalua Resort," he continues.
The Banyan Tree, Kai Sushi, Merriman's, Pineapple Grill, Plantation House and Sansei Seafood Restaurant & Sushi Bar will pull out all the stops to showcase Kapalua's premier culinary venues.
Interactive wine seminars will include Sparkling Wines and Cheese Tasting; Que Sera Syrah; Heroes of Pinot and Chardonnay; Pritchard Hill Gang Rides at Kapalua; and Napa Cabernet Brain Trust.
* For tickets: Visit www.kapaluawineandfoodfestival.com.
Maui Calls 2013
6 to 10 p.m. Aug. 9
at Maui Arts & Cultural Center's
open-air pavilion and outdoor amphitheater
Maui Calls is the MACC's annual signature benefit gala, which is celebrated under the stars with a much-anticipated theme that changes each year. Enjoy delectable cuisine by top Maui chefs paired with trendy fine wines served by vintners and their representatives from stellar wineries.
The gala welcomes you with a fresh flower lei greeting and continues with entertainment by a surprise guest plus a dance band as well as a chance to bid on hundreds of auction items from art and jewelry to golf and travel packages during silent and live auctions.
* Tickets: You must be 21 and older to attend. Call the box office at 242-7469; or visit www.mauiarts.org.
Aug. 30 and 31
at Kaanapali Resort venues
The two-day summer event will kick off Aug. 30 with inspired cocktails with mixologist Chandra Luariello at Royal Lahaina Resort; then the Progressive Dinner starting at Westin Maui Resort & Spa and ending at Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa with a show by Hawaiian ukulele virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro.
On Aug. 31, you may peruse the official Grown on Maui Farmers Market, then head to West Maui's top Farm-to-Table dinner under the stars on the third hole at Kaanapali Golf Course, where you'll eat gourmet cuisine, sip fine wines and listen to music by Amy Hanai'ali'i and Makana.
* For tickets: Visit www.kaanapaliresort.com.
3rd annual Hawaii Wine & Food Festival
Sept. 1 to 8
at various venues on Oahu and Hyatt Regency Maui in Kaanapali
Co-founded by Hawaii's James Beard Award-winning chefs Roy Yamaguchi and Alan Wong, the festival will be expanding to Maui.
Some of the most famous chefs from Hawaii, the Mainland and around the globe will create an unforgettable evening of delicious food and incredible wines to close the Ka'anapali Fresh fest.
You may savor a culinary tour with each chef and enjoy their unique cooking styles and flavors, highlighted by the state's produce, seafood, beef and poultry.
"We'll have seven top chefs on Maui," says Yamaguchi. "One name I can say right now is Rick Tramonto. He was on 'Top Chef Masters' and was at Tru in Chicago. He's one of the greats."
* For more details: Visit hawaiifoodandwinefestival.com.
Taste of the Hawaiian Range
at Hilton Waikoloa on the Big Island
Where's the beef? This year, you may sink your teeth into the hugely popular Mealani's Taste of the Hawaiian Range and Agriculture Festival from 6 to 8 p.m. Oct. 4 at Hilton Waikoloa Village on the Big Island.
Join ranchers, farmers, chefs and eager eaters as everyone celebrates the bounty of locally produced food in the massive venue that sprawls indoors and out by the lagoon.
Walk from booth to booth, savoring dishes using grass-fed beef, pork, lamb, goat, mutton and wild boar, plus fresh island fruit and veggies.
* For more details, Call (808) 969-8228.