From Farm to Fork
Two delicious Maui dining experiences take us back to our roots.
Market Fresh Bistro
At the back door of Market Fresh Bistro, co-owner and chef Justin Pardo hefts in boxes overflowing with fresh broccoli, rainbow chard, arugula, and beets from Kupa‘a Farms. As the chef surveys his Thursday delivery, you can almost see new recipes forming in the intensity of his gaze. “This was just picked this morning,” he says, “and it will be gone by Saturday.”
Pardo is passionate about his restaurant’s food—not just how it tastes, but where it comes from, and how long it takes to travel from the farm to your fork. His stated mission is to source ingredients from within one hundred miles of his Makawao kitchen. During Market Fresh Bistro’s first year of business, the restaurant dished up over 24,000 pounds of Maui-grown fruits and vegetables.
Pardo took over the eighteen-table courtyard restaurant in January of 2009, along with his sister, Olivia Coletti, and her boyfriend, David Magenheim. Originally from New York, the trio function as a cosmopolitan, super-attentive team; they greet regulars by name and offer coffee drinkers to-go cups as they depart.
Their local fan base is already well established, particularly where the twice-monthly farm dinners are concerned. Every other Thursday, the chef creates a prix-fixe menu showcasing a single farm’s harvest. Advertised by word of mouth, these one-farm feasts sell out far in advance. A portion of the proceeds goes to Makawao Elementary, where young locavores-in-training manage a school garden.
Kupa‘a Farms is among Pardo’s top picks for produce. The four-acre Eden in lower Kula supplies fresh taro corms for his outstanding taro-crusted fish entree. Grated and pan-fried into a crisp crust, the traditional Hawaiian starch provides a perfect textural contrast to moist, flakey mahi mahi.
Pardo celebrates his favorite growers by serving the fruits of their labor at the peak of ripeness. “If you order asparagus,” he says, his native Bronx accent emerging as he punctuates each word, “I want you to taste that asparagus.”
Pardo’s thoughtfully conceived menu changes as local crops come in and out of season. Stop by Saturday evening and you might find a savory ragu that’s been slow-roasted for two days, made with Haleakala Ranch lamb; or braised fennel from Coca Farms with Tasmanian salmon, a regional specialty that’s only available a few weeks out of the year. For breakfast, daily frittata specials feature Kula asparagus or Hamakua mushrooms. Diners have the option of paying two dollars more for free-range eggs from nearby Olinda.
Are the locally raised delicacies worth the extra coin? You bet. Fresh-laid eggs have a more vibrant, “eggier” flavor than those that have lost taste and nutrients while sitting on delivery docks. And after all, who wants to eat food with jet lag?
Diners can take their farm fetish a step further at O‘o Farm, where lunch is served a biscuit’s toss from where it was grown. At 3,400 feet, O’o Farm inhabits a cool, misty microclimate with a stunning view of Central Maui. Twice a week, guests are invited to wind their way through the farm’s orchard to a rustic table set beneath a vine-covered canopy.
Exotic citrus fruits dangle from tree branches and dragonflies dart above hummocks of rich soil. During a pre-lunch tour, farm manager Richard Clark describes how a forward-thinking restaurant partnership created this verdant, productive landscape.
In 2000, the owners of I’O, Pacific’O, ‘Aina Gourmet and the Feast at Lele invested in 8.5 fertile acres Upcountry. With help from their restaurant-staff-turned-farmhands, Louie Coulombe, Stephan Bel Robert and Executive Chef James McDonald cleared invasive wattle trees and began planting what their sous chefs wanted in the pantry. Ten years later, O’o Farm boasts more than sixty crops, including colorful Russian kale, yellowstone carrots, daikon, jicama, sorrel, and, most recently, coffee.
While O’o isn’t certified organic or biodynamic, it’s run according to the strict principles of both. Rather than resort to pesticides, Clark plants cover crops to keep down weeds. Thick borders of lemongrass repel hungry insects from tidy rows of lettuce, while wildflowers attract beneficial bugs and pollinators. And that steaming pile of plant cuttings in the corner? That’s the farm’s soil factory; a robust composting program ensures that the nutrients absorbed by the farm’s crops are recycled back into the earth.
O’o Farm doesn’t meet 100 percent of the restaurants’ needs, but it does supply all of the leafy greens and herbs, and many of the seasonal crops, such as asparagus, artichoke and stone fruit. The heirloom gold and ruby beets are a staple at I’O restaurant, where Chef McDonald serves them with pesto and pine nuts.
“It’s an interesting tango with the chefs,” says Clark. “They tell us what they want and we tell them what we can grow.” When chefs clamored for a dozen brassicas (plants in the cabbage, brussels sprout, and broccoli family), Clark limited them to six. Brassicas are pest magnets; planting too many might tip the farm’s careful ecological balance. Initially, Chef McDonald expected the farm to provide all the Maui onions he needed. To fill that order, says Clark, he’d have to grow nothing but onions.
Instead, a happy compromise has been won: O’o Farm produces a diverse array of specialty crops that the chefs would be hard-pressed to find anywhere else. To augment the farm’s income, Clark and ‘Aina Gourmet’s Chef Sean Christenson began hosting luncheons onsite three years ago.
“Nothing motivates a chef more than walking through the garden,” says Christenson.
Guests finish their tour by foraging for crisp lettuce leaves, while Christenson prepares lunch: moist chunks of ‘opakapaka, a local snapper, simmered in coconut milk with Swiss chard. As leafy handfuls are delivered to the chef, he creates a picturesque salad topped with pink-striped watermelon radish, kohlrabi, snow peas, and red dragon carrots.
Guests take seats around the handsome outdoor dining table—another product of the farm. Co-owner Stephan Bel Robert crafted the table and canopy posts from trees felled at the property. The happy diners pass around bottles of wine they brought with them. Between mouthfuls, they emit appreciative oohs and aahs.
If supporting this kind of intimacy between farm and kitchen appeals to you, mark your calendar for April 3rd. The second annual Maui County Farm Bureau’s Ag Festival will create a fertile environment for chefs, ranchers, and vegetable growers to collaborate. The festival’s Taste Education is exactly that—an education for chefs, agriculturalists and consumers alike. Beneath an enormous tent, restaurant sous chefs will pair up with farmers to create small dishes celebrating Maui’s bountiful harvest.
Not surprisingly, Market Fresh Bistro will partner with Kupa‘a Farms and O’o with its own restaurant family. But for many participants and attendees, Taste Education will be an opportunity to forge new relationships and discover new flavor combinations.
For more information on the Ag Festival visit www.mauicountyfarmbureau.org.
Market Fresh Bistro
3620 Baldwin Ave., Makawao
Monday–Saturday, 8 a.m.–3 p.m.
Thursday–Saturday, 5:30–8:30 p.m.
651 Waipoli Rd., Kula
Wednesday & Thursday, 10:30 a.m.–1 p.m.