In With the New
This year’s Aipono winners shine at the latest trends.
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If you dine out often, as I do, you may have noticed over the past few years that pork bellies became popular on gourmet wine-dinner menus, and that that once-maligned childhood favorite, mac ‘n cheese, was suddenly sporting the scent of truffles and taking center stage at five-star dining establishments.
Trends, like human nature, are often contradictory. In 2011, some Maui restaurants laughed in the face of “nannified” food-labeling mandates, responding with Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell highly caloric (and oh-so satisfying!) menu items. Others delighted diners by promoting the trend known as Food for Sex (highly nutritious foods that promote vigor and energy).
Every year the National Restaurant Association, various food publications, and influential food-trend watchers release lists of what they believe is de rigueur. Thirteen of those trends are well represented on Maui by restaurants that are also multiple Aipono Award winners. No surprise, since these trends are all about respect for the environment and a playful celebration of what’s best in life. Call it “culinary aloha.”
Maui Restaurants That Set the Trends
This year’s Restaurant of the Year, Star Noodle, has been spot-on at spotting food trends from day one. (Star also captured the Gold Aipono for Most Innovative Menu, Best Epicurean Twist on a Local Favorite, and Best Asian.) It was the ever-affable Sheldon Simeon, Aipono’s 2011 Chef of the Year, who first turned us on to Fried Veggies, using fiddlehead ferns and Brussel sprouts, then cranked up the volume on so many delicious variations of Noodles that we’re eternally grateful everything comes on a Small Plate!
Star’s daily specials often veer into Daredevil Dining territory, offering fare outside even the most adventurous gourmand’s comfort zone, such as ahi belly and fried onions or sous vide rib eye with pureed blackberries. As a result, my appreciation for unlikely combinations expanded in 2011 (as did my waistline). It’s no secret that Chef often goes Pork Belly Up—he even created a controversial (but appealing) deconstructed version of the dish for the Noble Chef event in October 2011.
Inspired by his Hawaiian heritage and Asian influences, Chef has taken the concept of Asian Fusion 2.0 to a new level. Terms like usukuchi, har gau, faux-nagi, pickled ogo and nuoc cham now roll trippingly off the tongues of Star Noodle social-media fans. As for Being Big and Acting Small, even after recently winning Food & Wine’s “People’s Best New Chef” award for the Pacific and Northwest, Chef Sheldon posted on his Facebook page, “This award also represents all of the amazing chefs here in Hawaii. I am humbled by your talents and your continued efforts to push Hawaii culinary arts to the next level.” What a chef! What a restaurant!
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