Story by Marti Rosenquist
Every year, Maui No Ka ‘Oi Magazine sponsors a Best of the Fest competition at the Kapalua Wine & Food Festival’s seafood extravaganza on the event’s final evening. This year the Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua, took the reins, hosting the event on the lawns adjacent to D. T. Fleming Beach. The party on the shore was more gorgeous and well attended than ever. The weather was perfect for a soiree in an open-air tent. Bright, fuchsia-colored Japanese lanterns put partygoers in the mood for food (and wine), and once the sun had set, colored spotlights highlighted the sand and foam of the nearby beach.
Fourteen restaurants competed in this year’s Best of Fest cook-off. Judging the highest ranking from such an outstanding field was akin to determining the winner of an Olympic race without the benefit of a stopwatch. With so many superlative competitors running neck and neck, each presenting two original, tasty, and eye-pleasing dishes for the appreciative partygoers, judges were hard pressed to determine which would snag the title.
Would the winner be the gorgeous ceviche served in a martini glass by Makena Beach & Golf Resort chefs? The delectable Kona kampachi misoyaki with lobster cream served in a cute little tin by the Hyatt Regency’s Japengo? The hamachi crudo prepared by Chef Jojo Vasquez of the Ritz-Carlton’s Banyan Tree Restaurant? Or the delightfully earthy porcini-rubbed ahi by Capische’s Executive Chef Brian Etheridge?
Charged with the difficult decision were Master Sommelier Michael Jordan, serving as this year’s festival host; Diane Haynes Woodburn, publisher of Maui No Ka ‘Oi Magazine; Allen Methven, of the Methven Family Wineries in Oregon (with tasting assistance from his beautiful wife, Jill); Stephanie Hua, Lick My Plate blogger and Bay Area Bites reporter; and yours truly, Marti Rosenquist, dining editor of Maui No Ka ‘Oi.
After much deliberation, along with repeat tastings of food and samplings of wine (for professional purposes only, of course!), we five judges concurred that Mala Ocean Tavern had won Best of Fest with Mark Ellman’s uncomplicated ahi bruschetta.
Who of better palate than Master Sommelier Michael Jordan to sum up our voting rationale: “This dish is perfection. You have this gorgeous seafood, wonderful texture in the flax bread, sweet and savory flavors in the balsamic, freshness and beauty in the greens and heirloom tomatoes, and the added surprise of edamame puree. I love that this uses so many local ingredients. Plus, it’s easy to hold and a cinch to bite; it was just made for festival eating.”
It’s been quite a year for Ellman, who also took home the Lifetime Achievement Award at Maui No Ka ‘Oi’s ‘Aipono Gala in April, and whose restaurant Honu reeled in the gold in the 2012 ‘Aipono poll as new restaurant of the year, and silver for the most innovative menu. Thanks to the aloha-practicing restaurateur for sharing his delightful recipe with our readers.