Story by Becky Speere | Photography by Mieko Horikoshi
We’re at a blind food tasting at the 2018 Kapalua Wine and Food Festival’s finale, the annual seafood festival cosponsored by Alaska Airlines and Maui Nō Ka ‘Oi Magazine, and one dish captures the judges’ attention and taste buds: onaga (red snapper) ceviche marinated in coconut-mango broth with aji amarillo (Peruvian yellow chili pepper), avocado, and cherry tomatoes from O‘ahu’s Ho Farms. Who created this dish?
The honors for this “Best of the Fest” Gold Award went to Jason LaMotte, executive chef of Tommy Bahama Restaurant & Bar in The Shops at Wailea. The New Orleans native worked in his hometown under celebrity chef John Besh, then served as chef de cuisine for Gordon Ramsay’s Maze Restaurant in the food-centric city of Prague, where his culinary and teamwork skills helped to garner a Michelin star. His love of Hawai‘i led LaMotte to divide his time between O‘ahu and Maui for the better part of five years. Now settled on Maui, he finds himself working with the island’s best food products to create Tommy Bahama’s distinctive, delectable dishes.
The lucky judges were Daniel Chun, Alaska Airlines director of sales, community and public relations; Patrick Okubo, master sommelier, certified wine educator and certified specialist of spirits for Young’s Market Hawaii; Michael Garaghty, executive chef of Wüstof-Trident of America; and, representing MNKO, publisher Diane Haynes Woodburn and me, dining editor. Amid many standout dishes, LaMotte’s earned the Gold, with Chef Bret Pafford of Gannon’s taking the Silver for his Kona lobster spring roll with lychee sweet-and-sour. And fans voted the UH Maui College Culinary Arts Program their favorite for creations like Chef Craig Omori’s charred octopus with turnip mochi and aka miso red chili sauce garnished with sea asparagus.
“The seafood festival is one of our favorite (and delicious) events,” Daniel Chun enthused. “Every year, the participating chefs show off their amazing talents and creativity, featuring the best seafood and local flavors. It’s a tough job for the judges to select the winning dishes!”