Sustaining Culture in Hāna

Hāna’s families teach acclaimed chefs about living off the land—and remind themselves what it means to be Hawaiian.

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Story by Lehia Apana | Photography by Kevin Brock

“I’m out of my element!” hollers Andrew Le, owner and executive chef of The Pig and the Lady on Oʻahu. Like a player in a game of Twister, he stretches one elbow to the sky and tucks his other arm behind his back, only his broad stance keeping him upright. He lets out a jittery laugh before acknowledging, “But that’s why I’m here.”

“Here” is Hāna, a remote town on Maui’s east coast that’s considered one of the last Hawaiian frontiers. Le has come to experience Hāna Kū, an invitation-only semiannual event that brings master chefs together with local fishermen, hunters, and farmers. Held at Ala Kukui, a nonprofit center for Native Hawaiian advancement, these intimate weekends are equal parts cultural classroom and chef’s table, sprinkled with Hāna charm.

Cloaked in a knotted throw net, Le crouches gingerly before releasing the glossy mesh in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it burst. The net unfurls into a circle before landing on the grass, and raucous delight erupts from the dozen or so onlookers. This is just practice; the true test comes moments later as the group heads makai (towards the ocean) to fish for the evening’s ingredients.

Chef Le shows off his newly acquired skills. Small weights around the mesh net help it spread across the water and sink to trap fish—when thrown correctly. “Andrew threw a pretty circular throw on his second or third try,” said an impressed Kau‘i Kanaka‘ole, who organized Hāna Kū. A few feet away, Chef Dave Caldiero of Town Hospitality Group prepares to test his throwing skills.

According to Kauʻi Kanakaʻole, Ala Kukui executive director and the weekend’s host, “Hāna kū” is a saying Hāna residents use to describe the more rustic, backcountry people who live simply, yet richly.” She launched the series in 2016 to celebrate local families who embody this lifestyle.

Hāna native Naihe Akoi (left) shows Chef Noguchi how to harvest vegetables for the evening’s meal.

Since that time, Kanakaʻole has welcomed the Akoi, Lind and Park families of Hāna—whose roots and ties to the area span generations—joined by a Who’s Who lineup of Maui chefs, including Isaac Bancaco, executive chef at Andaz Maui; Sheldon Simeon of Top Chef acclaim and owner of restaurants Tin Roof Maui and Lineage; Kyle Kawakami of the award-winning Maui Fresh Streatery food truck; and Bella Toland, former executive chef at Travaasa Hāna; as well as several chefs from Oʻahu and Hawaiʻi Island.

Watch this video to learn more about Hāna Ku:

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