By Becky Speere | Photos by Mieko Horikoshi
Traditionally, Maui Nō Ka ‘Oi hosts an annual Holiday Test Kitchen, inviting one of Maui’s finest chefs to put us through our paces and teach us step-by-step how to make a special holiday meal. But given this unprecedented year — and with our deadline looming — we had to take a different approach.
“Who’s going to cook?” asked publisher Diane Woodburn. “We need a chef.”
“You be the chef, Diane,” I suggested. “You love to cook! If you make the entrees we will bring the apps, sides and desserts.”
The staff, who are all very familiar with Diane’s cooking prowess, were immediately on board.
“I’ll make appetizers!” said subscription manager Nancy Wenske.
“I only know two recipes, spinach lasagna and kugel,” said consulting editor Rita Goldman.
“Please make kugel, Rita,” I responded, remembering her decadent noodle pudding from past MNKO office gatherings.
Website manager Adelle Lennox was happy to make her famous chocolate chip mini-Bundt cakes. “I made this recipe recently for friends and they loved it!” she said.
“Rita will love those!” I said, knowing her weakness for anything chocolate.
Lara McGlashan, our editor-in-chief, jumped in with a family fave. “Pumpkin bread is my go-to holiday recipe,” she said. “I’ve been making it since I was a kid.”
Group publisher Michael Haynes admitted that he didn’t inherit Diane’s passion for cooking. “I honestly can’t cook, so I’m bringing rice,” he said.
“I’ll cover the veggies,” I added. “Kumu Farms is donating a big box. And Hawaii Sea Spirits, MauiWine and Vitalitea will supply everything we need for our mixology cocktails. We’ve got it covered!”
On the day of the event, I arrive at the Woodburns’ Kula home and can immediately tell that Diane is in her happy place. She has been cleaning and prepping food for a week in anticipation of today’s photo shoot, and has brined a 20-pound turkey, baked golden challah loaves, and harvested flowers, herbs, onions, beets and carrots from her garden.
I peek into the oven at the big, bronzed turkey. It’s nearly done and the familiar savory aroma fills the dining room, reminding me of holidays past and eliciting a rumble from my stomach in anticipation.
Nancy opens a Tupperware to reveal beautiful Haleakala Creamery goat-cheese balls rolled in chives, pecans and cranberries. “These need a few finishing touches,” she says. She recruits Adelle and Lara to help insert a pretzel stick into each one and carefully tie long, thin chives into a bow around each pretzel — which is not as easy as it sounds!
Diane and my husband, Chris Speere (who today is playing food stylist), decorate the 15-foot ipe-wood dining table. They artfully position brilliant red bougainvillea, sunset-colored Moloka‘i mangoes, ripe papayas and an assortment of bright vegetables from Kumu Farms around fresh-cut olive branches from the Maui Olive Company orchard to complete the warm, Upcountry look.
“Let’s take the mixology photos,” I say. “They’re waiting out on the deck for you, Lara!” Lara’s been recruited to concoct the cocktails for the photos, largely because of her festive nail polish.
Outside, Mieko Horikoshi shoots some still images of the cocktail ingredients as Michael sets up cameras to film some web-exclusive video content. “The camera will just be here running, so act normal, Lara,” he says as Lara steps into frame.
“I don’t know if you really want me to do that!” jokes Lara as she opens a bottle of Hula O Maui sparkling wine from MauiWine.
Mieko directs the action as Lara pours a thick eggnog mixture into a stout glass. “Okay, now add the Kula rum,” says Mieko. Click-click-click! They shoot both cocktail recipes in a variety of angles, some close-up, some full-frame.
Once the mixology coverage is complete, each staffer goes onto the deck with her dish to talk about its ingredients and meaning. Mieko fires off several shots, then Michael records snippets of exposition to accompany the forthcoming web coverage.
Back inside, Chris tosses fresh mixed greens together with rich, emerald-green Maui olive oil. He then plates a leg of braised venison, garnishing it with a bouquet of fresh herbs from Diane’s garden.
“Our family friend Jeff Merle donated the venison,” Diane says. As adorable as the deer are on Maui, they are an invasive species that wreaks havoc on the island’s farms. This makes them the perfect protein source for our holiday table, simultaneously feeding the team and helping curb the deer’s damaging presence.
Mieko takes some shots of the venison, then sets up a tall ladder alongside the dining table for a wide overhead angle.
“Be careful!” says Rita, looking up at Mieko with concern.
“Oh, I’m used to being up on ladders,” says Mieko, then demonstrates her balancing skills by leaning over the top of the ladder to shoot straight down on the table, which is now set end-to-end with all our dishes. Click-click-click!
“Now, it’s time to do what we do best — eat!” I say.
“First, I want to say thanks to all of you for a great holiday kitchen shoot,” says Diane. “We’ll be doing this again very soon!”
We toast with crystal champagne classes filled with Hula O Maui sparkling pineapple wine, Vitalitea kombucha and azure butterfly pea flower water. Mieko moves around the room, capturing the scene, the smiles, the laughter — documenting what life on Maui means to us. Today, it’s a chance to connect with our friends and colleagues, to appreciate, honor and love one another — not just during the holidays, but all year long.