Hot Tamale!

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Story by Becky Speere  | Photography by Jose Morales

Kaanapali Fresh Winners
Chef Raymond Nicasio, Diane Woodburn, Becky Speere, and Chef Bobby Masters of Hula Grill.

Held Labor Day Weekend at Ka‘anapali Beach Resort, Ka‘anapali Fresh celebrates the collaboration of island farmers, ranchers, fishermen and chefs. Though the ingredients are local, this year’s winning dish has an international pedigree: a chef who arrived from the Philippines by way of Toronto and Texas; corn from Syl’s Produce in Kula, and a south-of-the-border recipe we can’t wait to share.

“Mmmmm. The perfect bite,” said my husband, Chris, as we savored the flavors: sweet roasted corn balanced with a slightly acidic fresh tomato emulsion, hinting of spice and smoke. The lightly peppered 2012 Syrah from Mantra Vineyards paired perfectly with the appetizer-size tamale that garnered first place in the Ka‘anapali Fresh competition.

corn tamales
Get this recipe for ti-leaf wrapped corn tamales!

High-fives and congratulatory whoops erupted as the Sheraton Maui accepted the award for best appetizer — and deservedly so. Executive Sous Chef Raymond Nicasio is a Texas transplant whose command of Southwestern flavors grabbed the attention of the judges: Diane Haynes Woodburn, publisher of Maui No Ka ‘Oi Magazine (a sponsor of Ka‘anapali Fresh); Alyssa Schwartz, social-media diva; Michelle Winner, president of the International Food Wine & Travel Writers Association; and me, dining editor of Maui No Ka ‘Oi.

Nicasio emphasizes the importance of allowing the natural flavors of fresh ingredients to speak for themselves. “I roasted the fresh corn to concentrate and caramelize the sugars and to add a little smokiness,” he said. “Then I cold-smoked the tomatoes with onions, jalapenos, and sweet red bell peppers with a little olive oil and salt.” Traditionally, tamales are wrapped in cornhusks, but Nicasio chose the local ti leaf as the wrap: “I wanted to make sure that each serving was moist. Since corn husks have a tendency to dry out, I opted for ti leaf, which retains the moisture.” Pureed huitlacoche, a natural fungus that grows on one out of ten corncobs, added a layer of earthy trufflelike flavor. Garnished with smoked-tomato emulsion and a floral burst of color from golden fennel pollen and bright orange nasturtium petals, the dish was complete.

Born in the Philippines, Nicasio worked in information technology in Toronto until his wife, Carla, accepted a nursing position in Texas. Following her, he also followed his growing passion for the culinary arts. Nicasio interned, and then worked in the kitchen of a country club catering to the likes of the Bushes, McCains and other political and social dignitaries. Thirteen years later, having never set foot in Hawai‘i, he answered an ad for a chef’s position in Ka‘anapali. The rest, happily for us, is history.

Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa
2605 Ka‘anapali Parkway, Ka‘anapali
661-0031 • sheraton-maui.com

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