A Montage of Flavors
Navigating the walkways to reach the Grand Residence is an adventure. We follow Venus Yi, Montage marketing manager, along a winding path lined with red ginger and ferns; then ride the elevator up to the 4,000-square-foot oceanfront suite for our cooking demo. JoRene Valkirs, of Maui Ku‘ia Estate Chocolates, Book Trust’s Tori Speere; publisher Diane Haynes Woodburn, and I sigh with pleasure as we take in the décor—especially the gourmet kitchen.
Chef Chris Damskey greets us with Montage-embossed gift aprons and says, “The class today will cover poke and its history. One thing we need to get clear: Poke is not a salad topped with a little bit of fish. It is the fish itself!” Four sets of stainless-steel bowls, towels and knives line the counter, but there’s no fish in sight. Chef announces, “We have about forty pounds of fish and seafood, furikake, mayonnaise, sesame oil, homemade gochujang sauce, fresh wild ogo from Mākena, Haleakala Red Salt, green onions, Napili Flo Farm kimchi. . . .I had to stop myself, because there are so many ingredients you can add!”
He turns to the refrigerator, and lifts out a platter that holds a gigantic side of ‘ahi, caught yesterday and delivered by the fish market just this morning. Next, he brings out a beautiful red onaga, a gray-skinned kanpachi, and a filet of Ora King salmon from New Zealand. Slices of tako (octopus) sit on the table alongside a bowl of farm-raised Big Island abalone, each the size of a half-dollar. “If you can get abalone, make sure it’s small,” Chef advises. “It’s a lot more tender.”
“I’m curious about this,” Diane says, popping a slice of abalone into her mouth. Chris nods, encouraging us to taste everything, to familiarize ourselves with ingredients we’ll pick for the poke dishes we’ll each create. He portions the ‘ahi into blocks, cubes them, and mixes a batch to show us how easy it is to make. Then he gives us free rein to create our own poke, using whatever we like. “Be sure the saltiness is balanced,” he advises.
For the next half hour, we happily practice our poke skills. Diane fills a bowl with ‘ahi, mayo, tobiko and sriracha hot sauce; Tori tosses sliced salmon with furikake, sesame seeds, soy and chili pepper water; and JoRene mixes slices of abalone with sesame oil, green onions, shoyu and ogo. With our serving bowls filled, we all adjourn to the dining table with glasses of pinot and viognier, sharing and critiquing our creations. Could there be a better way to conclude this delightful experience? Diane thinks of one: to return to Montage with her sisters on their next Maui visit. For information on private chef-led cooking classes, visit MKBevents@MontageHotels.com.
Web Exclusive: Find recipes for Chef Chris’s poke at MauiMagazine.net/raw-fish-poke.