By Diane Haynes Woodburn
When I was growing up in the fifties (before the Earth’s crust had cooled), gourmet was not part of my vocabulary, nor anyone else’s in my life. Oil was oil and it came in a big bottle called Wesson. (Infused? You gotta be kidding!) “Meatloaf” was not a pejorative, and “fish” meant smoked cod from the deli. Embedded in my memory is one of my first dinner dates — not because of who I was with, but because of what I ordered. Trout. “It’s fresh,” my date bragged, his superior sophistication only slightly condescending. “You’ll like it.” It came to the table on a plain white plate, staring up at me with its little fish lips agape; forty-seven years later, my abject horror is still palpable. I’m not sure whose eyes bulged more — mine, or the trout’s.
The best cook I knew was my mother. She was a genius at turning low-budget items into delicious family meals. One such specialty was “Spanish tongue.” Mom made it in a huge pot from which we ladled copious helpings of the tender meat, corn, carrots and peas that were simmered in a light aromatic tomato sauce and served over buttered egg noodles.
It was no easy process. Mom first boiled the meat in a spiced broth for several hours. Then, using a huge two-pronged fork, she heaved the giant thing out of the steaming pot and onto a cutting board that pulled out of the cabinetry like a drawer and sagged precariously under the weight. With a sharp knife and the skill of a surgeon, she cut through the tough outer skin and dexterously peeled it away, then carved the soft interior into small slices that we stole from the cutting board while she pretended not to notice.
It wasn’t until I was in my late teens that I realized we were eating an actual cow’s tongue. (Talk about denial!) After my epiphany I would have nothing to do with Spanish tongue. Today, however, I would love to be in that warm kitchen with Mom to share a plate of her delicious concoction and pronounce it truly gourmet.
This issue of MNKO is all about gourmet: the chefs, restaurants and small-kine eateries that create the best dining on Maui — and, as far as I’m concerned, anywhere on Earth (now that the surface is cool enough to sustain life). Savor these pages, and you will find more than fifty winning restaurants as voted by you, our readers, in thirty-six categories, including most romantic, best Hawai‘i Regional cuisine, best fish (no trout, please), and of course, Restaurant of the Year. We’ve also added new categories, and are happy to pass along your tips on where to find the best shave ice, fish tacos and poke.
While our readers determine most of our awards, one exception is Chef of the Year. Months ago, we invited Maui chefs to nominate the peer they hold in highest regard. More chefs voted this year than ever before, and their comments reveal a genuine warmth and admiration for our winner, not only because of his innovative and downright delicious creations, but also because of his generosity in giving back to community. He’s not alone.
In this ‘Aipono issue, we are proud to share with you a few of the many ways our island’s chefs and restaurants make Maui a better place: educating and inspiring youngsters by contributing to school gardens and teaching students how to prepare dishes from foods they’ve grown themselves; holding fundraisers to help those who have weathered disasters locally and across the Pacific; and supporting local agriculture, which helps us build a sustainable future. You’ll even read how an idea as simple as a lemonade stand sweetens many lives.
I think of my mother’s cooking often and the many hours my sister and I shared with her, helping, laughing and learning.
The kitchen is the heart of the home — just as our Maui chefs are the heart of our community — sharing, teaching, and nurturing. Mahalo to our family of chefs, restaurateurs and educators, who make our community a better and more delicious place, every day.