Side Dish: Onion Festival Judge

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Story by Gossip Gourmet | Illustration by Guy Junker

Maui onion festivalOur smile muscles are still sore! This year’s ‘Aipono Awards Gala might’ve been our best yet. The rousing “Support Our Chefs” theme really came to life when the audience honored 2009 Chef of the Year Perry Bateman with a standing ovation. Thanks to everyone who voted in our annual readers’ choice restaurant awards, and thanks to the chefs for being so deserving of celebration! The annual bash, a benefit for Maui Culinary Academy, raised a whopping $10,000. Mahalo!

Maui’s culinary outlets have been busy hosting all sorts of celebrity food folk, including: Rick Browne of Barbecue America, Ming Tsai of Simply Ming and Rachel Ray of TV shows, books, blogs, and magazines ad infinitum (perhaps ad nauseum?).

Barbecue master Rick Browne joined yours truly as a judge at the Maui Onion Festival. Turned your nose at this fragrant fest in the past, have you? Don’t repeat that mistake. It was awesome! Stilt walkers, food booths, a farmer’s market and a raw-onion-eating contest that had the audience wincing and crying with laughter. Gulp. Your faithful Gossip sweated it out in the judges’ tent, deliberating over outstanding entrees submitted by the illustrious chefs from I’O, Chez Paul, Side Street Inn, 3660 on the Rise, and David Paul’s Island Grill. David Paul took home the trophy—a lovely blown-glass onion bulb. But the real winner of the day wasn’t entered: the Hyatt’s caramelized onion truffle with Amaretto ganache. That’s right, I said onion truffle. A sprinkling of Hawaiian sea salt topped the tasty morsel. Sounds like a mistake, tasted like a miracle.

If judging the Onion Fest was tough, picking the “Best of the Fest” at the Kapalua wine fest’s Seafood Festival will be excruciating. As this mag goes to press, we’ll be flexing our taste buds under the tent at the fest. Check out the evening’s all-star lineup: Pineapple Grill, the Plantation House, Ruth’s Chris, Roy’s, Spago, I’O/Pacific’O, Banyan Tree, Kai, Capische, Lahaina Grill, Merriman’s Kapalua, and Son’z. Yowza! Miz Gossip will need a body double (or triple!) to taste all thirty dishes properly. Volunteers?

Gourmet grocery alert: Dodge the construction surrounding Honokowai’s new Honua Kai resort to find ‘Aina Gourmet—yet another brilliant project of Chef James McDonald and Stephan Coloumbe of Pacifico, I’o, and Feast at Lele. Nestled beside a water-lily-filled koi pond, this oh-so-sustainable deli is constructed of upcycled materials and hardwoods harvested from fallen Maui trees. Chef de Cuisine Sean Christenson mans the organic fort, dishing up colorful beet salads, roast-pork paninis and sorbets made from fruits plucked from O’o Farm orchards.

Sharpen your chopsticks: We hear that Aqua Resorts will be taking over the Diamond Resort, renaming it the Hotel Wailea and opening a trendy Nobu-style sushi bar.

All aboard for good grub: Cilantro Mexican Grill is now catering for Teralani snorkel charters and Skyline Eco Adventures’ zipline tours. Mouthwatering menus include rotisserie chicken sandwiches with avocado, and molasses fudge brownies with berries. Heck, that’s worth the price of admission! Don’t want to eat on the go? Get a take-home rotisserie bird for just $10 during Cilantro’s happy hour from 5 to 6 p.m. daily. Dee-lish!

The inaugural Wailea Restaurant Week at the end of May drew crowds to South Maui’s best restaurants. Prix fixe dinners were just $29/$39 per person, with $1 per entree donated to Maui Food Bank. That’s right—some of us plebeians could actually afford to eat at Duo! Whose arm do we twist to make this a regular event?

When celebrity Chef Ming Tsai was filming at the Fairmont Kea Lani recently, he asked Chef Jake Belmonte of Ko what makes Maui Cattle Company beeves so superior. Our local boy replied, “Of course, they’re fed with rainbows.” Amen!

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