Side Dish: Ohno Grinds

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ice skatingYowza! The 2010 ‘Aipono Awards Gala exceeded our wildest expectations. Every year, Maui No Ka ‘Oi celebrates the winners of its readers’ choice restaurant awards at a benefit for Maui Culinary Academy. The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua, graciously agreed to host this year’s event, allowing us to invite more industry insiders than ever before.

the resort pulled out all the stops. Island chefs and hoteliers showed up in style, pausing on the red carpet for the paparazzi. Who knew Da Kitchen could roll out the glam? MCA students and instructors wowed the crowd with creative appetizers . . . sous vide eye of chuck,   lobster corndogs. . . . Attending star chefs admitted that the academy schooled the professionals!

MCA’s longtime head chef, Bobby Santos, received a standing ovation along with a Lifetime Achievement Award. Chris Kaiwi of Pineapple Grill eloquently introduced Santos, honoring his contributions to culinary excellence on Maui. Santos’s students had the highest praise for their instructor. “He’s an inspiration,” said Natalie O‘Brien. Michael Wilson agreed. “He refined my knife cuts. He showed me how to handle the fryer. He taught me skills.”

Mad skills are undoubtedly what earned the prestigious Chef of the Year title for Cameron Lewark, of Spago at the Four Seasons Resort Wailea. The chef’s brother, in town for the event, sat beside him, beaming. Look out, James Beard. If the ‘Aipono Awards get any hotter, your New York food royalty will have to relocate to paradise! (So much for Hell’s Kitchen, heh heh.)

In other news, eight-time Olympic gold-medalist Apolo Ohno was recently on island, feasting like a food writer. He hit up Sansei in Kapalua, then headed to Lahaina Grill and David Paul’s Island Grill, and finished in Kahului at Ululani’s Shave Ice. After digging into a “Haleakala” shave ice loaded with ice cream, azuki beans, and mochi, the champion declared, “This is the bomb.”

Which reminds me—Miz G has noticed a proliferation of truffle oil around the island. Chefs, we urge you to disarm. We agree that truffles are irresistible. Truffle oil is not. Made with synthetic flavor, it bears only slight resemblance the fabulous fungi. At a recent chef’s tasting, four out of five courses were liberally doused with the stuff. Sign our anti-proliferation treaty now and STOP spreading the mushroom cloud of this often-overpowering oil. Thank you.

Good news for Wailuku: Maui Bake Shop reopened after busting its seams and expanding to twice the size. (Whew! We thought we’d have to make our own yule logs this year!) Further down Vineyard Street, Catering from Soup to Nuts has been busy renovating its new storefront. Fingers crossed that Chef Giles’s crab cakes and midnight cake with brandy mousse filling will be available  to go.

Have a sweet tooth in Ha‘iku? Head to Maui Kombucha (behind Ha‘iku Town Center) for the Double Deep Dark Cacao Tort. You will be in double deep dark heaven. The kombucha (fermented tea) is pretty darn angelic, too.

Special congratulations are due to Chef James McDonald of I’O, Pacific’O, Feast at Lele, ‘Aina Gourmet and O’o Farm. He snagged first prize in the Maui Onion Festival recipe contest against stiff competition, just days before his wife delivered baby #2. He’s also a new grandpa. McDonald says all this fertility has inspired him to create fresh new menu items.

In the immortal words of America’s 1950s housewives: “Save your fork—there’s pie!”

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