Side Dish

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By Dining Diva

side_dish_sep2011Maui served up a literal feast of festivals for food lovers this summer. Diva spied many a winsome newcomer and familiar face at the thirtieth annual Kapalua Wine & Food Festival (June 9-12), whose Seafood Festival finale was hosted, as always, by Maui No Ka Oi. Kudos to Japengo’s Chef Gevin Utrillo, whose abalone shooter was voted Best of the Fest. (Get the recipe online here.)

The following week, the Maui Film Festival’s sold-out tasting parties, catered by Wailea’s exceptional chefs, proved that the silver screen has no monopoly on star power. MNKO was proud to sponsor a Soiree at Spago on the festival’s penultimate night.

In August, crowds materialized once again at Maui Calls, the Maui Arts & Cultural Center’s annual fundraiser, where nibbling on delectable morsels while sipping a glass or two supports the MACC’s art and education programs.

It’s hard to imagine, now that Hawaii Regional Cuisine enjoys worldwide respect and is de rigueur at such events, but prior to its founding two decades ago, top island chefs were expected to turn out continental cuisine using produce shipped from across the globe, and mahi mahi imported from Mexico. The shift in paradigm toward locally sourced ingredients and dishes that reflect Hawaii’s multicultural influences gave birth to a culinary movement with a sense of place (and put to rest bad jokes about the Islands’ food scene).

On September 19, the Hawaii Restaurant Association honors the twelve groundbreaking chefs who launched that cuisine by inducting them into the association’s Hall of Fame. Need I add that the roster includes Maui’s own Bev Gannon, Roy Yamaguchi, Mark Ellman and Peter Merriman? On that day, wherever you are, raise a glass to the chefs who have put so much spice into our lives.

The return of the Maui County Fair (September 29-October 2) will offer plenty of opportunities to satisfy your craving for local flavor at food booths run by the island’s worthy nonprofits. No wonder the longest lines on the midway lead to pulled pork, poi mochi, chicken hekka, funnel cakes, pronto pups . . . and, according to some, the island’s best chow fun.

Personally, I am a fan of the farm and ranch display tents where fairgoers can stand eye to eye with creatures that provide us with superb, locally raised foods. Wander past the cluckers and crowers in the poultry yard and give a nod of thanks for the organic free-range eggs available from small farms and growers here on island, compliments of our feathered friends.

Perhaps you’ve been thinking about raising a few nesting hens of your own. If so, come to the Slow Food Education class on September 28 at the Class Act Restaurant (Paina Building, UH-Maui College, 310 W. Kaahumanu Ave., Kahului). Retired Maui Culinary Academy instructor Bobby Santos will share his know-how on raising chickens, and you’ll only shell out $15 for the session. Cheep! Register online at http://slowfoodmaui.org. (Next Slow Food session happens October 26, when Ralph Giles and Daniel Southmayd of Catering from Soup to Nuts explain how to plan the perfect dinner party.)

Speaking of perfect, guest chefs James McDonald, Samuel Faggetti, Vincent DeRosa, Lyndon Honda, Ryan Urig, Cameron Lewark and Sheldon Simeon will vie for your vote for best appetizer at the October 22 Noble Chef, Maui Culinary Academy’s annual fundraiser. All are proponents of regional cuisine and farm-to-table movements, and several have earned honors as Chef of the Year at MNKO’s Aipono Awards. Island epicures will enjoy grazing amid such tempting fare before settling down to a feast prepared and served by Academy students and staff. The swanky affair will be held at the Fairmont Kea Lani, and is always a sell-out, so secure your tickets early by calling 808-984-3261.

For reviews of island eateries, restaurant scuttlebutt, and the dish on Maui’s culinary characters, follow the Dining Diva on Twitter. Always in good taste!

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