The temperature is minus something, and visibility zero. My toes are frozen. The next move I make will surely put life and limb at risk. And yet, believe it or not, I’m on vacation!
My husband, Jamie, and I are visiting friends Jim and Susan in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. Susan can point her skis down a concave bowl and shoot to the bottom in seemingly one breath. Her husband, Jim, rides a snowboard like a twenty-year-old. Me? I just graduated out of beginner skis. So when the group votes for “first tracks” in the new powder, I am less than enthusiastic. “Oh, come on,” my husband encourages. “This is the best!”
The best is relative, I’ve learned.
While we ride the lift up the mountain to what I feel is certain doom, my thoughts drift to the warmth of home and our Best of Maui Dining issue. Now there is a “best” I understand. Our seventeenth annual ‘Aipono Awards celebrate the island’s best restaurants, chefs, and industry leaders as voted by you, our readers. (See who won, starting on page 91.)
Maui cuisine is world famous for its imaginative and innovative fusion of cultures and flavors, but to be fair, it didn’t start with us. It began generations ago, when Japanese, Chinese, and Portuguese plantation workers, later joined by Puerto Rican, Korean, Spanish and Filipino, would gather in the cane fields at lunchtime, and unpack their kau kau tins.
“Kau kau” is thought to have derived from the Hawaiian word pākaukau (table) and mixed with a Chinese-English Pidgin term for food, chow chow. The bottom layer of the tin container held rice, and also held the heat that kept a meat dish in the top compartment warm. Each man kept his portion of rice, but placed the aromatic meat dish in the middle for all to enjoy. Through food, cultures crossed barriers, and became community. The result was less a melting pot than a stew of cultural traditions that influenced one another, while each retained its distinctive flavor. Kau kau today is local slang for “Let’s eat.”
And eat we do in Hawai‘i—the ‘Aipono Restaurant Awards (‘ai meaning “to eat,” pono meaning “excellence”) embrace our island’s culture through the prism of its multiethnic cuisine and a long tradition of sharing. In these pages you’ll meet such stars as Maui-born Chef of the Year Kyle Kawakami, who, after teaching at UH–Maui College’s Culinary Arts Program for ten years, wowed his fans by taking to the road with his Maui Fresh Streatery food truck—from which he not only shares world-class cuisine, but has raised over $50,000 from his “donation/tip jar” to help local families in need. Another chef who knows the meaning of sharing is ‘Aipono’s Friend of Agriculture award-winner, Joey Macadangdang, whose support of local farmers extends well beyond the walls of his restaurants.
You will also meet three women chefs, Kaulani Akina, Abby Ferrer, and Tanya Kaina Doyle, who are changing the once male-dominated kitchen by establishing their own style and recognition with signature dishes that embrace tradition—and a good sprinkle of innovation.
Everything starts somewhere before it becomes a best, I tell myself as the lift comes to a stop. With my heart lodged squarely in my throat, I point my skis downward, and go. It’s the fastest, coldest, run of my unremarkable ski career. At the bottom, Jamie beams a smile of approval that (almost) warms me. “Let’s get out of here!” he says. “I’m freezing.” We make a beeline to the bottom of the hill—and back to the warmth of our condo, where we share a pot of hot chocolate, the best part of our day.
The best is relative. Unless, of course, it’s the Best of Maui Dining—where being cold is never a factor, and warmth is in every recipe.
A hui hou,
Diane Haynes Woodburn, Publisher
P.S. Speaking of bests, Maui Nō Ka ‘Oi is once again a finalist for Best Regional Magazine in the Western Publishers Association’s prestigious Maggie Awards—due entirely to the most talented and dedicated group of men and women on the planet, our staff. You could wish us luck, but shoots, we already live on Maui . . . truly the best.