Hawaii Food And Wine Festival Highlights

Hawaii Convention Center’s rooftop was transformed for the Hawaii Food and Wine Festival | Jo McGarry photo

It’s almost impossible to pick out highlights of last week’s Hawaii Food and Wine Festival. Of the thousands of dishes cooked by more than 50 of the best chefs in the world, and with winemakers, sommeliers and mixologists on hand to create a perfect pairing at every turn, there were so many highlights they could fill this column for a year.

What’s clear and beyond all doubt is that in just three short years, Hawaii has created one of the most outstanding food and wine festivals in the country.

Here’s a snapshot of some of the events:

Opening Night Under the Modern Moon: guest chefs included Charles Phan, Masaharu Morimoto, Bryant Ng, Anita Lo and Eric Ziebold alongside 10 wine-makers and five of the country’s best mixologists.

Chef/owner of North End Grill, N.Y., Floyd Cardoz commented on the high quality of the produce he was given to work with. “It’s incredible,” he said. “And I brought nothing with me. Everything I’m cooking is directly from Hawaii.”

On Friday afternoon, Honolulu’s Pier 38 (the fish auction) was transformed into a food and wine venue, where local farmers and fishermen were able to showcase their products to enthusiastic chefs. Some commented that the food at this casual event was among the best of the weekend. Brooks Takenaka of Honolulu Fish Auction commented that chefs were incredibly impressed with the quality and variety of fish they saw and tasted. Highway Inn offered a tiny taste of their popular saimin served in miniature takeout boxes. Jon Matsubara shared his passion for local fish with Celestino Drago, and winemaker Jim Clendenen brought his usual enthusiasm and infectious passion to everyone with whom he spoke. The fish auction should be a site for dinner next year. It’s the coolest place to eat and drink in town. Literally.

Friday night’s $1,000-ahead dinner at Halekulani featured the talents of Hubert Keller, Tetsuya Wakuda, Vikram Garg, Nobu Matsuhisa, Christina Tosi, Dominique Crenn and Grant Achatz, and it’s fair to say that local ingredients perhaps have never been served so elegantly. Even the humble musubi got a celebrity makeover, as Grant Achatz popped his version – quail roulade with diced pineapple and mango, nori and rice paper – into a takeout box and served it up to bejeweled diners.

Even the Hawaii Convention Center was given the all-star treatment. Its rooftop was transformed into a living hub of local foods, chefs and growers. Creating spectacular cocktails for the assembled guests were Chandra Lucariello and Francesco Lafranconi of Southern Wines and Spirits, Hawaii and Las Vegas, respectively.

From Scotch Myst in Las Vegas, Grant McPherson served up a Scotch Egg worthy of his ancestors (and certainly the best one I’ve ever tasted). He obviously was enjoying a reunion with Chef Nobu, as the two stood and chatted about food and being in Hawaii … Big Island local boy Ippy Aiona of the Three Fat Pigs enjoyed his celebrity status and shared photo opportunities with fans who lined up to chat and to taste his food. Highlights of the night included a strawberry rosemary vodka cocktail and Big Island goat served with yogurt and cucumber.

If you didn’t manage to get a ticket for any of this year’s events, it’s already time to look forward to next year. Event organizer Denise Yamaguchi already is planning for 2014.

“It doesn’t really end,” she said after all the chefs were safely on planes headed for home. “Last year it took us almost the entire year to plan. This year we practically started planning before we finished the events.”

Lots of information at www.hawaiifoodandwinefestival.com.

Happy eating!