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HAWAII Magazine Guide to Annual Hawaii Food Festivals


Kapalua Food and Wine Festival

guide_Hawaii_food_festivalsMaui plays host to the granddaddy of culinary festivals in the Islands, the Kapalua Food and Wine Festival, going into its 30th year in 2011. I have attended the event off and on for decades. Originally, it was small, focused on wine professionals, and, as such, had a major impact on the quality of the wine in the Islands.

It has since evolved into a large, three-day food and wine event, centered at the Ritz-Carlton Kapalua. The festival now offers so many pleasures, the key is pacing yourself.

Let me reprise just one day at the 29th annual festival last June. In the morning, it was a pinot noir tasting, with a remarkably entertaining presentation from some of California’s best pinot producers, like Fred Scherrer of Scherrer Winery, Donald Patz of Patz & Hall, and wild man Gary Pisoni of Pisoni Vineyards.

The afternoon was taken up by a tasting of artisinal cheeses and Zinfandels, a combination made in heaven. Then all too brief a nap before an elegant poolside cocktail party thrown by Waiwera Artesian Water USA, with Hawaii’s best bartender, “Dr. Joey” Gottesman, whipping up cocktails.All that built up to a wine dinner at Merriman’s Maui, a new restaurant with a torch-lit terrace jutting out on a lava point into Kapalua Bay. This was not a starched and formal affair. The restaurant’s celebrated chef/owner, Peter Merriman, stood at a barbecue grill himself and presented guests with one marvel after another: wild boar bacon with local spinach, clams in lobster broth, Maui Cattle Co. grass-fed ribeye steak and on and on.

After dinner, some younger friends of mine suggested we finish the evening with several bottles of champagne. They did, I did not—because that was only one day of a three-day festival. The next days were equally packed with wine tastings, cooking demonstrations and luncheons, culminating in the grand Seafood Festival.

The Seafood Festival is an event in itself: a beachside celebration with wines by the hundreds and more than a dozen live cooking stations manned by Maui’s chefs (Crab cannelloni! Escabeche of Island snapper! Pan-seared scallops with Maitake mushroom risotto!).

Should you be lucky enough to find yourself at Kapalua Food and Wine, it’s best to take it slow. There’s so much to enjoy, especially since the next festival will be the 30th annual and may be the best ever.

Next festival: June 9-12, 2011, www.kapalua.com.

Taste of Lahaina

Less formal, but every bit as much fun, are two other Maui events. Taste of Lahaina brings together many restaurants on Maui’s West Side, all selling food samples. There are also carnival rides and an agricultural tent in this Lahaina town event that draws 10,000 folks.

Next festival: September 2011, www.visitlahaina.com.


Maui Onion Festival

Maui Onion Festival

The other is the Maui Onion Festival, two days at Kaanapali’s Whalers Village Shopping Center, dedicated to Maui’s remarkably sweet onion. Admission to the festival is free, and there are recipe contests, a beer garden, chef demonstrations, entertainment, food booths and games, even a raw onion eating contest. You enter the raw onion contest at your own peril, but do remember to buy yourself a paper tray full of sweet, crisp and hot Maui onion rings. No Maui Onion Festival would be complete without them.

Next festival: May 7, 2011, www.whalersvillage.com.


Taste of Wailea

Should you be a film buff, do not forget that the annual Maui Film Festival also throws a culinary gala, Taste of Wailea. On a grassy knoll overlooking the ocean, Wailea’s restaurants set up cooking stations and you can happily eat and drink, then stroll down the hill for a triple-bill at the festival’s outdoor Celestial Cinema.

Next festival: June 15-19, 2011, www.mauifilmfestival.com.

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