Celestino Drago knows how deep the connection between food and culture is.
His childhood roots in Sicily are evident in his cooking and have made him one of Los Angeles’ most lauded Italian chefs.
“Everything I create is a reflection of my culture because it is what I grew up with,” says Drago, who runs several eateries and an artisanal bakery in Los Angeles. “I am a big promoter of cooking with authenticity.”
He’s also a big fan of the annual Hawaii Food & Wine Festival, happening this year from Sept. 1 through 9 at multiple locations on Oahu and Maui. For the fest’s third year, organizers have extended their invitee list of internationally renowned master chefs and sommeliers for the epicurean event to more than 75. Notable chefs working the festival's main food events include Chicago modernist cuisine chef Grant Achatz (Alinea, Next), San Francisco Michelin star winner Dominique Crenn (Atelier Crenn), New York dessert master Christina Tosi (Momofuku Milk Bar), Iron Chef Japan’s Hiroyuki Sakai and Masaharu Morimoto, Jonathan Waxman (Barbuto) and Big Island-raised, Maui-based Top Chef finalist Sheldon Simeon.
Other notable Hawaii chefs cooking at the fest include Mark “Gooch” Noguchi (Taste Table, Pili Hawaii), Quinten Frye (Salt Bar & Kitchen), Chris Kajioka (Vintage Cave), Chai Chaowasaree (Chef Chai), Vikram Garg (Halekulani), Hiroshi Fukui (Hiroshi Eurasian Tapas), Michelle Karr-Ueoka (Alan Wong’s Restaurant), Alan Wong (Alan Wong’s Restaurant), Andrew Le (The Pig & The Lady pop-up), George Mavrothalassitis (Chef Mavro), Ed Kenney (Town), Robert McGee (Indigo, Hawaiian Fresh Farms) and more.
“Every single participant has a great time and, as chefs, we are proud to integrate the beautiful Hawaiian culture and the wonderful local ingredients into our cuisine,” Drago says, about participating in the fest. “From the volunteers to the featured chefs to everyone involved, everyone’s passion for the event is unmatched.”
Drago will be working the burners with 13 other celebrity chefs at Hawaii Food & Wine Festival’s “Savory Ever After” evening event on Sun., Sept. 8, and hosting, along with Jonathan Waxman, a “My Italian Way” cooking demonstration on Sept. 7.
In addition to multiple cooking demonstrations and seminars scheduled throughout the week, the fest’s main food events include:
• Malama Maui. The fest’s opening event—and first-ever Maui event— will be a dinner gala at the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort & Spa.
6-9:30 p.m., Sun., Sept. 1
• Under the Modern Moon: Morimoto & Friends. Host chef Masaharu Morimoto (Iron Chef, Morimoto Waikiki) and 14 international chefs from Asia and the Pacific work up inventive signature dishes on the pool deck of the Modern Honolulu hotel in Waikiki.
6-9 p.m., Thurs., Sept. 5
• Around the World with Seven Chefs: Third Annual Halekulani Master Chefs Gala Series. A lavish seven-course dinner by seven world-renowned chefs paired with wines from top sommeliers at the Halekulani hotel in Waikiki.
6-9 p.m., Fri., Sept. 6
• Taste Our Love for the Land. Grown-in-Hawaii ingredients are the showcase items in dishes crafted by 18 world-renowned chefs known for their farm-to-table prowess. Hosted on the rooftop garden of the Hawaii Convention Center in Honolulu.
6-9 p.m., Sat., Sept. 7
Savory Ever After. The festival finale event will feature 14 chefs crafting a menu of ethnic foods from around the world, under the stars at the Aulani Disney Resort & Spa and JW Marriott Ihilani Resort lagoon.
6-9 p.m., Sun., Sept. 8
Tickets for single Hawaii Food & Wine Festival events or packages are available online at www.hawaiifoodandwinefestival.com and are discounted through Aug. 23.
Need to fly to the fest? A handful of festival lodging and travel sponsors are offering deals for attendees flying to the Islands for fest events. Visit the Hawaii Food & Wine Festival website Travel section for more details on lodging deals.
“What we are trying to do is bring world-class chefs from all over the world to work with local products and local ingredients,” says Hawaii chef Alan Wong, who, along with fellow James Beard Award winner Roy Yamaguchi, co-founded this festival. “And I hope we convey our culture and people and lifestyle to those who come and enjoy these events.”
Hawaii Food & Wine Festival will be held from Sept. 1 through 9 at various locations on Oahu and Maui. For more information or to buy tickets, visit www.hawaiifoodandwinefestival.com.
Photos: Hawaii Food & Wine Festival