We’re Toasting: The Hawaii Food & Wine Festival

Big Island of Hawaii Sunset, Photos by Hayley Hamilton Cogill
Big Island of Hawaii Sunset, Photos by Hayley Hamilton Cogill

hfw2This week’s “Wine and Film, A Perfect Pairing” Podcast on reVolver Podcasts included a great discussion from me and Gary on our time in Hawaii the past month. While there we had a chance to experience a few special evenings of great food and wine, including the Big Island “Hot Lava, Hotter Cuisine” event that was a part of the Hawaii Food and Wine Festival.

To listen to the show, click here and “Episode 21.”
More details on the event and our latest adventure in Hawaii. Cheers!

Six years ago celebrated Hawaiian chefs Roy Yamaguchi and Alan Wong joined together to create a food and wine festival to showcase the beauty and splendor of the beautiful Hawaiian islands. They wanted to show the world the culinary side of Hawaii that wasn’t just macadamia nut crusted fish and pineapple glazed pork, inviting acclaimed international chefs to the islands to cook and create with the local bounty of Hawaii and give back to the local farming community, helping them continue their efforts to produce locally grown products, always with the love of aloha.

To date, the annual two-week Hawaii Food and Wine Festival, taking place over three Hawaii islands, including Oahu, Maui and Hawaii Island, has given over $1.3 million to local farmers and culinary beneficiaries throughout the state. It is hard to explain the aloha spirit to those outside of Hawaii, as it is much more than a note of welcome or good-bye, it is a state of mind that lingers throughout the islands and, if you are lucky enough to feel it, transforms you to a place of peace, respect, reflection and calmness. The love of the land and what is produced in it, is carried in the hearts of Hawaiians and visitors, like me.

I had a chance to experience this year’s Big Island event, “Hot Lava, Hotter Cuisine,” featuring some of the best Chef talent in the world, including Chef Hubert Keller of Fluer dy Lys in San Francisco & Fluer by Hubert Keller in Las Vegas, Chef Michelle Bernstine of Seagrape in Miami and Chef Nancy Silverton of Mozza in Los Angeles, attending as a guest of festival a few weeks ago.


Wong and Yamaguchi were also two of the original chefs who were a part of the Hawaii Regional Cuisine (HRC) movement 25 years ago, showcasing the fusion of the islands in their local cuisine. The Hawaiian islands are truly a mix of so many cultures, like we see in many states, but Hawaii even more so as the state is a broad mix of cultures from the Polynesians, who are thought to have settled in Hawaii around 300 or 500 AD to Japanese, Filipino, Korean, Chinese, Tahitian, and European with Captain James Cook from Britain arriving on Hawaii Island in 1778. All of those cultures brought all of their flavors, including many of the canoe crops, like breadfruit, taro, arrowroot, sweet potatoes and yams.

For HRC, and one of the main focuses when the Hawaiian Food and Wine Festival began, the mission is to highlight this diversity and help spread the message by inviting highly acclaimed chefs to the islands to cook with the local products, to experience the flavor of Kauai shrimp and Kona lobster, to taste crisp hearts of palm, sweet Maui onions and dreamy Hamakua mushrooms.

Chef Hubert Keller's dish at the "Hot Lava, Hotter Cuisine" event
Chef Hubert Keller’s dish at the “Hot Lava, Hotter Cuisine” event

Just one event took place this year on Hawaii Island, the sold out, 300 person “Hot Lava, Hotter Cuisine” dinner, with the stand out dish of the night coming from Chef Hubert Keller. Keller married a duo of Braised Wagyu Beef Cheek and Big Island Tenderloin to roasted hearts of palm and a Mace red wine reduction. Speaking with Chef Keller, complimenting the fork tender beef and divine cheek, he quickly noted that it was all about the quality of the ingredients, turning to introduce me to the farmer who grew not the beef, but the mace (a relative of nutmeg,) as Keller said it was one of the best ingredients he had ever worked with, and never tastes quite as beautiful as in Hawaii.

The majority of the events took place over the past weekend in Oahu, with a few of our favorite Texas chefs in attendance, including Chef Dean Fearing, Chef Tim Love and Chef Robert del Grande of Cafe Annie in Houston. All in all, this year’s event brought in 23 James Beard Award winners, 21 Top Chef stars, 20 Iron Chefs and a slew of incredible wine makers, including a few favorites like Mia Klein of Selene Wines in Napa, Donald Patz/Patz & Hall, Sacha Lichine/Chateau d’Esclans and Matt Duncan of Silver Oak. Mark your calendars now to try to attend the events next year, they start October 20 and run through November 5, 2017 on Maui, Hawaii Island and Oahu.


pahl-2If you are looking for a more permanent address on Hawaii, one of the developing luxury residential communities and private clubs on the Big Island is Kohanaiki. Not far from the Kona airport, so you can be playing golf on their 100 acre, ocean side, Rees Jones designed golf course, within 15 minutes of getting your luggage, Kohanaiki is designed to deliver tranquility, peace and aloha to their guests. We were invited by the club to enjoy a day Kohanaiki recently, including a stellar dinner with special guest Cleo Pahlymeyer, featuring her family’s Pahlmeyer wines, one of the many wine events held at the club throughout the year.

There are many fantastic private clubs throughout Hawaii, and hands down for a resort hotel stay on the Big Island, I will always recommend the Four-Seasons Hualalai, but one element I truly appreciated about Kohanaiki, similar to my experience at the Ritz-Carlton Kapalua on Maui, is the dedication to the land and the history of this place.


There was a time in Hawaii where native Hawaiians were not allowed to speak their language, or celebrate their heritage. Thankfully, honoring the past and those who came before us, is a way of life for Hawaiians, and recognizing the importance of this history and heritage. Kohanaiki ahupua‘a is a name that means “small bareness,” which refers to the lava flows that cover its lower slopes, flowing from by Mount Hualalai 3,000 to 5,000 years ago. Throughout the ahupua‘a are remnants of an ancient Hawaiian village, like the loko i‘a (fish ponds), the ki‘i pōhaku (petroglyphs). Kohanaiki was a sacred land, known to be valued by the Hawaiian ali‘i (royalty) as a bountiful, peaceful gathering place. This is highlighted and respected throughout the 450 acre resort.

Though the gracious, smiling staff is there to assist in any need you may have, members of Kohanaiki seem to appreciate the sense of place, the preservation of the land and a focus on sustainability that the club brings. Members are active and athletic, enjoying the Hawaiian lifestyle, enhanced by the staff “Adventure Team” helping guests enjoy everything from deep sea fishing to outrigger canoeing.

ahi-1Or, you can just take a stroll on their mile long white sand beach watching the surfers at the public Kohanaiki Beach Park (every park in Hawaii is public, with even the finest resorts required to have a public shoreline access,) or enjoy fresh island cuisine from Chef Patrick Heymann, whose team also manages an on-site, working farm for his garden to table cooking, as well as giving members the opportunity to gather fruits and vegetables for in home cooking.

There is a sense of calm at Kohanaiki, a place to stop and breath, enhanced by the beautiful swaying of palm trees and blue ocean waters as far as the eye can see. The club is still accepting members and residential development continues. It is not an inexpensive place to live, really no where in Hawaii is, but the luxury amenities, fantastic staff and aloha spirit make this an incredibly special place.
Additional details about the club and membership available on their website.


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