Celebrating Hawaii’s Staff Of Life

Mist shrouds the mountaintops of the Waipa ahupua’a as more than 1,400 people walk the footpath that curves along Halulu Fishpond, the site for this year’s Kalo Festival. Musicians play Hawaiian melodies under a tent festooned with grand tropical leaf garlands and flower sprays made by Luka, Pa’ula and Venna Chandler. The center-poles are dressed to represent kahili, a traditional symbol of royalty.

Inside the Education and Demo tent, Uncle Jerry Konanui shows people how to ku’i, making poi the traditional way using stone poi pounders and wood-pounding boards. Chris Kobayashi provides information about kalo, and a contest is held for both dryland and wetland taro.

There are six contests, including Biggest Kalo of different varieties, Heaviest Kalo and Best

In Show. Winners of the Biggest Kalo contest are Demi Rivera, Lillian Watari and Koga Farms. Koga Farms also takes Best In Show with a beautiful Maui lehua variety.

A Makahiki Zone features games presented by a Waipa children’s group, Kahua No’eau. The money the keiki raise will enable them to go to Moloka’i this April to compete in a Makahiki Challenge.

Craft vendors sell waterproof hats made of canvas, as well as fragrant soap, seed and feather jewelry, screen-printed handbags and fine art. The aroma of smoked meat with chunks of caramelized kalo and breadfruit fills the air. Naoshi Kaiuiokalani Grady of Waialeale Kava Source scoops fresh brewed ‘awa from a wood calabash with a chocolate-colored coconut shell. Its smooth sides are carved with an intricate design. He tops the rim of my glass with a mixture of turmeric, ginger, honey and powdered kava.

Throngs of people line up for kulolo (taro pudding), taro mochi and kalo malasadas. There is poi, kalo chili, Black Dog Farm kalo curry, and Bruddha Dave’s Taro Burgers. Café ‘Aina serves up hearty plates of deconstructed kalua turkey laulau, sweet potatoes, deep-fried ulu mochi balls, lomilomi salmon and ahi tartar nachos.

Poi Dog Catering serves Taro Beer Battered Fish Tacos, Tarokopita (made with the luau leaf from the kalo plant rather than the traditional Greek spanakopita made with spinach leaves), and its 2010 Kalo Festival recipe contest winner Taroriffic Cheesecake.

This year, I am honored to oversee the recipe contest. From amateur to chef, anyone can compete. It’s free to enter, and you can enter as many dishes as you want. There are two categories: Appetizer/Entreé and Dessert. Contestants must submit two dishes, one for the judges to taste and one for viewing.

I make sure the entries are presented to the judges in an anonymous fashion. The judges, including Nalani Kaneakua of Café ‘Aina and head chef of Waipa Foundation, Les Apoliona, land asset manager for Kamehameha Schools in Kona, and Alpha Harada of Restore Kaua’i, were selected from the crowd.

There are three dishes in the Appetizer/Entreé division: Kalo Hummus with Kalo Chips from Elise Gavitt, Kalo Curry with Vegetables from Janine Celina, and Taro Burgers from David McEntee.

In the Dessert category are Cacao Poi Truffles and Coconut Poi Raspberry Ice Cream from Elise Gavitt, and Kulolo, Taro Mochi and Taro Banana Bread from Diana Spencer.

The judges rate the dishes on a scale of one to five for presentation, originality and taste. First-place winners receive $50, and $25 goes to the second-place winners. My husband Dan helps me tally the scores, and Mayor Bernard P. Carvalho Jr. announces the 2012 Kalo Festival Recipe champions.

“Second place in the Appetizer/Entreé category is David McEntee of Bruddah Dave’s Taro Burgers,” he says, evoking wild applause from the crowd. “First place goes to Elise Gavitt for Kalo Hummus with Kalo Chips!”

The mayor waits until the cheers die down and says, “Second place in the Dessert category is Elise Gavitt’s Coconut Poi Raspberry Ice Cream!” As the crowd settles, the mayor pauses dramatically.

“First place in the Dessert category goes to Diana Spencer for Taro Banana Bread!”

While the mayor entertains the crowd with joyful songs about Kaua’i, I think about my recipe entry for next year.

For more information, visit WaipaFoundation.org.