Hawaii’s Farm-To-Table Movement

Chef Guy Higa

Hawai’i is beginning to surf the swells of the eat-local movement, now thriving on the Mainland after decades of sustained effort.

Our tourism industry is catching the wave and is creating events that connect farmers and restaurants with consumers who expect local products.

An outstanding example of uniting the three industries took place Sept. 21, when Sandi Kato-Klutke, Kaua’i president of the Hawaii Hotel & Lodging Association, put local food in the spotlight for the nonprofit’s end-of-summer fundraiser “It’s

A Wrap” at Kaua’i Marriott Resort in Lihu’e.

Sandi Kato-Klutke. Daniel Lane photos

“Collaborating between agriculture, the visitor industry and chefs brings a new type of cache to Hawai’i,” says Dean Okimoto, owner of Oahu’s Nalo Farms and the guest speaker of the evening. “Visitors will come here for food as well as sand, surf and sun.”

Local farmers, ranchers and businesses provided food for Guy Higa, executive chef at the Marriott, to create pupu wraps showcasing the diversity of Hawaiian food. Donors included Kaua’i Coffee Company, Kaua’i Shrimp, Young’s Market Company of Hawai’i, Haraguchi Farms, Kaua’i Cattlemen’s Association and Kaneshiro Farms.

Mufi Hannemann, president of the Hawaii Hotel & Lodging Association and “Tourism Matters” writer for MidWeek, flew in from O’ahu for the event.

Kaneshiro Farms’ roast pork with tamarind barbecue sauce

“Two years ago, you wouldn’t have seen this many local ingredients on a restaurant menu, let alone an event showcasing it,” Hannemann says. “Hawai’i has so much to offer, it’s important that local food is included. It used to just be luau food, but we have so much more than that.”

“You know the Big 5?” Hannemann asks me, referring to the five corporations that used to dominate the economy in Hawai’i. “They were the big corporate farmers, and agriculture was No. 1 before tourism,” he says. “When pineapple and sugar started to go away, diversified ag and the small farmer became more and more important to us.”

Guests dined on 12 elegantly crafted pupus while Okimoto spoke about the future of Hawai’i’s food industry.

Bulgogi lettuce wrap

“I came here two years ago for the farmer’s convention, and I got to meet Mamo Kaneshiro of Kaneshiro Farms,” he says. “At the time he told me, ‘I’m ready to quit. I’m havin’ a hard time.’ So I’m really, really pleased to see his product being served by the hotel here.

“Chefs like Guy Higa attract visitors to come here just to eat,” Okimoto adds. “Where can you go to have a buffet of appetizers like this? You have something made with kombu, which is Japanese, you have the pork rind, which is Chinese, you have pancit, which is Filipino, and you have palusami, which is Samoan. Almost every Asian background is represented here. And the thing is, it all works. It all tastes great using fresh, local products!”

The first ever Hawai’i Food & Wine Festival, which concluded Oct. 1, is a foodie event that draws international visitors. Eighteen chefs from around the globe such as Hubert Keller of San Francisco,

Edward Kwon of Korea and Yoshihiro Murata of Japan cooked alongside 10 of Hawai’i’s best, including Masaharu Morimoto, Roy Yamaguchi and Alan Wong. The three-day event showcased dishes made with local produce, seafood, beef and poultry.

Young’s Wine Co. paired wine with each pupu

Mini palusami. Daniel Lane photos

In events of this caliber, it’s typical for guest chefs to bring food with them.

“You’ve got these visiting chefs who ship in lobster from Maine, foie gras from Hudson Valley or langoustines from Scotland,” says Ed Kenney, chef and owner of Town and Downtown restaurants on O’ahu, in a Hawaii Business magazine interview.

“This group has actually put together a spreadsheet of local product from protein all the way to fish and vegetables and are insisting that these visiting chefs use that,” Kenney says of the event’s protocol.

Ti leaf wrapped salmon

Okimoto concluded his speech by saying:

“This food and wine show should be one of the premier events in Hawai’i. It’s all happening because of a friendship between people like Mufi and myself, Alan Wong and Roy Yamaguchi. We got together and talked about this event, and this is the spawning of it. Going forward, we plan to bring it out to each island.”

Now that’s something to look forward to!