A Gourmet Farmers Market

Reminiscent of the plantation era, The Shops at Kukui’ula in Po’ipu is an outdoor mall with two-story clapboard storefronts in pale yellow and white. Walking along the open-air courtyard is like strolling through a thriving sugar town with upscale art galleries, designer stores and restaurants.

“Kukui’ula was built around the plantation style,” says Stacie Chiba-Miguel, assistant real estate manager for The Shops at Kukui’ula. “In the plantation lifestyle, you grow what you eat, and that’s what we wanted to perpetuate in the shopping center.”

Every Wednesday from 4 to 6 p.m. there’s a gourmet farmers market called the Kaua’i Culinary Market. Live island music by John Rivera and Pali Carbonel soothe a worker’s soul, and Merriman’s beer and wine garden offers additional comfort.

“What makes the Wednesday market unique is the pau hana time frame,” says Melissa McFerrin, market manager and executive administrator for the Kaua’i County Farm Bureau.

You can sip a beer and people-watch, eat on the lanai at Living Foods Market, Tortilla Republic or Merriman’s, or shop the wares of 25 vendors including several farmers who sell vibrant produce, macadamia nuts, eggs and tropical flowers.

“Nowhere are the farmer and chef closer than at this market,” says McFerrin. “Someone can walk through the market and see a unique ingredient, and then have it for dinner at Merriman’s.”

“It’s great when I see chef Mark (Arriola) from Merriman’s buying from our farmer vendors,” adds Chiba-Miguel.

Gourmet food also is available from artisans such as The Right Slice, Monkeypod Jam, Kaua’i Living Goodies, Moloa’a Bay Coffee, Salty Wahine

and Hula Baby Biscotti. Living Foods Market sells a wide array of fresh baked bread, and although Helen Locano, owner and chef of Hanapepe Café, closed her restaurant, you can buy soup from her at the Kaua’i Culinary Market.

“Today was a special day for us,” says McFerrin. “The Hawai’i Tropical Fruit Growers (HTFG) were our guests. They gathered fruit from around the island to educate the public about exotic fruit.”

HTFG is dedicated to tropical fruit research, education, marketing and promotion, and everyone from backyard farmers ($35 annual fee) to commercial fruit growers and processors ($100 annual fee) are eligible to become members.

HTFG is here to showcase pomelo, grapefruit’s oversized ancestor. Inside Living Foods Market, free samples of the juicy citrus are offered. Outside, customers huddle around a display table laden with exotics such as jackfruit, Surinam cherries, rambutan, Buddha’s Hand and nutmeg. I meet the nutmeg growers, and just in time for the holidays, will feature them in the Dec. 19 issue of MidWeek Kaua’i.

“New Markets for Ultra-Exotic Fruits” is a series of events across the state funded by the Department of Agriculture through a USDA competitive grant program to foster small farm sustainability.

“These events are designed to introduce the fruit to consumers through grocery stores,” says Ken Love, president of HTFG and vice president of the Kona chapter of the

American Culinary Federation. “Today’s function is really to promote pomelo, and because we have such a great chapter of fruit growers on Kaua’i, they wanted to do a display as well as a chef demo.”

“We do a cooking demonstration at 5 p.m. every week,” says McFerrin. “This week, chef Michael Simpson of Living Foods Market is making a Thai Pomelo Salad with Kaua’i Shrimp. We believe showing people how to use the ingredients will encourage them to try more and buy more fresh, local ingredients.”

Market-goers receive a copy of the recipe and follow along while Chef Simpson quickly peels and sections the pomelo. He adds Kailani Farms baby lettuces, cucumber, jicama, macadamia nuts, basil, cilantro and mint, and dresses it with a soy and fish sauce vinaigrette. The colorful salad is garnished with caramelized pomelo zest, which Chef Simpson demonstrates how to make. Once it’s finished, the hungry crowd lines up for a taste.

Kaua’i Culinary Market The Shops at Kukui’ula, Po’ipu

Wednesdays, 4 to 6 p.m. HTFG: HawaiiTropicalFruitGrower s.org Marta Lane is a Kaua’i-based food writer. For more information, visit TastingKauai.com.