Maui has long been a preferred vacation spot for Hollywood celebrities and music moguls. However, now it’s also gaining a reputation as a food-and-wine destination, playing host to several high-profile events, including Kā‘anapali Fresh, a three-day festival that features Maui-inspired cuisine paired with local ingredients, and international wines and spirits.
“Like most destinations, food is an integral aspect of the overall visitor experience,” says Maui Visitor and Convention Bureau executive director Terryl Vencl. “Food events help brand individual resorts and also entice travel to Maui. Such is the case for two of our big events—Kā‘anapali Fresh and the Kapalua Wine and Food Festival.”
Now in its third year Kā‘anapali Fresh has become the “the most blogged about” culinary destination event on Maui, according to the event’s organizers. Over the course of three days, attendees will be able to take tours of select Maui farms; learn about the evolution of dining in Hawaii; meander through an open-air market at Whalers Village; discover the art of mixology; and graze at the signature Kā‘anapali Fresh Food & Wine Festival. The event will also be part of the seven-day Hawaii Food & Wine Festival (HFWF), playing host to Kā‘anapali Kitchen Stadium Under a Maui Moon.
“Hawaii chefs are lucky,” says Blue Ginger owner/chef Ming Tsai, one of the six master chefs who will prepare a six-course menu under the Maui moonlight as Kā‘anapali Fresh comes to a climax. “You grow the best produce I’ve ever seen.”
Farmers have long collaborated with Maui chefs, providing them with fresh produce for their kitchens. The relationships deepened in 1991 when a dozen celebrated chefs decided to promote Hawaii produce and seafood through a burgeoning movement known as Hawaii Regional Cuisine (HRC).
“Local produce has improved by leaps and bounds since I first started using them,” says famed chef Roy Yamaguchi, one of the members of the elite 12 founders of HRC. “It’s incredible to see what’s happened in the past 20 years.”
Agriculture has always been integral to Hawaii history and it continues to be an important industry, generating billions of dollars to the state’s annual economy, and directly and indirectly providing thousands of jobs, according to statistics from The National Agricultural Statistics Service, which operates in cooperation with the Hawaii State Department of Agriculture.
“It is our responsibility as chefs to support island sustainability through the restaurant industry,” says Ikaika Manaku, executive sous chef at The Westin Maui Resort & Spa and Kā‘anapali O ‘Aha‘aina chef co-chairperson. “We can certainly influence the development of agri-tourism by facilitating supply and demand, [and] creating menu selections that provide our visitors and guests a sampling of the island’s fresh farm ingredients.”
Events like Kā‘anapali Fresh have certainly helped put the spotlight on the talents of the area’s chefs and farmers, but it’s also spawned interest in agri-tourism. Many of the island’s signature experiences now include Maui’s Winery, Surfing Goat Dairy, ‘Ō‘ō Farm, Ali‘i Kula Lavender and Ocean Vodka, among others.
“One of our most popular events is the Maui County Agricultural Festival,” Vencl says. “Maui is fast becoming a destination for ‘foodies.’ Above all, it’s a captivating and lush oasis where seafood is spectacular, tropical ingredients abound and international influences bring flavors—and once again, people—together.”