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Hawaii’s top chefs to gather for 23rd annual Maui Onion Festival

By Staff | May 3, 2012

Chef James McDonald, who won the Maui Onion Recipe Contest in 2010, will demontrate two recipes at 10:45 a.m. on Saturday. Photo by Martin Wyland.

KAANAPALI – On Saturday, May 5, Whalers Village in Kaanapali Resort will host the Maui Onion Festival in honor of Maui’s own sweet Maui onion.

Now in its 23rd year, Whalers Village’s signature event since 1990 will be more dynamic than ever, summoning the creativity of top Hawaii chefs and drawing a crowd for free culinary samples and a fun-packed day.

Here’s a chance to learn about Maui’s top Upcountry agricultural crop through the dazzling interpretations of Hawaii chefs and the restaurants of Kaanapali.

Prime retail offers, music and entertainment provide a perfect balance for all that good food.

Official festival events will take place on center stage and the beach front lawn. The day begins at 9:45 a.m. and won’t end until after dark.

After its debut success in 2011, the Kaanapali Beach Resort Maui Onion Challenge returns to join Kaanapali restaurants in a friendly competition to see who cooks up the best Maui onion dish. Prior to the festival, the participating chefs offer their onion specials to their customers, be it an appetizer, entree or salad.

Judges will choose the top dishes, and the chefs will compete in a cook-off at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday on center stage. Winners will be announced at noon.

In the educationally mesmerizing Maui Onion Recipe Contest, celebrity chefs from Oahu and around Maui will demonstrate their creative culinary skills step-by-step. Judges subsequently rate each dish, and with the winners of the past three years – Dave (D.K.) Kodama (2011), James McDonald (’10) and David Paul Johnson (’09) – returning to reclaim their titles, the bar is raised. This year’s favorite dish will be announced at 4:30 p.m.

The chef demonstration schedule includes Russell Siu of 3660 on the Rise at 10 a.m. He will demo braised Kurobuta pork belly with caramelized Maui onions and natural jus. For the recipe contest, Siu will prepare Maui onion horseradish-crusted Kurobuta pork belly, caramelized.

At 10:45 a.m., Chef McDonald of Pacific’O and I’O restaurants will demo a smoked pork and Maui onion jam panini. For the contest, he will make a Maui onion tart tatin with Irish whiskey onion anglaise.

Next up is Kevin Hanney of the 12th Ave. Grill and Salt at 11:30 a.m. He will demo pan-roasted Maui Cattle Co. mock tenderloin with caramelized onion soubise and smoked onion jam. His recipe contest dish will be savory Maui onion French toast with a warm Waimanalo crimini mushroom and frisee salad, local fried egg and a Maui onion/house-made pancetta syrup.

Chef Kodama of Cane & Taro and Sansei will take the stage at 12:15 p.m., teaching the audience to make pan roasted opakapaka, fresh linguine, Hamakua mushrooms, Kahuku corn, red radish, pickled red chili and a Maui onion demi. He was still working on the recipe contest dish at press time.

At 1 p.m., Johnson of David Paul’s Island Grill will demonstrate sweet Maui onion fritters with caramelized Maui onion aioli. His recipe contest dish will be grilled island beef and Maui onion sliders.

Last up is Jojo Vasquez of the Banyan Tree Restaurant at The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua at 1:45 p.m. He will make Oyakodon, Maui onion, pea shoots. His recipe contest dish will be unveiled at the festival.

This year’s judges are Cassandra Anderton, Ayngelina Brogan, Nadine Kam, Helen Reed, Chris Speere, Jenn Russo, Susan Halas, Bonnie Friedman and Carla Tracy. Ramsey Wharton of Hawaii News Now will serve as mistress of ceremonies.

This year’s Cinco de Mayo Mixed Drink Contest at 2:30 p.m. on center stage will challenge Whalers Village’s very own bartenders – a talented and competitive bunch.

The ever-popular Maui Onion Eating Contest kicks off at 3:30 p.m. for keiki appetites. Adults try to measure up at 4 p.m. at center stage.

At the beach stage, a Polynesian hula dance show will kickoff the entertainment at 10 a.m., followed by a smoothie demonstration.

Later, listen to the Air Force Band of the Pacific, Benoit JazzWorks and the young duo Barefoot Minded.

Throughout Whalers Village, food booths and vendors will showcase value-added onion products and other Maui favorites.

On the eve of the Maui Onion Festival on Friday, May 4, Hula Grill Kaanapali will host the annual Maui Onion Pairing Dinner with a splendid three-course meal. Of course, Maui Kula onions are key. Dishes will be paired with handcrafted beer by Maui Brewing Co. Tickets are available at Hula Grill.

Through May 5, in honor of the Maui Onion Festival, the more than 90 shops and restaurants at Whalers Village will be well-stocked with special retail offers. Shoppers receive a free Maui Onion Festival gift with purchase when spending $150 or more.

For more information, visit www.whalersvillage.com.