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It’s all about chefs and legends at the Hawaii Food & Wine Festival Kaanapali

By Staff | Aug 27, 2015

“Maui on My Mind” will feature nine star chefs at the Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa for an evening of island grown and raised dishes. PHOTO COURTESY OF THE HAWAII FOOD AND WINE FESTIVAL.

KAANAPALI – Although the Hawaii Food & Wine Festival is celebrating its fifth anniversary this year, you may not realize it has had a presence on Maui for the past three Labor Day weekends as the culminating dinner event for Kaanapali Fresh. This year’s difference is that Hawaii Food & Wine Festival Kaanapali is now a complete culinary destination event, taking place next weekend, Sept. 4-6, in Kaanapali Beach Resort.

“Our goals for Kaanapali Fresh, the signature culinary event we hosted for three years over Labor Day Weekend, aligned with the goals for Hawaii Food & Wine Festival. It was a ‘no brainer’ for us to partner with Chefs Alan Wong and Roy Yamaguchi to be a part of this grand event,” noted Shelley Kekuna, executive director of the Kaanapali Beach Resort Association.

“The festival really highlights our commitment to a positive ecosystem of agriculture, economy and environment.”

Two chef-intensive, culinary-immersive dinners will unfold in the resort: “Maui on My Mind” at the Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa and “Legend of Shep Gordon” at the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort & Spa.

On Saturday, Sept. 5, the “Maui on My Mind” dinner will reflect the best of what Maui has to offer: beauty, a bounty of locally grown, raised and caught products, and world-class talent to create an unforgettable experience. Set against a backdrop of the sun painting the sky with a riot of colors, Sheraton Maui’s Black Rock Lawn will provide a romantic, al fresco venue for an evening of epicurean delights.

As guests congregate, they’ll be greeted by elaborately costumed characters from the Iona Contemporary Dance Theater portraying Maui legends and island myths. Look for a living tree, roaming demi-god Maui, a feathered royal warrior, an octopus, sea urchin and rainforest pohole ferns.

Executive Chef Greg Gaspar of Sheraton Maui will be joined by Senior Executive Sous Chef Colin Hazama of Sheraton Waikiki to host seven special guest chefs from Maui, California, Chicago and New York. Each chef will prepare a dish that uses local ingredients from Hawaii enhanced by his or her personal culinary touch.

Gaspar explained, “My dish is Macadamia Nut and Maui Onion Crusted Ni’ihau Lamb Chop. This is local lamb from Ni’ihau Ranch; the lamb chop is crusted with macadamia nuts and caramelized Maui onions. It will be served with Molokai sweet potato puree, sweet citrus marmalade, red wine and fresh herb reduction.”

His handcrafted menus at the Sheraton Maui reflect Hawaii’s farm-fresh produce and grass-fed meats. Chef Gaspar and his team search throughout the year for new farms that will grow different crops that can be incorporated into seasonal menus. That’s why the Sheraton’s culinary team is a perfect fit for the “Maui on My Mind” dinner.

Guest chefs are: Beverly Gannon of Bev Gannon Restaurants in Haliimaile and Wailea (one of Maui’s original Hawaii Regional Cuisine chefs); Nick Anderer, executive chef-partner of Maialino in New York City; Stephen Durfee, the pastry chef instructor at Culinary Institute of America, Greystone in Napa Valley; David LeFevre, chef-owner of Manhattan Beach (M.B.) Post in Southern California; Nancy Oakes, chef of San Francisco’s favorite Boulevard Restaurant; Art Smith, chef and co-owner of Table 52 in Chicago among other restaurants; and Marcel Vigneron, owner of Modern Global Tasting catering and new Beefsteak restaurant.

“Maui on My Mind” happens from 5 to 9 p.m. at the Sheraton Maui Resort; tickets are $200 per person and $300 for VIP.

Hawaiian Airlines will present the “Legend of Shep Gordon,” a six-course dinner created by six of Gordon’s chef friends, in the beachfront Napili Garden at the Hyatt Regency Maui on Sunday, Sept. 6.

So “why Shep Gordon?” you may ask. He’s revered as a Hollywood insider, talent agent and manager, having represented Alice Cooper, Teddy Pendergrass, Ann Murray and many more. Did you know that he was also instrumental in establishing the Food Network on television and responsible for the rise of celebrity chefs, notably Emeril Lagasse and Wolfgang Puck? Not only that, as a resident of Maui, he played a pivotal role in introducing and shaping the 1990s Hawaii Regional Cuisine (HRC) movement.

“When I started representing chefs on the Mainland, I also figured out a way to represent Hawaii’s chefs,” said Shep. “We put together a group of chefs who would best represent Hawaii and the use of products native to Hawaii, using European and Asian techniques.”

HRC chefs based on Maui include Mark Ellman, Bev Gannon, Roger Dikon and Peter Merriman. I remember, when working for Georja Skinner at Skinner Communications in the early 1990s, helping her arrange the details for a big HRC dinner being hosted by Gordon at Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Santa Monica restaurant, Schatzi on Main. The HRC movement was so new that the visitor industry hadn’t yet recognized it. Thanks to Georja’s connection with the Maui Visitors Bureau, she arranged to have chef jackets made with “MAUI” branding for all chefs to wear who were participating in the event, ordered lei for the HRC chefs and brought Henry Kapono and Elizabeth Lindsey to entertain the guests. You can bet the evening was a huge success and helped to launch the HRC craze on Maui.

It’s in this spirit that the festival is honoring Shep Gordon. Executive Chef Greg Grohowski of the Hyatt Regency Maui will host the dinner along with five of Shep’s chef friends.

“To kick off the dinner, I am serving Hot Smoked Big Island-Kona Abalone with squash puree, Ole Surfing Goat cheese, Okinawan spinach, fresh mini lettuce, blue cheese and almond-stuffed dates in a yuzu water dressing topped off with Hawaiian shaved chocolate,” Grohowsk remarked. “This is the first time I’m pairing all of these ingredients together, and I can’t wait to see what the guests think of this unique dish.”

Five more courses will be prepared by guest chefs: Robert Del Grande, chef-owner of RDG + Bar Annie in Houston; Celestino Drago, chef-owner of the Drago Restaurant Group in Los Angeles; Dean Fearing, chef-creator of Fearing’s in Dallas; Nancy Silverton, chef and co-owner of Mozza Restaurant Group in Los Angeles; and Mark Tarbell, chef-owner of Tarbell’s in Phoenix.

The chefs will star as the evening’s entertainment, cooking in full view on a raised “kitchen stadium.” Chef Grohowski noted, “I am extremely excited to experience this year’s lineup of amazing chefs, and having the opportunity to work alongside them is an incredible honor.”

“Legend of Shep Gordon” runs from 5 to 9:30 p.m. at the Hyatt Regency Maui. Tickets are $250 per person ($500 for VIP). See hawaiifoodandwinefestival.com/tickets for information.