Cuisine and Culture Collide: Highlights from the Third Annual Hawai’i Food & Wine Festival



“Food brings people together on many different levels. It’s nourishment of the soul and body; it’s truly love.” – Giada De Laurentiis

The Third Annual Hawai’i Food & Wine Festival (HFWF) was a distinct gathering unlike any other. A place where cuisine and culture were given the opportunity to collide in the most decadent way possible.

Guests had the chance to sample the cuisines and products from some of the most prominent culinary influencers, while enjoying live demonstrations (Christina Tosi and Michelle Karr-Ueoka), world-class wine and spirit tastings, exploring an ancientahupuaʻa, one-of-a-kind lunches, a $1,000-a-head dinner with Grant Achatz (who served his rendition of a Spam musubi), Hubert Keller and Vikram Garg, after parties and so much more.

There are few things in life that act as a catalyst for the gathering of people. But food is definitely one of them. It brings people together and is the heart of society. To me, food is a little like language–an inherent part of the human experience; a subtle form of communication that is understood by all.

At its essence, food is love. It is life. It creates beautiful things: like conversation, appreciation, and romance.

Using the language of food, Roy Yamaguchi and Alan Wong founded what has become an unforgettable epicurean experience. One that has the power to turn your run-of-the-mill foodie into a bon vivant overnight.

With more than 75 internationally acclaimed chefs, three master sommeliers, 19 winemakers, nine mixologists, a sake brewer, and a brewmaster from Hawai’i, the US mainland, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Philippines and Australia, I’m sure you can imagine how difficult it is to describe all of the wonderful highlights from this nine day event without leaving something out.

Without a doubt, food and drinks were celebrated. And people were really, really happy.

“Some observations that I made at the festival was the high quality of the food that was served. I have been to quite a few events, and this was by far my favorite one,” says Ricardo Zarate, who made a guest appearance at “Savory Ever After”. “The food was of such high quality, and every single dish was incredible. I am very glad that I was part of this event, especially one so close to the beach!”

Of the thousands of elegant dishes cooked and countless handmade cocktails served, there was perfect pairing to be appreciated around every corner. And I’m not talking beer and foot-long bratwurst smothered in sauerkraut, either.

Don’t get me wrong, I love a good beer and brat, but when compared with slowly sipping on one of Tony Abou-Ganim‘s vodka-based cocktails garnished with watermelon and grapefruit, while watching the sunset behind The Modern Honolulu, and savoring the gooey richness of Floyd Cardoz‘s ahi and ogo with a sunny-side up quail egg, and crunchy, light croutons, they don’t stand a chance.

Every dish did far more than make guests’ palates co

me alive–it made them feel connected to each other and also to the land. Of course, great cooking begins with respect for produce. And the bounty of Hawai’i provided the quintessential ingredients for chefs to simply and deliciously pour culture and inspiration into each bite.

“It’s incredible,” said Floyd Cardoz, Chef/owner of North End Grill in New York. “And I brought nothing with me. Everything I’m cooking is directly from Hawaii.”

From the island's bountiful produce, to the freshest meat, poultry, and seafood found in the Pacific, the HFWF has planted the seed toward an abundant, sustainable future.

You bring the appetite, the Island will bring the flavor.

Opening Night: Under the Modern Moon at The Modern Honolulu

The sold-out “Under the Modern Moon” signature event, once again led by Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto, kicked off the festival in O’ahu September 5, with guest chefs, including Charles Phan, Floyd Cardoz, Bryant Ng, Anita Lo and Eric Ziebold, alongside 10 wine-makers and five of the country’s best mixologists.

Stylish and as extravagant as ever, this East meets West event brought celebrity chefs and food fans from all over the world together for a very memorable night of amazing conversation, toasting, and happy bellies.

Tony Abou-Ganim’s Zig Zag, a summery watermelon concoction, and Sarah’s Smile, a bittersweet cocktail with grapefruit juice, sweetened with elderflower liqueur.

Even Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto was impressed with the amazing ingredients, which assisted with his culinary inspiration. He doesn’t much remember the drinks, but he does remember a few great moments that stemmed from this marvelous evening.

“This year I served Butter Lettuce Wrapper Crispy Pork Belly and Green Papaya Kimchee with a Poha Berry Jam. I wanted to integrate the local ingredients and Asian flavors as I do atMorimoto Waikiki. That’s why I love coming back here again and again,” said Morimoto. “The guests simply loved the dish. We prepared 1000 servings and had more than 800 guests at the event, but we ran out of the food at 7pm and had to make more. The total servings made were 1500!!! Guests came back for 2nd and 3rd times, which was great.”

From Charles Phan‘s juicy chicken drizzled with a sweet Sriracha sauce to Bryant Ng‘s deep-fried, spicy cereal prawns, and Scott Toner‘s tender braised shortib, on a corn griddle cake with pickled cauliflower, esculent creativity was lavish.

And Stephen Durfee's macadamia nut honey mousse, with pineapple sherbert and macadamia crunch, was the stuff dessert dreams are made of. There’s a reason he is one of the “Ten Best Pastry Chefs in America,” the executive pastry chef at the famed French Laundry in Yountville, California, and recipient of the James Beard award for “Pastry Chef of the Year.”

Paying tribute to the abundance of local ingredients available in Hawai‘i, on Saturday, September 7, “Taste our Love for the Land” showcased the Island’s sustainable future, with 18 world-renowned celebrity chefs, master sommeliers, wineries and mixologists. For this event, the Hawai’i Convention Center was given all-star treatment and its rooftop garden was transformed to entertain a pioneering feast.

Although it was literally impossible to get through every station and sample each and every delectable dish, there were quite a few that left me wishing this event took place every weekend (and in my hometown).

Grant MacPherson’s Scotch egg with Big Island beef paired so nicely with the assorted Pinot Noirs being poured that I began desiring for a higher alcohol tolerance and a bigger stomach.

But it didn’t end there. The local chefs had some magic up their sleeves, as well.

Jon Matsubara’s Smoked Local Lobster with Potato Salad and Keoni Chang of Foodland Supermakets’ Beef Bruschetta had me going back for seconds. So did Sang Yoon’s modern take on lomi salmon and the Panna Cotta with Uni and Abalone by Mourad Lahlou of Aziza in San Francisco. The sweetness of the local abalone combined with rich cream and sea urchin was to die for!

The weather was pleasant, guests were beaming and each booth offered unique dishes that called attention to Hawai’i’s copious ingredients.

Overall, the entire week-long festival was a huge success.

“The Governor of Hawaii even stopped by to greet all of the chefs,” explained Morimoto. “I thought it was very nice to see the entire state–the government people, local farmers, people in the community—get together to make this event successful. I felt the energy, which was inspiring for me.”

Where words failed, the food at the HFWF told a story and bridged the gap between cultures, allowing guests to communicate from a nourishing, sustaining and utterly satisfying point of view.

“My experience being at HFWF was incredible!” exclaimed a group of guests before leaving one of the events. “All we can say is that we will be back next year!”

If you didn’t manage to get a ticket for any of this year’s events, it’s already time to look forward to next year. Mark your calender for August 31 – September 7, 2014, for the Fourth Annual Hawai’i Food & Wine Festival.

Now’s your chance to play your part in doing something amazing for yourself and the islands’ future. Food should be the first item on any social calender. You can enjoy it with both friends and strangers alike.

I promise you won’t be disappointed.


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