Hawaii Steps Up Local Food Scene

In recent years, Hawaii’s culinary scene has gone far beyond poi and Spam. Top-notch chefs are working with farmers to bring local ingredients to diners’ plates, and resorts and restaurants alike are turning the state into a premiere foodie destination.

On Oahu, the Sheraton Waikiki opened Kai Market a few years ago, placing Hawaiian food front-and-center at one of the world’s most famous beaches. On Maui, Tommy Bahama Restaurant & Bar debuted a farm-to-table menu last summer that uses locally sourced ingredients prepared in-house daily. SoulSpace Sanctuary has its own organic garden, which supplies food to the farm-to-table kitchen.

And on Hawaii Island, Hilton Waikoloa Village began focusing on “Homegrown Hawaii” last summer. Chef Charles Charbonneau created a menu of local dishes based on sustainable farm-to-table ingredients from the island, such as the Lagoon Grill Kona lobster burger and KPC Kasuzuke Glazed Hapu’upu’u. At Orchid Marketplace, guests can sip Kona Mountain Thunder Coffee, a nearby state-licensed coffee farm.

Festivals are also helping to enhance and promote island cuisine. This year has already seen the 17th annual Kona Brewers Festival (www.konabrewersfestival.com), a celebration of local beers that includes island-style dishes from 30 Hawaiian chefs. June will see the annual Kapalua Wine & Food Festival on Maui, which will include food tastings with celebrity chefs and wine samplings from popular sommeliers. This year’s event will also include a tribute to legendary chef Julia Child in honor of her centenary. In Ko’olina, Oahu, the four-day Hawaii Food & Wine Festival will showcase dishes using local produce, including locally sourced seafood, beef and poultry. James Beard Award-winning chefs Roy Yamaguchi and Alan Wong will reportedly be part of the September event.

Tour operators are also getting in on the action: On Oahu, Hawaii Food Tours is a tour operator designed and guided by former Hawaii food writer and restaurant reviewer Matthew Gray. Three tours are available, and activities can include hole-in-the-wall restaurants, a Hawaiian luau feast (complete with cooking demonstrations) and multi- course wine dinners.