The term “Hawaiian cuisine” might once have conjured images of pineapple-and-Spam-strewn pizza and cloying rum cocktails—but visitors to Hawaii’s first Food & Wine Festival this month will find those notions laughably outdated. Sustainable agriculture is now the buzzword on the islands, resulting not only in world-class produce but, a proliferation of international chefs happy to sing its praises.
The inaugural festival, which runs from September 29 to October 1 in Oahu’s iconic resort hub of Waikiki, is a celebration of distinctively Hawaiian cuisine as interpreted by a group of culinary stars from around the world—including Hawaiian chef and festival co-chair Roy Yamaguchi, celebrity “Iron Chef” Masaharu Morimoto, and Sydney’s own Tetsuya Wakuda, who is cooking dinner at the weekend’s Master Chefs Gala Dinner Series at the Halekulani Hotel.
Wakuda says he’s proud to be the only Australian chef invited to the festival. “Hawaii represents an extraordinary example of progressive fusion food,” he says. “There have been so many cultures which have brought flavors and ingredients, cooking techniques and presentation styles to Hawaii over many years. The result is cuisine that is fascinating it its merging of cultural influences.”
Island-born chef Ed Kenny, whose lauded Town restaurant in Honolulu preaches (and practices) the creed of “local first, organic whenever possible, with aloha always,” is confident he knows what holds these cultural influences together. “Hawaii has incredible diversity—of people and food,” he says. “But we’re all bound together by what we call ‘ahola aina’: love of the land.”
The festival will plate up a host of locally grown produce such as sea asparagus, Kahuku corn, Kona abalone, lilikoi fruit and pohole fern while putting the spotlight on Hawaii’s many new small regional farming operations. Three days of demos, dinners, classes—and not a can of Spam in sight.