From Farm to Festival

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This Fall’s Food & Wine Fête Has Much to Benefit

Returning Hawai’i to a sustainable ecosystem of agriculture, environment and economy is a buzz that has been going around for quite some time. Various agencies-utility companies, car dealerships, restaurants, retail shops and hotels- have all pondered (some with more success than others) ways to get on board with less of an impact, yet still remain viable.

By now, most readers will have heard about the Hawai’i Food & Wine Festival-the first time such an undertaking has been attempted in state. What few realize is the partnership that fell in place in order for it to happen, as well as exactly whom stands to benefit most from its success.

The unique partnership between the Hawai’i Agricultural Foundation and the Culinary, Hospitality and Tourism Department of Kapi’olani Community College (which is tied to the soon-to- be-branded Culinary Institute of the Pacific) should not only attract much-needed funding, but will open the eyes of future leaders in the culinary field. A bevy of top talent from both around Hawai’i, as well as (truly impressive) stars from abroad will descend upon Hawai’i for the Sept. 29 – Oct. 1, 2011 event.

Hailing from various Asian countries, Australia, Canada and the U.S., these include: Vikram Garg (Halekulani), Hubert Keller (San Francisco), Yoshihiro Murata (Kyoto, Japan), Tetsuya Wakuda (Sydney, Australia), Alessandro Stratta (Las Vegas), Edward Kwon (Seoul, Korea), Susur Lee (Toronto, Canada), Celestrino Drago (L.A.), Rick Moonen (Las Vegas), Chef Mavro (Honolulu) and Michael Gino (New York). Marcel Vigneron, the controversial Top Chef contender, will give a demo. The owners of Hudson Valley Foie Gras will be in attendance. The list goes on and on.

Three days and three major events will range from a sit-down, chef’s tasting dinner at the Halekulani hotel, to a street fair-like party at the Waikiki Edition capped with a “Grand Tasting” event at Hilton Hawaiian Village, this will be the ultimate in food and wine pairings for discriminating culinarians.

Chef partners Alan Wong and Roy Yamaguchi, who are aiding in the organization and marketing, are no strangers to raising funds for the food arts. According to Culinary Institute of the Pacific (CIP) director Conrad Nonaka, the partners came together-this time-with the people of Hawai’i in mind.

“Alan Wong and Roy [Yamaguchi] are our honorary co-chairs for fundraising, and have been for the last 10 years. Roy works close with Hawai’i State Ag Foundation [run by Dean Okimoto] in doing an annual event to benefit farmers. [He] wanted to take that level of what they do at the restaurant, add more chefs, and make it benefit all of Hawai’i,” Nonaka shares.

“We’re committed to doing this festival for the next five years,” says Okimoto, who will be working with his farm and other farmers to source produce for the three days of events.

Something Okimoto learned early on in the development phase of this project was the wide array of people who will find interest in it. Okimoto points to his 22-year- old daughter, Leigh, who is “really excited about the ‘Streets of Asia: Morimoto and Friends’ event at the Edition. It’s perfect for the young, hip crowd,” he adds, noting the importance of getting the idea of sustainable farming to a younger generation. The “Master Chefs Gala Dinner” (tickets are $1,000 per person) at Halekulani is the event he’s looking forward to. He knows Alessandro Stratta, and is extremely excited to meet and taste the food from Hubert Keller.

Part of that vision is raising $40 million to develop the nearly 8 acres of space on Diamond Head where the new CIP will be located. In the meantime, says Nonaka, the event will benefit Hawai’i tourism and the hotels, by creating a world-class party during what is called a “shoulder,” or soft, season.

“This event could be the next Aspen, or South Beach food and wine festival,” says Nonaka. “Look at what that has done for those communities.”

Another goal of the program is to attract Asian visitors, in hopes that the trickle down leads to more enrollment at CIP from those regions.

“We have links to universities in Vietnam, Singapore, Thailand, China and Japan. If we can strengthen that bond and attract those students, it’s not only a value to their country, but to Hawai’i. It will spread our talent as well as flavors,” Nonaka adds, mentioning that although the current plans aren’t to have the facility ready until 2015, the first 16 students will enter the new program this fall.

For Okimoto, trying to establish an ‘ag in the classroom program’ with the Hawaii Farm Bureau is the goal.

“We want to get farmers in the classrooms, and also educate the public about what’s going on in the ag industry. We want to show people that we need to balance our resources, and maybe, develop some new farmers.”

He adds that for farmers like him, it’s important to show the young chefs that Hawai’i can grow local produce that can shine. “We have no better marketers than the chefs who use our produce.”

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