The Path to Enlightenment is Paved with Thai Street Food

thai street food

thai street foodOnce a year the Thai Buddhist Temple of Hawaiʻi turns into a Thai Street Food Sanctuary

Crispy fried chicken with sticky rice, steaming bowls of coconut fish curry poured over vermicelli noodles with fresh herbs and lime and ice-cold cups of bright orange, spiced Thai tea. Getting hungry yet?

Thai fried chicken
Thai fried chicken

A few weeks ago I was out foraging with Nat Bletter, cofounder of Madre Chocolate, and we got to talking about Thailand––where he lived for a while doing his postdoc.

In between identifying native plants and cracking open kukui nuts he gave me a gem of a recommendation. Every year during Buddhist lent––July to October––the Thai Buddhist Temple of Hawaiʻi in Pearl City puts on a Thai Street Food Market on Sundays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. It is the closest you will get to authentic Thai and Lao cuisine in Hawaiʻi he promised.

thai street food
Green Fish Curry

On a sweltering hot day in July I grabbed a foodie friend and set out for the Temple. We failed miserably on our first attempt.

“It happens to people all the time,” Bletter said after hearing that we showed up to their old location on 2nd street first by accident.

By the time we found the right address, and made our way over to their new(ish) Temple on Farrington, Bletter was just showing up.

thai street food

The three of us spread 11 dishes onto a picnic table and dove in. Bletter gave us ingredient intel on each dish as we navigated through the flavors of sweet, sour, salty and spicy.

None of the dishes are over $8 and all proceeds go to support the monks––who steadily perform rituals and chants all afternoon while people graze.

Thai Street Food
Red Fish Curry

Spicy fried smelt (tiny fish) are tossed with red curry paste, fresh chilis and julienned lemongrass and Tod Mun, or fish cakes, made with galangal and makrut lime leaves are served with Thai sweet chili sauce.

thai street food
Spicy fried smelt
thai street food
Tod Mun

Papaya salad is made to order––to suit your taste––and is served with a handful of peppery la lot leaves. I opted for only one dried chile and an extra squeeze of lime in mine. The woman preparing it let me try it three times until she saw I was happy with the ratio.

thai street food
Green papaya salad

One of the vendors instructed us to eat the Saku Sai Mu––chewy balls of tapioca stuffed with pork––by wrapping them first in fresh cilantro sprigs and following each bite with a nibble off a Thai chili. It was my favorite dish of the day. “You have to eat it all today,” he urged. “It won’t be good tomorrow.”

thai street food
Saku Sai Mu

Pla Pad Chah gets its name from the sizzling sound the fish makes when it hits the skillet. This version is made with eggplant and includes mouthwatering aromatics like green chilis, pickled green peppercorns and Thai basil.

Thai street food
Pla Pad Chah

Another made-to-order salad I loved comprised bamboo shoots massaged with bai yanang––an herb and natural MSG. The marinated shoots are tossed with toasted, ground sticky rice, dried chilis, palm sugar, fish sauce, red onion, lime and mint.

Thai street food
Marinated bamboo shoots
Thai street food
Bamboo shoot salad

For dessert you must try the Khanom Krok––plump pan fried rice pancakes oozing with coconut cream and scallion––and Khao Tom Mud–– banana leaf wrapped coconut sticky rice stuffed with red beans and banana that turns bright pink once cooked.

Thai street food
Khanom Krok
Thai street food
Khanom Krok
Thai Street Food
Khao Tom Mud

There is also a table set up inside the Temple where the monks place their leftover food after they eat. The food is up for grabs to anyone who would like some blessed bites.

Thai Street Food
Food blessed by the monks

Bletter gave me a few tips. You may want to practice these when you show up to the Temple (or Thailand) out of respect.

1.   Cover your shoulders and don’t wear shorts to the Temple.
2.   At the beginning of a meal, fill up on a few bites of sticky rice first instead of going in for the more expensive ingredients right away.
3.   Pick up the sticky rice with your fingers and use it as a vessel to pick up the other ingredients with. Don’t lick your fingers.

On our way out we spoke with Loonk Pai-Rat, or “Uncle” Pai-Rat, a Buddhists who had been walking around educating guests while we were eating.

“You know why monks shave their heads?” he asked. “To make it easier to wash! That’s it!” He was demonstrating one of the principals of their lifestyle, which is to simplify.

He also warned us about desire––an action the Buddhists believe is the root of all suffering.

I digested his words, along with the feast we had just consumed, on the car ride home. It was a reminder to accept and be grateful for what I already have, to stop clinging to impermanent things and to stay focused on living a virtuous and intentional life––that eternal practice of letting go of the ego.

If you enjoy Thai cuisine you will love this event. Bring friends, sample everything and most importantly…open your mind. The Buddhist’s path is an enlightening one and as it turns out a delicious one too.

96-130 Farrington hwy, Pearl City
July-October, Sundays, 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.

Pro tip: The parking lot gets full so if you see a spot on the street, grab it!

Madre Chocolate Farm Tour: How To Get From Bean To Bar

madre chocolate farm tour
madre chocolate farm tour
Photo by Ketino Photography

An afternoon of connecting with the land and tasting award winning chocolate awaits you on the Madre Chocolate Farm Tour at Nine Fine Mynahs Estate in Waialua.

Imagine biting into a bar of rich dark chocolate that is so creamy you swear it is milk chocolate.

There’s no crumble or chalkiness. Instead, it feels like you are sinking your teeth into a stick of butter. The essence of north shore rain and tropical fruit  slowly tempers on your tongue.

This is Madre Chocolate.

You can thank the climate and terroir in Hawaiʻi for that luxurious mouthfeel.

But don’t think it is because of sunny, warm temperatures. Hawaiʻi is actually one of the coldest places on earth growing cacao. It’s cool winds and volcanic soil produce beans that are extra high in cocao butter making them some of the best in the world.

You will learn this, and so much more, on the Madre Chocolate farm tour.

madre chocolate farm tour

Out on the farm

The air is thick and muggy upon my arrival. I hop out of the car, cover myself in a fog of bug spray and pull my hair up, which is already starting to frizz and stick to the back of my neck.

The owner of the property, Jeanne “J” Bennet, strolls over with a smile and ushers me to a picnic table surrounded by a cluster of tree stumps. The other guests are just starting to congregate.

In between the spaces of country silence I can hear mynah birds chirping and firearms popping off nearby. “Target practice,” Bennet says. “At least when they’re shooting guns you can hear them and know where they are. Not like when they’re shooting arrows.”

I survey the faces of the other guests, curious of their reactions, and then turn my attention to the plate of freshly harvested Sunrise papaya Bennet has just set out for us.

Next to the papaya is a bottle of Nat Bletterʻs mango hot sauce made from local mangos and chilis. “You can dip your papaya in the hot sauce if you’d like,” Bennet suggests.

madre chocolate farm tour
Nat Bletter, co-founder of Madre Chocolate

The dreamers of the dreams

We start the tour with a meet and greet.

Nat Bletter guides the Madre Chocolate farm tour. He is an expert botanist and cofounder of Madre Chocolate. He’s also a chili enthusiast currently growing 120 different varieties on O’ahu, hence the hot sauce.

Bennet and her husband Bruce Clements own the estate. They moved in several years ago to find acres of fallow land suffering from years of aggressive monocropping and depleted soil. They started by planting trees. Hundreds of them. All types. Within a year and a half 620 cacao trees covered the property. “We are planting trees as fast as trees are being cut down,” Bennet says.

Clements is an ex pilot and the farm’s “handy man.” He’s built everything you see at Nine Fine Mynah’s Estate including a massive workshop, a sweet little chocolate factory and the couple’s impressive country home (complete with indoor bird sanctuary). In his spare time he makes beer and chocolate with Bennet and Bletter.

madre chocolate farm tour
Nat’s mango hot sauce, miel de cacao, raw criollo cacao

Ice cream and black coffee

After her spiel Bennet quickly passes the baton to Bletter who gives us a brief history on the evolution of cacao and its origins.

He splits open a fresh pod for us to taste and hands out cups of cacao pulp juice he calls miel de cacao. The juice is delightful––syrupy sweet with a thick mucous-like consistency similar to what spills out of okra. The beans from the cacao pods are covered in a white, sweet-tart pulp with a crunchy center that is bitter like black coffee. A wonderful contrast in my opinion.

madre chocolate farm tour

Afterward, Bletter walks us over to a grove of cacao trees full of pods tie died red, yellow and orange.

The cacao enjoys the shade and consistent hits of nitrogen from the ice cream bean trees hovering above.

Bletter cracks open a fuzzy, green bean pod thatʻs about a foot long. It is packed with what looks like a cluster of damp cotton balls. He passes the pod around, so everyone can reach in and pull out a bean to try.

We are instructed to enjoy the soft, snow white outer coating but not eat the bean itself (which is only edible if cooked). It feels like cotton candy melting on my tongue and tastes of tamarind and vanilla ice cream. Some of the guests pocket the beans to plant an ice cream tree of our own when they get home.

madre chocolate farm tour
Nat introducing us to ice cream beans

Over 50% of the cacao used for Madre Chocolate is from Hawaiʻi. Criollo and trinitario varieties are grown at Nine Fine Mynahs Estate. More comes from Kona and a few other small farms on the Big Island and Oʻahu. The rest comes from Central America simply to keep up with supply and demand.

Bean to bar in 12 steps

Madre Chocolate is made in small batches, by hand, with the help of a few simple tabletop machines. Bletter walks you through each step during the tour giving you the opportunity to taste the cacao during every stage of the process, so that you can see the transformation the beans undergo.

1. Harvesting.  The cacao is checked for ripeness by scratching the pod. If it reveals a green hue they need more time on the tree. If they scratch yellow or red they are ready to harvest.
2. Fermentation.  After the pods are split open and the beans are removed they get placed in a small chest freezer to ferment for about 10 days, until reaching a temperature of 118-120 degrees. The beans look like they are covered in the same red-orange clay mud that spreads across the farm like peanut butter. They smell yeasty and, when peeled, take on the color and taste of red wine.
3. Drying. Still hot to the touch, the beans are laid out to dry on wire racks lined with 2 layers of fiberglass screens (so the metal doesn’t impart flavor). This happens in a well-ventilated A-frame shed for 6 weeks to 6 months.
4. Roasting. The beans are roasted using low heat resulting in a complex nutty, yet still fruity, flavor.
5. Crushing. The beans are crushed in order to remove the outer shell.
6. Winnowing. The beans are put through a winnower to blow off the outer shell.
7. Grinding. The cacao nibs go into a grinder.
8. Cacao butter separation. This step is omitted at Madre Chocolate. Bletter explains that they do not have the volume of cacao, nor the enormous machine thatʻs needed in order to separate the cacao butter from the cacao. Instead, the cacao butter at Madre Chocolate is left in.
9. Sugar and other desired ingredients are added.
10. Churning. The cacao and other ingredients churn together for 2-5 days straight to produce chocolate.
11. Tempering. The chocolate is heated and cooled for texture and shine.
12.The chocolate is poured into molds to create chocolate bars.

madre chocolate farm tour
Fermentation and drying process

Halfway through the tour, dark clouds start to fill the sky. We escape the rain by taking a detour through Bennet’s home and mynah bird sanctuary––what the estate is named after.

madre chocolate farm tour

Inside Bennet’s home a zoo unfolds. Mynah birds soar through the kitchen and dining room and the kids get the opportunity to feed some of the newborns by hand. Bennet notices my wide eyes and skeptical smile and turns to me and says, “We use a lot of wet wipes here.” I laugh and gaze at the happy birds in awe.

madre chocolate farm tour
The kids feeding baby Mynah birds with syringes

Nat and the chocolate factory

Soon Bletter shows back up to take us over to the chocolate factory for a chocolate making demo and chocolate dipped frozen apple bananas.

madre chocolate farm tour
Roasting, winnowing and grinding

He saves the best for last by caffeinating us with cacao shell tea and gifting our palates with samples of every flavor of their award winning chocolate, including a bar he calls Horchata that’s been flavored with cinnamon, puffed rice and almonds, their Drinking Chocolate that has a rustic stone ground texture and the Earl Grey Chocolate that contains as much caffeine as 6 cups of tea.

madre chocolate farm tour
Roasted cacao beans

Madre Chocolate, now 8 years old, is among the top 18 cacao growers in the world. They have won the highest number of accolades in Hawaii for their chocolate including Best Hawaiian Cacao at the Big Island Chocolate Festival and the prestigious International Cocoa Award at the Cocoa of Excellence competition in Paris.

madre chocolate farm tour
Chocolate dipped apple bananas with toppings

Producing award-winning chocolate isn’t Bennet and Clement’s only raison d’être. As much as they love chocolate they are equally as passionate about caring for the wild life and land that surrounds them. To tour the estate is to look deeply into their dreams and life’s work on an intimate level. An invitation I do not take lightly.

madre chocolate farm tour

Bennet is a recent breast cancer survivor. She says the first thing she asked her doctor, when she was diagnosed, was if she could still eat a chocolate bar a day.

Her doctor enthusiastically said, “Yes!” and told her that as long as itʻs 70% cacao the benefits of the antioxidants and flavanols cancel out any negative effects of the sugar. Bennet says when she heard this she looked at her doctor and replied “how about two bars a day?”

madre chocolate farm tour

In addition to the Madre Chocolate farm tour, Bletter also hosts chocolate making classes, whiskey and chocolate pairings and a boot camp for aspiring cacao farmers.

You can purchase their chocolate online, at the KCC farmers market or in select retail and grocery stores that can be found on their website.

Madre Chocolate Farm Tour 
Hosted by Nat Bletter and Jeanne Bennet

Sundays at 1pm
Nine Fine Mynahs Cacao Farm
Waialua, HI 96791
(808) 779-8608
www.madrechocolate.com

 

Like this article? Subscribe to The Healthy Locavore for more on how to eat local and live well in Hawaiʻi. I am so grateful for this community, thank you so much for being a part of it!

Waiahole Poi Factory: A Roadside Stand Worth Stopping For

waiahole poi factory

waiahole poi factory

An afternoon cruise on the Windward side is not complete without a plate lunch at this local icon.

One of my favorite things to do with my husband on a day off, is pack a couple beach towels and a cooler and drive up the windward coast. After living here almost two years we finally made it to Waiahole Poi Factory last week.

Originally a poi factory in 1905, this institution has since turned into an art gallery, incubator kitchen and, about 10 years ago, back to a poi factory with a counter service restaurant serving some of the best traditional luau fare on island.

The historic building charms you the minute you drive up. A rusty, aluminum overhang wraps around the weathered wood façade that boasts their iconic sign. The vibe is laid back––vacationers and locals in bathing suits fresh from the beach. There are a dozen tables, mostly out front under umbrellas, but some inside sharing the space that houses local art and T-shirts for sale.

The line to order stays steady, but moves quickly. The friendly staff navigates tourists efficiently through the menu, so they won’t accidently order too much. You can order staples like Chinese long rice and Beef Luau as large or small combo plates, or as a side dish so you can mix and match.

My husband eagerly ran back to our cooler, to grab a couple beers, when the cashier gave him the green light. She said the only reason they don’t serve alcohol is because half the staff is too young to sell it.

waiahole poi factory

The lau lau is addictive. Succulent chunks of pork shoulder, salty butterfish and creamy kalo steamed to perfection. I recommend adding a splash of house-made chile water to every bite. Side dishes like lomi salmon, with its bright acidity reminiscent of pico de gallo, and crunchy ho’io salad–– quickly blanched and chilled fiddlehead ferns tossed with sweet onion, dried shrimp, tomato and shoyu dressing––balance out the richness of the main dishes.

Waiahole Poi Factory

The only dish that wasn’t as bold as the others was the kalua pig, but I still happily scooped up several bites of it with steamed rice dunking it in the chile water. Our meal was so satisfying; I’m already planning my next visit back.

Waiahole Poi Factory, 48-140 Kamehameha Highway, Kaneohe, open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily, 239-2222, waiaholepoifactory.com.

Digesting A Year Of Ingredients

On January 1st, 2018 I took on a personal project called “The Year Of Ingredients.” The goal was simple, find 365 ingredients grown in Hawaii.

I chose Instagram as my platform for the challenge. My job was to post an image of an ingredient every day with a caption of what it was and how to cook with it.

Learn more, about what inspired me to do this, here.

The ingredients could come from anywhere in Hawaii. They did not have to be organic, they just needed to be locally grown or produced with local ingredients.

year of ingredients
North Shore potatoes, raw honeycomb from Tolentino Honey Co., Banana Gabe’s banana bounty at the Variety Showcase

I gained a lot from this project: I got to form relationships with the people who grow my food, I learned about ingredients I had never seen or heard of before, I discovered local markets like The Locavore Store, and toured farms that often aren’t open to the public. Not to mention, establishing a daily writing routine.

Sometimes on tough mornings (last year was not the easiest) writing my daily Year Of Ingredients post was the only thing that motivated me to start my day. 

year of ingredients
Escarole, Mohala Farms

By completing this project I  found that there are way more than 365 ingredients growing in Hawaii. We can grow practically anything here with the right location and a strong enough desire. More small farms are stepping up to this challenge every day. Crops like peppers, once notoriously difficult to grow, are popping up at farmers markets and in locally made hot sauces in all kinds of varieties. 

year of ingredients
Counter Culture Farm

The Year of Ingredients took me on an epic culinary journey this year.

I’ve enjoyed hanging with the farmers, working the Go Farm program in Waimanalo, sampling ingredients ripped right out of the ground in front of me. Bryan and Natalie from Dela Mesa Farm, Priscilla from Vida Farm and Jacey and Miles from Roots and Remedies Farm have been amazing. 

farms and produce
Jay Bost (Go Farm), farmer’s market produce, Roots & Remedies Farm

I learned about new crop varieties being developed to thrive in Hawaii’s growing conditions at The Variety Showcase. I toured Ma’o Farms, spent hours photographing flowers and kale at Counter Culture Farm, learned about canoe plants at the Manoa Heritage Center,  attended farm-to-table dinners at Mohala Farms, sourced ingredients from all corners of the island from my laptop thanks to Farm Link and tasted freshly harvested honeycomb from Tolentino Honey Company. I’ve also learned about the struggles of processing meat and raising chickens in Hawaii and the need for harvesting wild deer and boar to help manage invasive species.

year of ingredients
Kahumana Farms radishes, Priscilla from Vida Farm harvesting puntarelle, Mangos from Kahumana Farm hub, Bryan showing us huitlacoche at DeLa Mesa Farm
Hawaii’s farmers, ranchers, fisherman and small business owners generously shared their bounty and knowledge with me. They are some of the kindest,  smartest and most humble people I’ve ever met. Their dedication to nurturing the land and waters of Hawaii goes beyond simply talking about sustainable practices, it is their life’s work. Getting to know them and their stories has been the most rewarding part of this experience. 
year of ingredients
Locally caught fish from Ashley at Local’Ia,

After a year of hunting I now have a good understanding of what ingredients are available locally in Hawaii and where to source them.  Most of all, I have an insurmountable feeling of gratitude for the people who grow them.

The Year of Ingredients has inspired me to know end.

I hope it did for you too.

year of ingredients
Ma’o Farms at the market and in the field

To see the complete project visit @yearofingredients on Instagram.

To stay up to date with my work and events subscribe to the Healthy Locavore Newsletter. 

Saying Goodbye To My Culinary Hero: Anthony Bourdain

Anthony Bourdain

Anthony Bourdain

“I wanted to write in Kitchenese, the secret language of cooks, instantly recognizable to anyone who has ever dunked french fries for a summer job or suffered under the despotic rule of a tyrannical chef or boobish owner.”
― Anthony Bourdain, Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly

The world lost an amazing man today.

When I was 19, in culinary school and started working in restaurants, Kitchen Confidential came out and changed my life.

Cooking in kitchens became something to be proud of. Not because everyone started idolizing chefs and started paying more attention to them (which they did), but because it became so much easier to no longer give a shit about what others thought. Why you stopped hanging out on the weekends with your friends, why you started missing every family holiday, why you had burns all over your arms and didn’t care, why you decided against college and a “normal” life to work long hours, get dirty every night and destroy your body instead.

Kitchen confidential made me proud and excited to be entering into the restaurant industry. It made me understand it more clearly. The chapters, “Who cooks?” and “So you want to be a chef” had me smiling and nodding my head the entire time. This guy was speaking our language. A language that most people didn’t understand. I gave the book to my Mom to read when I first got into the restaurant industry, so she could understand. And she did. It probably saved us a lot of hard talks, and saved her a lot of hurt feelings and confusion.

“Line cooks are the heroes,” Anthony said. This statement made us feel like all the 15 hour days working for 12 bucks and hour was worth it. For practically all of us who were (or still are) cooks and chefs, it made us feel respected as professionals and not just the misfits that couldn’t (and didn’t want to) hack it in “normal” jobs or society in general.

He didn’t glamorize the disfunctionality of the restaurant business, he just called it like it was.

Anthony (or Tony as most chefs called him) not only inspired me to be a chef, but a writer too. He is a true master of words. He gave people like me, who had no formal education in writing and a colorful vocabulary, “permission” to write and throw and F-bomb out there, and not care what anyone else thought about it.

He is the reason chef memoirs are so popular and relevant today.

He is the reason we have travel food shows.

His respect for people’s cultures and food preparations taught America to start thinking outside the box, get off our soapboxes, shut our mouths and start learning from people from other countries. Because that’s how you become a better chef and a better person.

Even though I didn’t know Anthony, he was a mentor to me. He was a huge influence in my career, even still to this day, after leaving the industry. I feel like I lost a close friend. I definitely lost my culinary hero.

Rest in peace chef. You have left an eternal legacy that no-one will ever be able to replicate.

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My Trip To Ma’o Farms

Mao farms

Mao farmsI’ve never felt as warm and fuzzy about a farm, as I do for Ma’o Farms.

After shopping with them regularly, for a year at the farmers market, I finally made it over to Wai’anae for a farm tour.

Mao farms

Ma’o Farms is not your average farm. They are a non-profit with a mission to empower and train underprivileged youth to become entrepreneurs and leaders. They succeed at this while helping to create a healthier, more sustainable food system in Hawaii at the same time. It creates an opportunity for both the land and the community to thrive. I invite you to learn more about their social enterprise here.

Mao farms

We had two tour guides showing us around the 25 acre farm: Hiwa, the daughter of the owners of Ma’o Farms and Josh, who leads a small team of farmers, doing everything from harvesting to processing vegetables.

Ma'o Farms

We started the tour with a debriefing of sorts, similar to the way the farmers and interns start their day every morning. As we stood in a circle (symbolizing the seamless circle of life) we introduced ourselves, and talked about our intentions for coming on the tour and what we were there to learn.

Mao farms
A wall hand-made of rocks and soil lines the perimeter of the morning and evening gathering place.

The first stop was the green house where baby plants get their start. Many of the greens they plant out in the field, and even ulu (breadfruit) trees get their start here, before being transferred into the ground.

Ma'o Farms
Full grown ulu tree, just starting to bear fruit

The green house provides protection from pests and wind when these plants are still in their most vulnerable stages. Hiwa reminded us that Ma’o farms is situated right in the middle of a crater, which can act as a wind tunnel, with winds sometimes getting up to 50 miles per hour. Wind this strong would rip baby plants right out of the ground if planted to soon.

Mao farms

But, being in a crater has its advantages too. The type of soil here (vertisol)  is one of the top three most nutrient dense in the world. Because of its high clay content it gets rock solid and cracks when dry. These cracks allow for more water and nutrients to be absorbed and locked in when wet.

Ma'o Farms
There are 12 types of soil in the world. Ma’o Farms has one of the top 3 most nutrient dense types.

Ma’o has an interesting fertilizing system too. They use bonemeal made from fish bones and a method of burning weeds which puts nutrients back into the soil after harvesting. My imagination raced as Hiwa described a tractor driving through the fields with flames shooting out the back.

When asked if they ever worry about the infamous, rat lungworm disease that tends to affect organic farms in Hawaii, Hiwa said they didn’t seem to have many issues with it. This disease is carried by snails and slugs that like wet conditions, and since it tends to be drier where they are, they don’t often see them around.

Ma'o Farms

When it comes to pests, cabbage moths can be an issue for their kale. They use a natural citrus herbicide very sparingly for this, since it can cause the kale to turn yellow and create holes in the leaves.

Ma'o Farms
Sampling Lacinato kale straight out of the ground

Ma'o Farms
Lacinato kale, also known as dino kale or cavalo nero

When it comes to controlling weeds, Ma’o uses what they call a black weed mat. When the sun hits these mats, they heat up and essentially burn the weeds out.

Ma'o Farms
A black mat is used to control weeds

Ma’o used to be a huge chicken farm back in the day. The two former chicken coops are now processing plants filled with interns washing and packaging vegetables to be delivered.

Ma’o has the ability to track every seed they plant, all the way until they are delivered. It’s a food safety precaution. This way if someone were to get sick they could track back to the field where the plant was grown to find out if it had somehow been contaminated.

Ma'o Farms
The processing shed

Ma'o Farms
Baby red beets

Ma'o Farms
Baby carrots

On the way out we caught a glimpse of what Ma’o calls, “the chef’s garden”. Still in its early phases, this project will soon be available for local chefs to virtually choose what they want Ma’o to grow for their restaurants.

Ma'o Farms
The chef’s garden

Ma’o sells their produce wholesale to restaurants, at farmer’s markets, in local grocery stores and through their CSA program. CSA members often get the prime picks and speciality items that aren’t available to anyone else.

When we completed the tour we came back around to where we originally started––standing in a circle. Hiwa explained that, similar to the start of the day, they finish their day back in the circle to rehash the day’s work and plan for the next.

Ma'o Farms
What Michelle Obama has nicknamed “the Queens road”.

It was a reminder of  how much importance they put on the development of their interns, the thought that goes behind the running of the farm and the spiritual aspect of their organization.

It is truly admirable what Ma’o Farms provides for their people and for the land.

Ma'o Farms
The driveway leading into Ma’o farms is lined with kalo (taro), a sacred crop believed to be the original ancestor of the Hawaiian people.

Ma'o Farms
Ma’o Farms, a place rich in mana and built with love.

Have you visited Ma’o Farms? Tell us all about it in the comments section. And if you liked this article I invite you to subscribe to The Healthy Locavore for more on how to eat local, live well, cook healthier and support each other. I am so grateful for this community, thank you so much for being a part of it!

Ma’o Organic Farms

86-148 Pūhāwai Rd.
Wai‘anae, Hawaiʻi 96792

808-696-5569

Variety Showcase Comes To Oahu

variety showcase

variety showcase

Farmers, chefs and food geeks flocked to this year’s Variety Showcase on Oahu. The annual event, which usually takes place in Portland, came to Hawaii for the first time this year on March 13, 2018.

The event gives attendees the opportunity to taste vegetable, legume and grain varieties, that are still being tested. It gives chefs the opportunity to cook with these ingredients and collaborate with plant breeders––which in turn gives the plant breeders an inside look at consumer preferences.

These plant breeders develop seeds that thrive under organic farming conditions, produce excellent flavor and can handle specific growing conditions.

Once the new varieties of crops are bred they are sent to the farmers to test along side other varieties that they are already growing.

I remarked when I first got to the event how I have noticed that the variety of ingredients being offered at the farmers markets has increased dramatically over the past few years. Kathy from Mohala Farms agreed, saying she believed that, “the new generation of farmers in Hawaii are the ones who are responsible for bringing all of these exciting new crops to the island.”

Jay Bost from GoFarm Hawaii and Lane Selman of the Culinary Breeding Network, an organization whose mission “is to build community among plant breeders, farmers and consumers to improve culinary and agricultural quality” hosted the event at Kapiolani Community College. KCC is well known for it’s outstanding culinary program and weekly farmers market, sponsored by the Hawaii Farm Bureau.

At the event, each ingredient was represented by either a farm, co-op or representative of the University of Hawaii that grew the ingredient along side a chef showcasing several varieties of each ingredient to try on their own, as well as in a prepared dish.

All of the dishes prepared were innovative, expertly crafted and delicious. To put it bluntly, I thought the chefs f*cking brought it!

Thanks to GoFarm, The Organic Seed Alliance and farms like Counter Culture who pushed to bring this event to Hawaii, we got to experience something truly unique, special and delicious. I would not be surprised if this event shows up again next year, three times as big. It was a huge success.

Here are some of the highlights (although truly, each table was just as good as the next):

One of the most promising and exciting crops being bred for tropical and organic growing conditions is the mild habanero pepper, since peppers are notorious for being hard to grow in Hawaii.

Bryan and Natalie, the owners of De La Mesa Urban Farm, highlighted the habaneros in two dishes: A pureed habanero salsa made with guijillo and arbol chiles (this would make a killer taco sauce) served with tortilla chips that were made with hand ground Waimanalo yellow corn and a ceviche made of fresh marlin, Kauai shrimp, pickled habaneros, jicama and pineapple.

Chef Ed Kenny offered us a side by side comparison between two different polentas. One made with Guisto’s, a respectable northern California brand and the other made with a polenta made with Nalo orange corn, bred in Waimanalo. The polenta made with Nalo orange corn was noticeably sweeter, had more character and a rounder flavor.

variety showcase

variety showcase

Chef Keake Lee from Pig and the Lady created a dish of pickled purple winged beans and cold “Poamoho dark long” eggplant marinated in a black vinegar dashi broth, garnished with fresh basil. Everything Pig and the Lady does in my option is bold, creative and crazy delicious.  This dish was no exception.

variety showcase

The crew from Counter Culture had a strong presence, with several tables. They presented a mind boggling selection of legumes, jicama, and bananas.

variety showcase

variety showcase

variety showcase

Chef David Gunawam from the Farmer’s Apprentice came all the way from Canada to participate in the event and cook. He prepared Hirayama kai choy, paired with a slice of raw skipjack, seasoned with a house-made vinaigrette made by simmering skipjack bones with seaweed and soy sauce.

In addition, he presented two types of beans grown by Counter Culture: black beans marinated with culantro and charred scallion, and chickpeas flavored with Hawaiian shallot and herbs from Green Rows Farm.

variety showcase

Chef Scott Nelson of Vida Farms also cooked for Counter Culture. He prepared a crepe made “sourdough style” with fermented jicama, and stuffed it with raw slices of sweet jicama and hibiscus jam. It was divine.

variety showcase

Lauren Tamamoto, instructor at KCC blew everyone’s mind with her cauliflower chocolate mousse made of cauliflower, cocoa powder, coconut milk, sugar and vanilla extract. It was velvety smooth and tasted like the chocolate pudding of your childhood (and I mean that in the best possible way).

Variety_showcase2018

Chef Jenn Hee from Juicy Brew grated cassava, soaked it in golden milk, turned them into hash browns and wrapped each piece in a piper sarmentosom leaf to showcase yellow cassava.

variety showcase

Chef Stacey Givens from the Side Yard Farm & Kitchen came out to represent Portland with her spiced carrot cookies stuffed with Side Yard Farms goat cheese, fig leaf dust and crispy fried carrot tops. Again, mind blown.

variety showcase

Chef Edward Domingo from Roy’s Beach House made a dish I could eat all day long. Moringa fried rice with lechon lomi lomi. Crack an egg on top and you’ve got the perfect breakfast, lunch or dinner in my opinion.

An award winning variety of cacao, called Easton was presented by Skip Bittenbender of University of Hawaii. Manoa chocolate made a decadent 70% chocolate bar for sampling.

variety showcase

Robynne Maii, chef/owner of Fete, showcased broccoli using my favorite preparation, roasted with chile flake, garlic and lemon. I love the crispness and the nuttiness of this dish. Robynne made it even more complex by adding capers, golden raisins and crispy parmesan on top. She also presented Tromboncino squash pickled and served with local mint, roasted kukui nut and feta cheese.

variety showcase

Nina, from Nina Cucina Health (who’s food I miss dearly at the farmers market), took us on a journey of turmeric. Several varieties were pickled and put out for sampling and to wash it all down she made a lovely soup made with turmeric and coconut milk.

variety showcase

variety showcase

variety showcase

Hannah Vernon, from Home Cooked With Love, presented  Manoa and Leopard lettuces with a vegan creamy Italian dressing made with local herbs, Dijon mustard and olive oil for dipping.

variety showcase

On my way out the door I luckily caught Gabe Sachter-Smith, banana expert and farmer for Counter Culture, showing off his several varieties of tropical bananas.  Chef Janna Rose, from the Mossback Restaurant in Washington was scooping up banana ice-cream and vegan banana-chocolate chip cookie right along side him.

I had just talked to Gabe the Saturday before the event at the farmers market. He was the one who got me the most excited about the event in the first place. So it was fitting that, I ended the evening on a sweet note, wrapping the night up with him.

variety showcase

I’ve never seen so many happy faces in one room. The passion for high quality ingredients was swirling that night. Everyone involved in the event was there for the same reason––to continue to push for a healthier, tastier and more sustainable food system in Hawaii. One with a lot of variety.

Did you have an amazing time at this year’s Variety Showcase too? What did you learn, what inspired you? What was your favorite dish and why? Tell us all about it in the comments section. And if you liked this article I invite you to subscribe to The Healthy Locavorefor more on how to eat local, live well, cook healthier and support each other. I am so grateful for this community, thank you so much for being a part of it!

Editor’s note: This post was originally published on March 18, 2018 and has since been updated for accuracy. 

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A Year of Ingredients

year of ingredients

year of ingredients
Photo by Ketino Photography

2017 was a year of new discoveries after moving from San Francisco to Honolulu. But, I have only begun to scratch the surface of what these beautiful islands have to offer.

In 2018 I am starting a new project, that I am calling, A Year of Ingredients. A project inspired by the talented Bay Area artist, Windy Chien, who in 2016 introduced The Year of Knots.

Windy surprised me in Waikiki, the day before New Year’s Eve, gifting me with one of her famous knots (they are works of art really). And not just any knot, the star knot. A knot she admittedly had such a hard time learning she had to resort to watching a YouTube tutorial before throwing in the towel. At the time I marveled at its beauty but hadn’t yet realized its significance.

After hearing all about Windy’s inspirational journey of committing to her art every day without fail for an entire year I sprung out of bed the next morning knowing in my gut what I needed to do.

I needed to commit to my passion for local food on another level, in order to become the expert I wanted to be.

Starting January 1, 2018 follow me on Instagram as I introduce a local Hawaiian ingredient, and how to prepare it, every day for a whole year.

It might be one of the most challenging projects I have ever committed to, but I’m doing it for the knowledge, for the love of food and for my deepest appreciation for all things local. And I couldn’t be more excited.

Join me here for A Year of Ingredients on Instagram.

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Producing Pastured Chicken And Influencing Change On Oahu

J. Ludovico Farm pastured chicken

J. Ludovico Farm pastured chicken
Julius Ludovico talks chicken with fellow farmer, Amy Shinsato at the Honolulu Farmer’s Market

If you walk over to the Neal S. Blaisdell Center on a Wednesday night you will see rows of white tents, tables full of fresh local fruits and vegetables, the Shinsatos selling 2Lady farmers’ pork and groups huddled around picnic tables slurping up hot bowls of pho at The Pig and the Lady stand.

If you aren’t paying close enough attention you would never know that you can also buy fresh local chicken at this market. In fact, it’s most likely the only farmer’s market on Oahu where you will find local pastured chicken.

At a modest table with no signage, probably scattered with some jars of honey and bunches of apple bananas, you will find a man with a long beard and thick black rimmed glasses named Julius. Julius owns and operates J. Ludovico farm, a chicken farm, slaughterhouse and processing facility on Oahu.

Tired from a long week of working on the farm, you will soon discover that Julius enjoys working the farmer’s market because it is essentially the only way he ever gets to take a “break.”

Almost every week I come down to the market to buy a chicken and chat with Julius. We talk about natural farming, how he got into the chicken business and what his hopes and dreams are for his farm. He’s a smart man. He is also extremely thoughtful when it comes to his business and delightfully unapologetic when it comes to his opinions on natural farming.

The inside scoop

Not everyone always makes the time to stick around and get to know their local farmer. Which is a shame. You may have the best intentions to buy healthy foods or support local businesses, but until you engage, chances are you know pretty close to nothing about what you are buying or who you are supporting. In the past 6 months of getting to know Julius and his farm I have learned a lot about natural farming and why it is really damn hard to find pastured chicken on the island.

Julius’s farm is a rare breed on Oahu and his story is remarkable.

You can take the boy off the farm but you can’t take the farm out of the boy

Julius grew up in the Philippines raising pigs with his Mom. He remembers always raising them with the intention to have one to eat and one to sell. When the family picked up and moved to Hawaii all of that changed. Julius became an accounting major at the University of Hawaii and found himself working for a non-profit called The Partners In Development Foundation.

But, Julius missed his days growing up raising pigs. So, it wasn’t surprising that after being introduced to the principals of Korean Natural Farming by Hawaiian agriculture expert, Mike Dupont at work one year he decided to quit the company and go back to farming.

The next year, Julius and his wife Jamie moved to a one and a half acre farm in Pupukea and bought 16 pigs. They were the second farm on the island to practice Korean Natural Farming––a system that utilizes naturally occurring bacteria and other microorganisms to fertilize soil and care for animals without chemicals. The result is healthy soil, high crop yields, zero waste and animal pens that don’t smell or attract flies.

Although they were smaller and simpler versions, Julius built five pens modeled after the Korean natural farming system that he learned about from Mike.

Eventually Julius realized that what he had built was a labor of love. The couple realized that they could never scale the operation large enough to make a profit. So, reluctantly Julius sold off all of his pigs.

How Julius “accidentally” became a chicken farmer

After selling off the pigs, Jamie suggested that they try their hand at raising chickens. Julius, being open to the suggestion, agreed and five months later they owned 50 hens all laying eggs.

Baffled as to what to do with all the eggs, Julius went over to his kid’s elementary school and signed up to work the North Shore Country farmer’s market.

After completely selling out at his first market, Julius realized that there was a big demand there for local, pastured eggs. The couple bought more chickens, produced more eggs and kept adding more and more markets to their schedule every week. The hustle was real and ultimately they just couldn’t keep up with the demand. Completely exhausted and burned out, Julius started cutting back, finally only committing to one market a week, The Honolulu farmer’s market at the Neal S. Blaisdell Center.

One day a fellow friend and farmer of Julius’s was placing an order for some meat chickens. He asked Julius if he was interested in buying any. Julius was on the fence but his friend insisted, saying that since he was already going to buy some, that he may as well order some for Julius too.

Julius opted to raise pastured chickens using the Korean Natural Farming practices he had used with his pigs. He asked the farmer’s market if it was ok to started selling his chickens along with his eggs. Being naïve at the time he didn’t realize that he would need special permits in order to sell his chickens. Now Julius had a new problem, he had to track down the USDA FSIS supervisor to find out how he could acquire a permit.

After searching for the supervisor for two months Julius had to laugh at himself. He had actually been living next door to him all along. The supervisor told Julius exactly what to do, he did it and a few months later Julius was in the chicken business.

From the farm to the table

The first restaurant Julius approached was Real Gastropub. He brought them a sample of his chicken and after finding out if they were interested, disclosed that it would be two months until he could produce their first order. Real agreed and after just one delivery the chef was hooked. He no longer wanted a few chickens every couple of months, he wanted 12 chickens a week.

Julius realized he had a problem on his hands. He had the demand, but since the chickens took two months to grow, he didn’t have the supply for a weekly delivery. After a lot of thinking and researching Julius finally figured out how to make it happen. That is when the real chicken production started.

A year later Andrew Le from The Pig and The Lady called up. They had heard about Julius’s chickens and wanted in. Real Gastropub had officially put J. Ludovico farm on the map. They were now the go-to for pastured chicken and all the high-end restaurants on Oahu wanted it on their menu.

Controversy at the market

As the farm-to-table movement grew more popular on Oahu so did the demand for local, organic ingredients. Customers at the market started coming up to Julius looking for his certified organic sign. When Julius informed them that he was not indeed certified, they looked at him confused (even repulsed sometimes) and would keep walking.

“My farm is not certified organic nor do I plan to get certified,” he says. “I feel like there are other ways to do it. It may come down to a little bit more education or information but I’m not getting certified, it’s too expensive.”

I know from my talks with Julius that he does not use fertilizer or chemicals. In fact, chemicals scare him. He moves his birds everyday. They eat grass and worms in addition to commercial grain.

He admits he gets frustrated sometimes having to explain to people about his natural farming practices only to get shut down by customers who don’t understand.

“Just because something is labeled organic it does not mean that it is chemical and pesticide free. In fact, there are synthetic chemicals on that registry that the organic lobbyists petition the USDA to keep. When you are doing small-scale agriculture (like in your backyard) you don’t need chemicals or pesticides. But when you are farming on a larger scale (even just an acre) there are certain challenges that you are never going to have a solution to without pesticides. The use of organic bacteria (such as BT ) used for pesticides is regular practice on many certified organic farms,” Julius explained.

The other question Julius is inevitably always asked, is if he gives his chickens GMO feed. “When people ask me if the corn I feeds my chickens is GMO I say, I don’t know but, it is likely, since unfortunately 96% of all corn in America is now GMO”, he says.

Tired of being told week after week from customers that he should feed his chickens non-GMO feed, he decided to look into it. “I dug deep”, he said. “I looked at the literature on the Non-GMO project’s non-GMO feed. And what I found out is that, they have a threshold. Let’s say they get a container of corn for example, they take a sample and do a PCR test on it and if it doesn’t go beyond 10%, meaning if there is 10% GMO in that batch of corn they will label it “non-GMO.” I thought about this and realized that if I bought the non-GMO feed I would be paying a premium, have to raise my prices and my feed could still potentially contain GMOs. I just didn’t feel comfortable with that.”

Julius says he no longer engages with customers who turn their noses up to his natural, yet not certified organic, chicken unless they ask the right questions. “I don’t have time to educate everyone and if someone is stuck in their ways or uninformed then that’s their fault. I’m not here to educate them, I’m here to feed my family”, Julius says.

Luckily, as I have found out on my own, if you do ask and you do seem interested than Julius will tell you everything you want to know.

Desperately trying for sustainable farming in Hawaii

A while back Julius was teaching and taking frequent trips to the Big Island. Mike Dupont invited him, several other local farmers and a couple of the animal nutrition experts from the University of Hawaii to a meeting in Hilo. What they discussed at this meeting was, “What do we have in Hawaii in abundance and what can we do with it?”

Julius left the meeting intrigued and curious. Two years would pass before he and Mike would be reconnected. “What happened to the ideas we came up with at that meeting?” Julius asked Mike. Mike told Julius that he analyzed the list of ingredients and created a data base. Without hesitation, Julius said, “I’m farming chickens, lets do a feed trial.” Mike agreed to it.

Working with a local mill, Julius proved that if his farm milled its own feed locally, cutting out the need for shipping, then they could cut their costs in half.

Now came the hard part. Getting the feed just right.

It is not a matter of just finding ingredients that are in abundance. It’s also a matter of creating a blend of ingredients that creates the perfect balance of nutrients for the chickens to thrive on.

From talking to Julius I learned that there is a reason why commercial feed is made up of soy, corn and wheat (farm subsidies for GMO crops also play a role I’m sure). The combination provides the exact amount of protein, carbs and fiber needed for a chicken’s diet. Julius’s challenge is to find local ingredients that would replace each of those without disrupting that formula.

“We have tried macadamia nuts and they are amazing. They are high in protein but can only replace about 35 percent of the soybeans. Anything more than that and the chickens do not do well. They just don’t have the same amount of protein that the soybeans do. Next, is replacing the wheat and corn. We are currently doing a cassava trial to see if that could replace the wheat. But there are certain properties of corn that are irreplaceable, so if you want to replace corn you need to have a few different ingredients. The corn doesn’t necessarily make the chickens grow bigger but the carbs do give them the energy they need”, Julius said.

Julius wondered why they couldn’t just make a blend of cassava, macadamia nuts, corn and soy so that they could at least eliminate the need to ship over wheat. Mike explained to him that they can’t do that quite yet. They need to do trials with each ingredient separately first to isolate the nutrients and find out what each ingredient does exactly for the chickens. He said that sometimes combining certain ingredients can potentially turn them into anti-nutrients, which cancel each other out.

Once they tested each ingredient separately than they could start formulating a feed recipe. “If we had the funds we would have the information we needed by now and would already be producing locally grown feed, but as it is now the trial has been dragged out the past 4 years and it could probably take several more,” Julius admitted.

As it stands right now, Julius and Mike are the only ones doing this trial and it is completely self funded. When Julius applied for a grant he was told, “Sorry, we aren’t interested. Even if you are successful the country won’t benefit from it since it will only work in Hawaii.”

Julius did the math, if he grew all of the crops in order to make his own chicken feed he would lose money. “You’re better of selling what you grow”, he said with a defeated look.

It was then, that it really sunk in for me. Commercial feed exists for a reason and it is extremely difficult to change that reason.

“We may have the same commercial feed that conventional farms use but since we are not a factory we handle everything by hand and produce a better quality product. It’s kinda cheesy to say but, we actually care. We know the chicks from the time we pick them up at the hatchery day old to harvesting them and taking them to the slaughterhouse. We know them intimately. There is a certain connection that we have that factory farms never will. When you put in the effort and care about what you are doing it shows in the final product,” Julius says.

How you can support local farming

Julius encourages people to develop relationships with their farmers. “Get to know what they do and how they do it. Just because they are doing something different from what you think (or have heard) they should be, doesn’t mean that they aren’t putting out a good product or that it’s wrong. There is a good reason for what they do. Every farmer has their own quirks and special ways of doing things. In Hawaii there are so many microclimates that you have to adapt accordingly. You have to make it work where you’re at. One of the things that makes us not a factory farm is the fact that it can’t be replicated on another side of the island. You have to always observe and adjust according to your environment. Your farming practices and feed are changing constantly. You have to be quick because you could lose product. I never say what other farms should do, I just know what I need to do for my farm.”

Just the facts

J. Ludovico Farm has the only chicken slaughterhouse on the island. They encourage more farms on Oahu to raise chickens and partner with them.

Some of the top restaurants in Honolulu have J. Ludovico Farm chicken on their menus. Pig and the lady, Piggy Smalls, Fete, Herringbone, Basalt, MW, and Chef Mavro are just a few of them.

You can find Julius every Wednesday at the Honolulu Farmer’s Market at the Neil S. Blaisdell Center from 4-7pm. 777 Ward Avenue Honolulu, HI 96814

Customers who are interested in purchasing one of Julius’s chickens are encouraged to pre-order them. Julius does not store any frozen product. He slaughters on demand, so what you order on Friday, gets slaughtered Tuesday to pick up at the market on Wednesday.

You can email your request to jludivicofarm@gmail.com the weekend before a Wednesday market. Whole chickens are $6/lb

For more information on what J. Ludovico Farm has to offer visit their website at https://jludovicofarm.com/shop/

You can also follow them on Instagram @jludavicofarm

When asked about farm tours Julius got very serious and said, “Sure, we are happy to give you a tour but you better be prepared to show up at 5am and work the farm with us all day.” The same goes for the slaughterhouse. They would more than appreciate volunteers on Tuesdays and Thursdays to come lend a hand. But a word of advice, if Julius tells you to move, you better get out of his way.

Are you excited about local farming on Oahu? Which farms are you proud to support? Tell us all about it in the comments section. And if you liked this article I invite you to subscribe to The Healthy Locavore for more on how to eat local, live well, cook healthier and support each other. I am so grateful for this community, thank you so much for being a part of it!

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Maui For Foodies

Punakea Palms

Punakea Palms

The road to Hana is paved with…….not enough restaurants!

Sure, there is world class snorkeling, humpback whale watching and the infamous road to Hana. But if you are a chef or a foodie like me, you plan your trips around food and squeeze those things in only if there is extra time!

If you find that ludicrous, then this particular travel guide is not for you. There will be no beach recommendations or ocean excursions mentioned here. There will, however be a boatload of restaurants, farms and places to get a good drink in this post. Hey, even healthy locavores need to have fun too.

This is Maui for foodies.

Plane from Honolulu to Lahaina
Plane from Honolulu to Lahaina

If you are coming over from Honolulu and landing at Kapalua airport chances are you’ll be wedged in a puka shell sized puddle-jumper such as the one pictured above. I recommend flying into this airport, to avoid the hoards of tourists at the bigger and busier Kahului Airport––located on the other side of the island.

But be prepared, other than a tarmac and glorified hot dog stand you won’t find any amenities at this airport. Have a ride lined up or you’ll be walking to your hotel. Rental cars are a must have on this island.

Lahaina (West Maui)

The towns up and down the west side of Maui, including Lahaina are no doubt some of the most picturesque on the island. Large banyan trees, beautiful beach parks and views of Lana’i and Moloka’i line the coast.

We opted for an oceanfront Airbnb at the Kaleialoha Vacation Rentals for our accommodations. It was a cute little one bedroom with beach access, spacious lanai and fully stocked kitchen. There was a sea turtle that swam around below us every morning.

Airbnb in Lahaina
The lanai at our Kaleialoha vacation rental

Airbnb in Lahaina
View from our Kaleialoha vacation rental

Places to eat near Lahaina

Choice Health Bar

This is a great place to stop for a healthy vegan breakfast, lunch or (non-alchololic and sugar free) power drink. All of the produce used on the menu here is organic and handpicked locally. Menu selections include things like overnight oats, chia pudding, pad thai, kale and quinoa buddha bowls, acai bowls, smoothies and shots of noni juice.

Choice Health Bar
Overnight oats at Choice Health Bar

Merriman’s Kapalua

When you are ready for pau hana (happy hour) and an epic sunset, cruise over to  Merriman’s and grab a spot at the bar overlooking Kapalua Bay. Peter Merriman is one of the founding fathers of Hawaiian cuisine and helped pioneer the farm-to-table concept here. 90% of the food at this restaurant is locally sourced.

And they make a damn good mai tai too.

Merriman's Lahaina
Merriman’s Lahaina

Lahaina Grill

If you are craving classic, old world inspired cuisine and are having a foie gras void in your life (like I was) than this is where you come. It’s not cutting edge but it is decadent. Think escargot, Wagyu beef ravioli with black truffle, filet mignon and lobster. Pro tip––order a few things to share for the table and a nice glass of wine and leave it at that. This place can get pricy.

Seared Ahi and Hudson Valley Foie Gras at Lahaina Grill
Seared Ahi and Hudson Valley Foie Gras at Lahaina Grill

Marcho Farms Veal "Osso Buco" at Lahaina Grill
Marcho Farms Veal “Osso Buco” at Lahaina Grill

The Mill House

Hands down my favorite restaurant on the island.

Tucked inside the Maui Tropical Plantation through a path of botanical gardens and fountains made of old sugarcane cogs, you will find one of the most beautiful restaurants on Maui. And the best part? They farm the majority of their produce on site. The rest all comes from other parts of the island. Everything including the unbelievable table bread (Buttery Hawaiian dinner rolls and rustic sourdough rye? Come on!) and delicate pastas are made in house. Hats off to chef Jeff Scheer.

The Mill House
The botanical gardens at Maui Tropical Plantation

The Mill House
The Mill House

The Mill House
The Mill House

Local Fish Crudo & Mortadella Musubi at The Mill House
Local Fish Crudo & Mortadella Musubi at The Mill House

Chicken Bao Buns & Pork Shank Rillette at The Mill House
Chicken Bao Buns & Pork Shank Rillette at The Mill House

Greens from the farm at The Mill House
Greens and root vegetables from the farm with carrot puree and lemon vinaigrette  at The Mill House

Local fish at The Mill House
Local fish, coconut-cucumber curry and spicy papaya salad at The Mill House

Bone Marrow with Braised Taro Leaf Risotto at The Mill House
Bone Marrow with Braised Taro Leaf Risotto at The Mill House

Chocolate dessert at The Mill House
Chocolate mousse and banana ice-cream with candied cashew at The Mill House

Punakea Palms

Just a man and his coconuts….

On the surface it would appear that Punakea Palms sells farm tours. But, after taking a tour here I know now, that what they are actually providing is an educational experience in natural farming,  sustainability and the health benefits of coconut.

This is a family owned and run operation. In fact, the owners live on the property, so what you are basically taking a tour of is their back yard.

Punakea Palms
The view from Punakea Palms

The owner’s son, Kai is the mastermind behind the coconut groves here. He is both the farmer and the tour guide. Kai starts the tour by giving you some background on the land you are standing on––old sugarcane fields with soil that has been heavily depleted from hundreds of years of burning the land to harvest sugarcane.

It is from here, that you realize Kai and his family aren’t growing coconuts to sell (there is surprisingly not a big enough market and coconut products are too labor intensive to be profitable), they are trying to save the land.

There are a few methods they use to do this: They grow a legume called halloa, which nourishes the soil with nitrogen providing the dry, scorched land with moisture; they water the palms with nutrient dense water from the valley and they have planted pine trees on the property to encourage more rain, helping to restore the ecosystem of the land back to the rainforest it once was before being turned into sugarcane fields.

Kai goes on to explain that coconut palms are indigenous to Hawaii and were the first trees to sprout up when the islands were first being formed by volcanos. They require warm tropical climates with a lot of rainfall, about 20 gallons of water everyday to be exact. He said that the coconuts themselves act as seeds. They fall from the tree and with sun and moisture they set roots and sprout up.

Punakea Palms
Punakea Palms

From here, Kai goes into harvest times and how to check what stage the coconut is in when picked.

At 5 months (or less) the coconuts are not ready. The water is a bit sour and the meat is underdeveloped, like jelly.

At 6 months the coconuts are young and the meat is starting to firm up.

Prime harvest time for coconut water is  7 months. The coconuts will be heavy and when shaken you will hear water sloshing around inside of it. The meat at this point is the perfect texture to scrape out and eat with a spoon.

If making coconut milk is what you desire than you wait until the coconuts are firm, dry and light in weight.

As we sat on the grass under a shady tree (which you will need to take advantage of, since it gets very hot on this farm) Kai cracked coconuts and continued to educate us while we sipped fresh coconut water from bamboo straws.

Water fresh from a coconut is a flavor you will never find in any bottled version. Even if the brand uses non-heated methods for pasteurization.

Kai also dispelled the myth that pink coconut water occurs in nature. Apparently it is only a result of pasteurization.

Punakea Palms
Punakea Palms

Kai finishes the tour by teaching the group some of the ways to process coconuts for eating and drinking. He’ll show you how to use a traditional coconut stool shredder to grate the meat out of mature coconuts. You’ll also get to try your hand at using a more modern coconut meat removal tool to carve out the meat  to make coconut milk with.

Making coconut milk is a surprisingly simple, yet labor intensive process, that involves carving out the meat from a mature coconut, pureeing it in a blender with a mix of coconut water and filtered water and then squeezing it through a nut bag.

The milk that comes out is rich and delicious and will last up to 4-5 days in the fridge. The coconut meat that you capture in the nut bag, by straining off the milk, can be dried and made into coconut flour.

Punakea Palms
Making fresh coconut milk at Punakea Palms

Kahului

This is the “city” on the island and where Kahului airport is located.

Tin Roof

If you are a foodie, no trip to Maui is complete without a stop to the infamous Tin Roof, owned by Chef Sheldon Simeon

You may remember him from Top Chef season 10 and 14. He is on tap to host the new season of, YouTube show, Cooking in America and his new restaurant HALA this fall. I even hear he is planning to open a Tin Roof on Oahu. Fingers crossed!

His menu is a playful take on your typical Hawaiian plate lunch restaurant. He of course uses local meats, fish, produce and artisan-made products and prides himself on making honest food for his community.

His Mochica chicken is addictive. Crunchy and tender,  glazed with a sweet sauce, furikake and asian rice crackers. The Pork belly is succulent and flavorful. Sides include things like spicy kale salad, ‘ulu mac salad, saimin noodles that you can get dry or with broth and what is called a dime bag (I’ve heard rumors on what people think this is–– some say it is a mixture of crumbled up rice crackers, doritios, furikake and spices).

Save room for dessert because they carry Pono Pies! Ridiculously good vegan and gluten free pies made with breadfruit. I tried the banana-coconut cream version and it was amazing.

Heads up these guys are only open 10am-2pm, they’re closed on Sundays and there is probably going to be a long line.

Actually, do yourself a favor, if you are flying out of the Kahului airport stop by here first to get some ono flight “grinds”!

…and don’t forget to throw down a few bucks for the Pau Hana Fund. (That’s the cash pot for after work beers for all you civilians.)

Tin Roof
Tin Roof

Mochica chicken, Saimin, Pork Belly, Mac-Ulu Salad and Banana-Coconut cream Pono Pie from Tin Roof
Mochica chicken, Saimin, Pork Belly, Mac-Ulu Salad and Banana-Coconut cream Pono Pie from Tin Roof

Pono pie
Banana-coconut Pono pie

Upcountry

No foodie trip to Maui is complete without a tour of upcountry. As you drive out to the countryside away from the coast, climb higher in elevation to the center of the island up the Haleakala crater you will find farms rich in volcanic soil, stunning views and paniolos (Hawaiian cowboys).

Pa’ia –

Pa’ia is where upcountry starts farthest north by the coast. It is a quaint little hippie, surfing town full of great dining options, an excellent organic health food store called Mana Foods and lots of boutique shopping right on the edge of one of the best windsurfing beach in the world.

Milagros

If you’re only in town one night grab dinner at Milagros. A Mom and Pop establishment serving some of the best Mexican food in Hawaii (believe me, in Hawaii it’s hard to come by). Grab a margarita and some enchiladas, or fish tacos, out on the patio and let the people watching commence.

Makawao –

This is known as cowboy country. In the days of King Kamehameha III he sent vaqueros (Spanish cowboys) from California to come and teach the Hawaiians how to wrangle their cattle. Up until WWII this town provided supplies to neighboring farms, and went all but dormant until a resurgence in the 80’s brought in upscale retail, yoga studios and hip eateries….and of course, there is a cowboy museum too.

T. Komoda Bakery

Legendary bakery specializing in donuts, dinner rolls and their famous cream puffs. Locals say get there early. Past 10 or 11am they just about sell out of everything.

Hali’imaile

This tiny town is only a few miles long and is mostly made up of a few must-see businesses…

Hali’imaile Distilling Company

Home of Pau Vodka made from pineapples grown right across the street and other spirits made from locally grown ingredients. Tours run every hour.

Hali'imaile Distilling Company
Hali’imaile Distilling Company

Hali’imaile General Store

We have had the cookbook for this restaurant sitting on our bookshelf for years. The food is highly regarded here, but what is equally impressive is their cocktail menu. Ask for Wendy, who has been bartending there for 17 years. The first bartender I have ever met whose favorite tool behind the bar is a blender. She has constructed an entire menu of blended libations. She uses local spirits (some distilled just across the street), fresh herbs, fruit and lots of love in every drink she makes. She’ll even make up a new one right there on the spot for you if you’d like. Be on top of your game, she’s got some good zingers you’ll miss if you aren’t paying attention.

The Lemongrass-Ginger Frost at Hali'imaile General Store
The Lemongrass-Ginger Frost at Hali’imaile General Store

Makai Glass

A fine glass art and glassblowing studio that you can take a free tour of. Sculptures are inspired by Hawaii sea life and volcanic formations and they are incredibly beautiful.

Makai Glass
Makai Glass

Maui Pineapple Tour

Learn everything from how pineapples are grown, harvested and processed. There will be pineapple to sample and even bring home. This is a pretty famous attraction on the island so book your tour in advance.

Kula –

Positioned on the slopes of the Haleakala crater, a dormant volcano and the second largest mountain in the world, is the town of Kula. Miles of pristine farmland boasting some of the most beautiful panoramic views of the ocean that you will find on the island.

Ali’i Kula Lavender Farm

A wonderland of over 7 varieties of lavender broken up by walking trails, gazebos and zen gardens. Farm tours are available daily.

Maui Wine

Pineapple wine? Yep, and many other interesting varietals as well. Sip on exotic wines as you enjoy the beautiful vineyard and breathtaking views.

Surfing Goat Dairy

I love the story of this place. Thomas and Eva, husband and wife team from Germany, were a couple of surfers who came to Maui to “retire.” Over 9 years later they own the only certified humane goat farm in Hawaii, one of two goat farms in the entire state and make award winning goats cheeses that have found their way on to menus all over the country including, at the White House (the variety, Utterly Delicious was served at President Obama’s inauguration).

Surfing Goat Dairy
Surfing Goat Dairy

They raise about 200 goats by hand. They are completely self sufficient in terms of energy (Hawaiian Sea Spirits is the only other farm on Maui that can say that). Their whole farm is decorated with broken surfboards that they rescued from becoming landfill at the dump (they traded the county goat cheese for them).

Surfing Goat Dairy
Surfing Goat Dairy

Surfing Goat Dairy
Surfing Goat Dairy

Their cheeses are light and mild. Pasteurization done immediately after the milking process removes any gamey flavor the goat’s milk could impart. They offer 30 different variations of goat cheese including a cheve that sits in rennet 24 hours, and aged cheese called ping pong and over the top varieties like “Midas Touch” (dusted with 23k gold flakes) and “Perigord” (covered in black truffles and truffle oil.).

My personal favorites were their feta and the Ole, which is flavored with jalapeños, artichokes, lime and cilantro.

Not to mention the goats are damn cute. I loved that they had a special pen for the female goats that were too old to milk anymore called “The Golden Girls Caralle.”

Cheese tasting at Surfing Goat Dairy
Cheese tasting at Surfing Goat Dairy

Hawaii Sea Spirits 

You gotta love a farm that offers you free food right off the bat as you walk in. Of course I helped myself to some bananas and of course they were delicious.

Hawaiian Sea Spirits Organic Farm & Distillery
Hawaiian Sea Spirits Organic Farm & Distillery

This is Earl, an ex-bartender and the distillery’s entertaining (and extremely knowledgable) tour guide. He walks you through the USDA certified organic farm filled with varieties of sugarcane from all over the world, the distillation process and concludes the tour with a tasting. An education in finely crafted booze you will never forget.

Hawaiian Sea Spirits Organic Farm & Distillery
Our tour guide, Earl at Hawaiian Sea Spirits Organic Farm & Distillery

The distillery is known for two premium spirits. Master distiller, Bill Scott has created  Ocean Vodka and Deep Island Hawaiian Rum, both crafted in a state of the art eco-friendly facility using sugarcane grown organically on the property.

Hawaiian Sea Spirits Organic Farm & Distillery
Hawaiian Sea Spirits Organic Farm & Distillery

As you tour the grounds you will be invited by lush, colorful landscaping.

Hawaiian Sea Spirits Organic Farm & Distillery
Hawaiian Sea Spirits Organic Farm & Distillery

Hawaiian Sea Spirits Organic Farm & Distillery
Hawaiian Sea Spirits Organic Farm & Distillery

Hawaiian Sea Spirits Organic Farm & Distillery
Hawaiian Sea Spirits Organic Farm & Distillery

They make a 150 proof white rum that has nuances of banana, coconut, vanilla and marshmallow.

While Rum is defined by its ingredients, vodka is defines by its distillation process.

Earl explains that they first mix the sugarcane with distillers yeast for three days until it ferments. They then take that 10% alcohol “sugarcane beer,” heat it and distill it until it reaches 40% alcohol. This is now called a “sugarcane spirit”. For the vodka, they distill it 40 times until it is super clean. From here they blend the spirit with their very clean and fresh ocean mineral water. This water is part of their claim to fame. It started as a glacier in Greenland. Over the span of 2000 years the world’s current carried it to Kona Hawaii, where it is then tapped into 3000 feet below sea level and brought to Maui to their farm.

Since the only things that matter for the quality of vodka are water, fermentation and distillation Hawaii Sea Spirits has vowed to nail all three.

Hawaiian Sea Spirits Organic Farm & Distillery
Hawaiian Sea Spirits Organic Farm & Distillery

Hawaiian Sea Spirits Organic Farm & Distillery
Hawaiian Sea Spirits Organic Farm & Distillery

Hawaiian Sea Spirits Organic Farm & Distillery
Hawaiian Sea Spirits Organic Farm & Distillery

Hawaiian Sea Spirits Organic Farm & Distillery
The “bar” at Hawaiian Sea Spirits Organic Farm & Distillery

Back at the bar Earl pours shots for everyone. The vodka is slightly sweet, doesn’t burn going down and actually enhances other ingredients when mixed into a cocktail.

He explains that their rum unlike most other rums is made from fresh sugarcane juice and not molasses. It has not been aged or spiced and because of that is completely clear in color. It smells like coconut and tastes like banana bread.

O’o Farm

Organic farm that produces all of the produce Pacific’o restaurant in Lahaina serves on its menu. Their farm tour includes a gourmet lunch with freshly harvested ingredients while enjoying a cooler climate with breathtaking views.

Enjoy Maui

All foodie obsessions aside no trip to Hawaii is complete without a trip to the beach. So do like the locals do––enjoy some good food, quality time with your friends and family and take an afternoon nap by the ocean…. island style.

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