Food lovers in Honolulu know that there are a few events worth marking in your calendar. Restaurant Week in November. Taste of Marukai. Joy of Sake. Made in Hawaii Festival. Eat the Street.
And then there’s the Hawaii Food and Wine Festival. It’s truly in a different category than those listed above, because of the chefs that it attracts from not just around the state, or even around the nation, but from all over the world.
Last night I was invited to the first Oahu event of the 3rd annual Hawai’i Food and Wine Festival, Under the Modern Moon: Morimoto & Friends, held at the Modern Honolulu, outdoors and poolside at their swanky sunrise & sunset pool bars.
I admit that when I first looked through the list of chefs, only a few names were familiar to me and even those required a read through their bios to get a full picture of their culinary backgrounds. Hawaii is home to so many amazing chefs and restaurants, and I think I have a pretty good idea of who’s who locally from getting to know their restaurants and styles, but nationally and internationally I’m a bit clueless unless I’ve seen them on TV or eaten at their restaurants in person. But once I started digging a little bit into the backgrounds of not just the chefs, but the mixologists as well, it became clear right away that this is a whole new caliber of event, unlike those that I’ve attended here in Honolulu.
It’s true that ticket prices may seem a bit steep, and the portions are on the small side, but this allows you to walk around, sample everything and compare notes with your friends or other diners, then head back for multiples of your favorites. I definitely did not leave hungry. Many in the crowd had been there last year, or even to both the first and second annual events, and obviously enjoyed it enough to return.
Another perk of the event was some great people watching! I was a bit starstruck the entire evening, and it was so fun to see chefs chatting with one another and hearing who they were interested in seeing at the Festival. I talked to chef Nico Chaize (of Nico’s Pier 38) who mentioned that he was hoping to meet Grant Achatz from Alinea in Chicago. Alinea has been on my culinary bucket list forever, but Nico gave me a whole new appreciation, plus made me want to buy Achatz’s book – he has an amazing history! You learn something new every day.
The best dish of the night for me was a tuna tartare by Floyd Cardoz of North End Grill in NYC (and Top Chef Masters winner), who turns out also to be a really cool guy. His son was plating right up there with him and his crew truly looked like they had the most fun of the evening. The tartare was a perfect little portion of poke topped by a beautifully cooked quail egg to break into it. I’m such a sucker for a perfect runny egg, but I overheard many people say that this was the dish of the night for them as well, so I know it wasn’t just me!
Another standout for me was the famous fried chicken by Charles Phan of the Slanted Door in San Francisco. It was a buffalo wing like no other – crispy skin and so moist inside. I may or may not have gone back for two more at the end of the night when they were closing and the portions got big. (Note to self: come prepared next year with ziploc bags, I totally would have taken those home when they were trying to give them away! Ha!)
It’s no secret that I love food. It’s truly become the biggest passion for me in life. Some people are really into music and follow their favorite bands religiously. For others, they may emulate their favorite quarterback or sports team. For me, food is my favorite form of art – it’s the ultimate sensory experience. Beyond just taste, you engage your other senses – tonight there was the texture of crispy cornflake coated prawns from Bryant Ng of Spice Table, there were the sounds of food-centric conversations all around as people looked for their favorite dishes, there was a ridiculously beautiful sunset over the pool where white lanterns had been strung overhead. It was my culinary dream come true. My heart (and stomach) are full.
A huge mahalo to the Hawaii Food & Wine Festival for allowing me to be a part of this event. Hawaii is an amazing culinary destination, and it was such an experience to meet the chefs and to hear first-hand how much they love and appreciate the food culture here – their love for Hawaii, the people, the energy, and the ingredients really shone through in the dishes.
Here’s a peek at scenes from the Under the Modern Moon: Morimoto & Friends event:
Tips for attending the Hawaii Food & Wine Festival:
– Go early! Although it’s not quite as bad as some mainland festivals, some of the more popular booths do run out of food. I’d highly recommend showing up promptly at 6pm when it opens (or a little before) for the first crack at all your favorite chef stations beforehand, and the shortest lines.
– Do your homework! It can be a little overwhelming when there are 15 food stations spread throughout the venue, so it pays to take a peek at the talent lineup to have a few of your favorites in mind.
– Bring friends! One strategy that worked for us was to have a “home base” where we could all meet up to try dishes together. Similar to the “divide and conquer” mentality that I’d advise for Eat the Street, if you bring friends, you can take turns bringing back multiple dishes to your “home base” to minimize wait times.
– Check out the entire space – It was easy to have missed a whole side wing on the upper level, but I’m glad that I wandered out that way – there were OnoPops, wine and dessert stations, and a ton of seating (which can be rare in some of the more crowded areas).
– Save your glass – Your signature HFWF glass that is handed to you as you walk in is what you’ll use for wine tasting, plus it becomes your souvenir when you leave.
– Purses & pockets – both are helpful for stashing chopsticks, napkins, and other must-haves while you’re roaming in search of food, Instagramming your favorite dish, or trying to text a friend who you’ve lost in the crowd. You can never have too many hands at an event like this and it helps to have a place to stash the necessities.
>> Want to see for yourself?
Hawaii Food & Wine Festival continues through September 9th. While some events have sold out, you can purchase tickets and view the entire schedule here. Feel free to post comments or questions if you have any, and enjoy the Festival!
Thanks again to Hawaii Food & Wine Festival for hosting me for this event!