25th annual Maui Onion Festival

Want your Saturday to be smothered in fun? Whalers Village Fine Shops & Restaurants in Kaanapali will once again set an outdoor stage for the free, family-friendly Maui Onion Festival.

Bring your appetites, as throughout the day chefs will be onstage for demos – and they will offer their samples to the onion-loving general public.

For instance, James McDonald of ‘Aina Gourmet and The Feast at Lele will demo smoked nairagi with pickled Maui Onions and mango coulis; and Jojo Vasquez of The Plantation House is set to prepare stuffed Maui Onion risotto with adobo-glazed pork belly for his demo dish.

A first-time participant, Mark “Gooch” Noguchi from the Pili Group on Oahu, will source from Kula growers Gerry and Janet Ross for his dish: charred Maui Onion and Kupa’a Farm potato with bacon jam and sauce Romesco.

Returning champion Nick Mastracusa of Kuki’o on the island of Hawaii will prepare Maui Onion Caprese salad; Sheldon Simeon of Mala Wailea and MiGRANT will offer French Onion tsukemen; and, Chris Kulis of Capische? will make Maui Onion gnocchi, with roasted cherry tomatoes and Maui Kula Onion confit. Yum!

There will be ongoing entertainment; and “Cookin’ With Cutty” TV personality Cutty Cutler will show kids how to make fresh smoothies. Kids and adults may enter Maui Onion Eating contests.

Other contests draw the creme de la creme of Hawaii’s culinary world. The Maui Onion Challenge at 10:30 a.m. pits semifinalists from various Kaanapali restaurants to go for the final gold. They are Joey Macadangdang of Roy’s; Ryan Luckey of Leilani’s on the Beach; Jared Krausen of ‘Umalu at Hyatt Regency Maui Resort & Spa; and Alvin Savella of Ocean Pool Bar & Grill at Westin Ka’anapali Ocean Resort Villas. The first place winner will be announced at noon on the center stage.

The well-established Maui Onion Recipe Contest will let celebrity chefs from Maui, Oahu and Hawaii island demonstrate their culinary prowess in a heated competition.

Past winners returning to hopefully reclaim their titles are the above-mentioned Chef Simeon of MiGRANT at Mala Wailea, who is an esteemed “Top Chef” finalist; and Nick Mastracusa of Kuki’o on the Big Island, who claimed the top prize last year for his delicate Maui Onion and uni flan. Chef Vasquez of Plantation House is also back. His winning dish in 2012 was liver with Maui Kula Onions. The above-mentioned McDonald will also beef up the competition. People warmly remember his Upcountry ravioli that garnered him the top prize in 2010. The Recipe Contest is scheduled at 4:30 p.m. on the center stage.

Other highlights include the Mixed Drink Contest and the fine musicianship of the Air Force Band of the Pacific. Throughout the large complex of 90 shops and restaurants, you will find food booths and vendors with Maui Onion products.

Parking is complimentary that day, and those who purchase $150 or more at any of the Whalers Village businesses will receive a free Maui Onion Festival gift.

In addition, nearby Hula Grill Kaanapali will once again host the annual Maui Onion Pairing Dinner on Friday night. Sit down and enjoy a three-course feast with a variety of onion dishes paired with the handcrafted beer of Maui Brewing Co. Tickets may be bought at the restaurant.

Ah, the Maui Onion. How sweet it is!