Mama’s

Fish House & Inn at Kuau Cove dives into new territory with Kula rainbow trout added to menu

Longtime Executive Chef Perry Bateman showcases two trout fillets fresh from the Kula tank that morning served on green-chile olena (turmeric) couscous cakes with Waihee tomatoes, white wine and garlic sauce. The Maui News / CARA TRACY photos

With 46 years as the most acclaimed restaurant on Maui and as one of the top in the U.S., with too many awards to mention here, Mama’s Fish House in Kuau Cove keeps stretching its tentacles to serve the best seafood around.

Apparently, “resting on one’s laurels” is not in the vocabulary of founders/owners Floyd and Doris Christenson.

“My job here is to provide an awesome dining experience, something to remember,” says Executive Chef Perry Bateman. “It’s all about aloha spirit, too, along with service and beautiful views. These are Mama’s core concepts, reasons for being.”

These reasons are why Mama’s is often the first place that visitors go for seafood straight off the plane and the last destination they savor before they depart. And it’s why residents flock there for special events such as anniversaries, graduations, birthdays and business successes.

“Mama’s is known for wild-caught fish, yes, but it’s also a place you can depend on for quality foods of all kinds. We care about sustainability, and diners here become part of the bigger Maui community, even if they don’t realize it,” says Bateman.

Photo ops of an outrigger canoe in a coconut grove abound.

Kulahaven Maui rainbow trout is doing swimmingly well as one of the sustainable fish varieties coming out of Mama’s kitchen these days.

“Hawaiian fish ponds were the most advanced on earth for about 1,000 years,” says Kulahaven’s John Dobovan, also the Haleakala chapter president of Hawaii Farmers Union United nonprofit. “Now we have electricity and PVC pipes and tanks to raise the fish.”

Dobovan currently farms about 10,000 trout in Kula. He hatches the trout from eggs at the 3,500-foot elevation.

“When Perry first tracked me down, I had like, 10 fish, total,” remembers Dobovan. “There still aren’t enough fish to supply the other restaurants. Our intention is to market it eventually as Maui Trout Co.

“No one has done aquaponic trout in Hawaii before. I find that raising trout is like riding a unicycle or walking a tightrope while juggling razor blades,” he continues, laughing.

Hostess Kamalei Santos Bras greets guests from behind a giant clam shell.

Bateman sings high praises for the trout and diners are taking notice, too.

They are starting to opt for it as well as, say, lehi caught off of reefs near Olowalu by Layne Nakagawa or uku caught off of Lanai by Kalae Hickcox and stuffed with deep-sea red crab and baked in a crust of macadamia nuts.

“John’s Maui rainbow trout is delicious. It’s very clean tasting and cooks perfectly. His fish meets our high-quality standards. We have always supported sustainability, so we are very excited to feature the Maui trout on Mama’s menu,” explains Bateman, obviously impressed.

“We serve the Maui trout as a crispy whole fish with a papaya black-bean sauce, we also have served it as a fillet of fish. It looks like a moi when served whole and crispy. Its taste is almost similar. It has a nice amount of fat content to make it moist and delicious.”

Just then, a whole Kula rainbow trout and two fillets arrived at the table with aromatic accompaniments. Dobovan and I wolfed it all down and deemed Bateman’s takes on the preparations winners. One reminded me of a perfect Rocky Mountain rainbow trout that I savored in Aspen many years ago — mild, tender, moist and flaky.

Kulahaven rainbow trout farmer John Dobovan (left) showcases two fish fresh from the tank and Mama’s fish fabricator/purchasing manager Sean Asuncion holds up a 20-pound mahimahi caught by Alan Cadiz at a community buoy.

“John also grows fantastic watercress. Through his knowledge and expertise of aquaponics and hydroponics, we all get to enjoy his trout and certified organic baby watercress.”

Trout has more omega-3 oils than even salmon. Watercress is a nutrient-dense plant, according to Dobovan, a veritable wealth of information on food.

“Up to 35 percent of fish stocks are being depleted worldwide,” says Dobovan. “I love oceanic fish, but we’re going to love them to death. It’s an existential issue. By 2030, we’ll be experiencing some of the worst climate change ever. Earth will have twice the amount of people and half the food. We need to change our mindset. The world’s most fundamental issues are food, water and air. It doesn’t matter how many video games or pairs of shoes you have. Just try and shop at local stores and eat at restaurants that support local agriculture and ocean stewardship.”

In fact, Mama’s just subsidized another new fishing aggregate device, or FAD, to make it easier for local fishers to hook up in Maui waters on their small boats.

“Alan Cadiz got the first catch off of it,” says Bateman of the last deep-sea ocean buoy that Mama’s sponsored. “We’re very fortunate to have our local fishermen. We have a long and strong relationship going. They are dedicated to fish for us straight from the ocean to our loading docks here. We help keep the tradition of fishing in the family, so they can afford to buy new boats and it keeps it all local.”

While Mama’s does offer coveted food items such as Tristan Island lobster from the most remote island in the world as well as New Caledonia prawns, it does its best to buy local. Years ago, Bateman fantasized about Mama’s growing all of its own herbs, fruits and vegetables.

“Floyd said, ‘Let the farmers do what they do best and we’ll do what we do best,’ “ Bateman explains.

“So we buy up Hana coconuts, Waihee tomatoes, Kula vegetables, Maui Cattle Co. beef,” Bateman says. “We also bring in Big Island papaya, hearts of palm, sweet potato and ginger. We use Kona kampachi raw, grilled and steamed. Billy Wakefield from Kona brings us bottom fish and avocados. We’ve got seafood from Kauai and catch that is either troll caught or bottom-fished locally. We keep sourcing out the best of everything, and we keep changing our menu to what’s in season.”

Vegetable lovers will find Kula tomato and Maui onion salad with Point Reyes blue cheese and pine nuts. Meat lovers will want wild Maui venison hunted by Jake Muise and roasted as a rack.

“When our guests come and dine with us they are supporting our islands and our communities,” says Bateman. “They have been supporting our fisherman, farmers and ranchers for decades and now they have an opportunity to support another sustainable food source with the Kula rainbow trout. By ordering this Maui trout and the Hawaiian kampachi, they are supporting the effort for Hawaii to become more sustainable. Both are great fish. Everyday, we bring what we have to offer for our guests to experience and enjoy. It inspires us to work diligently with our best effort to deliver the best we can for all of you.”

So come and taste the honey-poppyseed bread baked in house and brought warm to your table. Chefs simmer the amuse-bouche of tomato-ginger bisque and pound the poi, both complimentary to diners. Aunties and tutu sew the Tahitian fabric for the colorful blue tablecloths. Uncles do the gardening. Farmers bring in tropical blooms. Fishers get their names on the menus. Now Dobovan under Maui Trout Co. does, too.

“We are very happy to support John and Kulahaven with his effort to help make our islands more sustainable,” says Bateman. “We want to sincerely thank all of our guests for the decades of support. We are still here because of you. You have helped so many families throughout Hawaii, and made our islands so much better and more sustainable by sharing your special occasion with us. Mahalo nui loa.”

Mama’s at a glance:

• Where: Located in Kuau Cove on Maui’s north shore at 799 Poho Place. Valet parking.

• Hours: Open at 11 a.m. and last seating is at 9 p.m. Both lunch and dinner are the same menus, which rotate daily.

• Menu highlights: Kauai shrimp won tons; grilled he’e, or octopus, caught off of Kanaha; Hamakua Ali’i mushrooms with goat cheese; Maui onion soup; traditional Hawaiian fish plate with Big Island wild boar; Maui tempeh with a rainforest banana curry; opakapaka with Hana ginger in hot peanut oil and Tahitian Black Pearl dessert.

• For more details: Call 579-8488 or visit www.mamasfishhouse.com.

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