Grand Ideas: Mauians gather inspiration from Pebble Beach Food & Wine event in California

Island chefs, hoteliers, event planners, epicureans mingle and mix with Mainland greats

Grand Wailea cultural ambassador Kainoa Horcajo (from left), Yeshua Goodman of Sip Sommelier Services of Paia, Grand Wailea chefs Ryan Urig, Mike Lofaro and Jorge Gonzalez -- The Maui News / CARLA TRACY photo

“The old saying was ‘all roads lead to Rome.’ I feel that now all roads lead to Hawaii.”

— Kainoa Horcajo, Grand Wailea

People from Hawaii swarmed to Pebble Beach Food & Wine last weekend like bees to a hive. They appeared as stars of events, and mixed and mingled with top winemakers and chefs as attendees.

Held on the Monterey Peninsula of California with more than 50 culinary extravaganzas, wine tastings and cooking demonstrations spread across various venues, the 11th annual festival dished up inspiration for Mauians in the industries of food and beverage, event planning and hotels.

For instance, three chefs from Grand Wailea, A Waldorf Astoria resort participated in two of the PBFW festival events. They included chefs Ryan Urig, Mike Lofaro and Jorge Gonzales along with the Grand’s cultural ambassador Kainoa Horcajo.

Jayne and Fred Findlen of Hyatt Regency Maui Resort & Spa -- The Maui News / CARLA TRACY photo

“Coming here and seeing all of the chefs is such a crazy-good networking experience,” says Grand Wailea Executive Chef Urig. “We came here to showcase what Hawaii has to offer and to educate people. It’s so much fun to promote local ingredients and to connect people to our culture. What we also found is that so many people have already been touched by Hawaii and want to come back.”

Immediately upon his return to Maui, Urig orchestrated two food events for a group of 800 people. He’s also gearing up for the Taste of Summer at his resort, which is the official launch party of the 2018 Maui Film Festival at Wailea.

Taste of Summer will be a star-studded affair from 5 to 7 p.m. June 13 at the resort. Festival director Barry Rivers says it’s an “oceanside ‘feastival’ with cosmically creative cocktails and a spectacular display of culinary artistry while you enjoy a Wailea pre-twilight sunset to remember.”

“What we do at Taste of Summer is work with Maui farmers, showcase what they grow and elevate the products,” adds Urig.

The Grand’s Chef de Cuisine Lofaro cooked “culturally correct” dishes at “Aloha! Historic Hawaii Cuisine” luncheon at Roy’s at Pebble Beach in the Inn at Spanish Bay along with Roy Yamaguchi and Ravi Kapur of Liholiho Yacht Club and Chris Yang and Jordan Keao of Aina. who are now rocking it to the top of the San Francisco restaurant world.

Maui foodie Loren Malenchek (right) with a new friend and repeat Grand Wailea visitor -- The Maui News / CARLA TRACY photo

Lofaro served ulu, or breadfruit, risotto for the luncheon appetizer, which is a big seller on his Humuhumunukunukuapua’a dinner menu at the Grand Wailea.

“At Pebble Beach, the Grand Tasting bite he termed “Eat Your Invasives” included kiawe bean flour and strawberry guava, both invasive to Hawaii. This dish really got people buzzing about the Grand Wailea chefs and what they are doing,” says Grand Wailea Director of Public Relations Yvonne Biegel, who also attended the event. Taste Lofaro’s culturally inspired menu at Humu nightly.

“I just want to thank the Pebble Beach Food & Wine team, and especially Dorothy Maras, for giving us an opportunity to showcase what I’m doing here at Humu,humunukunukuapua’a,” Lofaro says.

“I get my inspiration from Hawaii’s ocean, mountains and farmers, and the culture is a big influence on my food,” he continues. “I was really blown away to see and hear the reaction to our food by people at PBFW. There was a good buzz about it at the event. People came up to us and talked about their love for Maui and Grand Wailea, and they all had smiles on their faces when they talked about spending time here in Hawaii. You can’t beat this place, and it was an honor to bring a piece of that to people there.”

“This is to die for,” said Peggy Johnson of San Ramone, Calif., when she tasted Lofaro’s invasive species dish served in a coconut shell from a booth, or hale, lashed together in the Native Hawaiian fashion and made of wood hand-cut by the Grand Wailea team just for the Pebble Beach Event.

Kent Torrey of The Cheese Shop in Carmel -- The Maui News / CARLA TRACY photo

“I think it’s yummy and delightful and rich, too!”chimed in Johnson’s friend Tanya James from Pleasanton, Calif. “I’m going to Maui in September and staying on the other side of the island. But I’ll drive all the way to Wailea to try this food, for sure.”

Grand Wailea Executive Sous Chef Gonzalez also accompanied the team. He’s got plenty of experience with things “southwest” as he was a protege and chef for Dean Fearing in Dallas, who’s known as the “father of Southwestern Cuisine.”

How does this relate to PBFW?

“We love doing events like PBFW. It inspires us to take our events at Grand Wailea to the next level,” explains Gonzalez.

“We have great chefs and pit masters coming to Fire it Up! in July, and they love to come to Maui and execute what they do best. It’s up to us to make it an over-the-top event, and we’ll be doing that again this year.”

Liholiho Yacht Club chef Ravi Kapour hugs mom Jen Kealoha Kapour. -- The Maui News / CARLA TRACY photo

The second annual Fire it Up! is a live-fire food, wine, beer and bourbon family-friendly event from 5 to 9 p.m. July 7 showcasing Hawaii’s bountiful meats, seafood and produce cooked exclusively with fire.

Urig and Gonzalez will gather the culinary team and chef friends of unparalleled talent beachside to present one of the summer’s most innovative food events.

If you like your barbecue and dining outdoors, this event is not to be missed. It celebrates fire and cooking with it using Hawaiian proteins and ingredients, and the guest chef roster of top pit masters is amazing.

Fire it Up! participants will include repeats Justin Brunson of Old Major in Denver; Sam Jones of Sam Jones Barbecue in Winterville, N.C.; Hubert Keller of Fleur in Las Vegas; Chris Lilly of Bob Gibson Barbecue in Decatur, Ala; Wayne Mueller of Louie Mueller BBQ in Taylor, Texas; Aaron Sanchez of Johnny Sanchez in New Orleans; and Maui’s Sheldon Simeon of Tin Roof in Kahului and the upcoming Lineage at The Shops at Wailea.

Besides the Grand Wailea chef participants in PBFW, many more Mauians were there simply because it was a faboo foodie festival.

Kosta Browne winemaker Nico Cueva toasts to Kapalua Wine & Food Festival Event Director Karin Sagar. -- The Maui News / CARLA TRACY photo

Also spotted enjoying the Grand Tasting event were Fred Findlen, general manager of Hyatt Regency Maui Resort & Spa in Kaanapali, and his wife, Jayne Findlen.

“We’re excited to welcome the Hawaii Food and Wine Festival to Hyatt Regency Maui again this year,” Findlen said about the stellar event that will take place from 4 to 7 p.m. Oct. 21.

“There is so much culinary talent on the island, including our own chefs,” he continues. “It’s an honor to host incredible chefs and visitors at our beautiful resort who are passionate about exceptional food and beverage experiences.”

In addition to HFWF, the Hyatt will present three more 2018 Tastemakers dinners. Its event partners are Stag’s Leap Cellars, featuring winemaker Marcus D’Notaro on June 9; Maui Brewing Co. on Sept. 8; and Hali’imaile Distillery on Dec. 8. All of the dates fall on Saturday evenings.

Longtime Kapalua Wine & Food Festival Event Director Karin Sagar decided to check out PBFW this year.

“I was happy to have spent time with Kent Torrey of the Cheese Shop in Carmel, and Nico Cueva, the winemaker of Kosta Browne at PBFW,” Sagar says. “We are thrilled to have them both back in June at Kapalua. Kent Torrey has been friends of Kapalua for a long time, and he will bring a 1,000 pound cheese display, one of the festival highlights. He will also be working with Grand Wailea on future events after meeting them at PBFW.”

The 37th annual KWFF will be uncorked June 8 to 10 at The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua and the Montage Kapalua Bay. It’s called the “granddaddy” of all of these types of food and wine events in the country.

“We are amped to be pouring Kosta Browne this year at Kapalua Wine & Food Festival alongside great friends like Chef Mike Lofaro and his team of Humuhumunukunukuapua’a during the Seafood Festival event (June 10),” says Cueva. “I am also very humbled and excited to be sitting on the World Famous Pinot Noir panel with so many other great producers. Any trip that brings together killer wine, fresh food AND great surf is a win in my book! Bring it on!”

The KWFF pinot noir panel and tasting event on June 10 will also include winemakers Jeff Stewart of Hartford Court Winery, Jeff Mangahas of Williams Selyem Winery, James Hall of Patz & Hall and Michael Brown of Cirq.

Hall was pouring his famous wines at PBFW with his wife Anne Hall.

“She’s Anne and doesn’t like to be called Annie Hall,” said James with a smile. “We are looking forward to coming to Kapalua again. It’s a lot of fun. We’ll also pour our wines at the cooking demo there with Hubert Keller.”

Lynn Phelps Finch, owner of Joseph Phelps Vineyards in Napa Valley, was there, too, pouring iconic Insignia and other varietals along with her husband Richard Finch. She is the daughter of the late Joseph Phelps, the winery’s namesake and founder.

“Maui was always one of Joe’s favorite spots,” explains Lynn between pours for the hordes of people lining up to taste her wines. “He bought a house in Wailea, and his ties go way back to hanging out with the Gannons. We picked up where he left off, and we’ll be at the Kapalua Wine & Food Festival this year.”

Lynn’s first trip to Maui was when she was 7.

“We love Hawaii. It’s such a great place to be. I love The Maui News, too, and I read it every day when I’m there. I go through all of the articles. And it’s got a nice mix of local and national and international news stories. It comes rolled up and it’s so accessible. I even read in The Maui News about Yo Yo Ma, and so I knew to attend his concert. The paper makes me feel so connected — and I adore Hocus Pocus!”

“Pebble Beach Food & Wine reminds me of Kapalua Wine & Food Festival,” says Mauian Loren Malenchek, a former event director of KWFF, who made the trek to California with Sagar.

“Eating cuisine by iconic chef personalities like Daniel Boulud, sipping world-famous wines like Opus One and striking up new friendships with great people who share my love of the culinary scene — all in a spectacularly beautiful location — made me feel right at home.”

Even the “Ninth Island,” aka Las Vegas, was a presence at PBFW, and the Maui people checked it out.

The Venetian Las Vegas hosted a fire-pit cocktail party at the Inn at Spanish Bay. We warmed up near the flames, took in the iconic scenic views, listened to the bagpiper play at sunset and explored the Latin American fare of Chef Lorena Garcia, who served ceviche and Cuban sandwiches from her new Chica restaurant at The Venetian.

Garcia and The Venetian will participate in one of the country’s leading food, wine and spirits festivals May 10 to 13. Vegas Uncork’d by Bon Appetit returns with a stellar lineup of world-famous chefs, master sommeliers and cutting-edge mixologists from Caesars Palace, The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, The Cromwell, MGM Resorts International, The Venetian and The Palazzo Las Vegas.

Continuing its tradition of bringing the world’s most iconic chefs together in one destination, the 12th annual epicurean affair will feature fan favorites such as Bobby Flay, Giada De Laurentiis, Gordon Ramsay, Guy Savoy, Julian Serrano, Masaharu Morimoto, Michael Mina, Nobu Matsuhisa, Stephen Hopcraft and more. Southern Glazer’s Wine and Spirits of Nevada will return as the official distributor for the festivities.

What else did the Hawaii people discover?

The Resort at Paws Up, a luxury ranch resort set on 37,000 acres in the Montana wilderness, had a booth at the Grand Tasting.

The property’s Executive Chef, Sunny Jin, participated this year. He’s cut his teeth at many lauded institutions such as Napa Valley’s epic French Laundry, Catalonia’s El Bulli and Australia’s Tetsuya’s.

We learned that chef Jin brings his “cook locally, cook sustainably” ethos to Paws Up where he fosters relationships with the Montana agricultural community by bringing guests and purveyors together at his culinary events, of which there are many.

Some Mauians opted to take a tour of Pisoni Vineyards in the Santa Lucia Highlands that is about an hour’s drive from Monterey. Gary Pisoni and his family are Maui regulars at KWFF and other wine-tasting events, but alas, this year they will not make it.

“We have been farming premium wine grapes in the Santa Lucia Highlands for over 30 years,” Mark Pisoni told the small group. “The vineyards are meticulously hand-farmed and our family is focused on crafting the highest quality wines under our Pisoni and Lucia labels.

“As farmers we rarely leave the ranch, but we absolutely love sneaking away to Hawaii. We have long enjoyed attending the Kapalua Wine & Food Festival as a great opportunity to spend time with our customers and industry friends. The amazing and relaxed atmosphere unique to Kapalua has a magical way of bringing out the most intimate and honest stories from winemakers, customers and sommeliers — truly special and memorable times for all. We’re honored to have some Maui locations that appreciate and sell our wines such as Merriman’s Kapalua, Plantation House Restaurant and Pacific’o Restaurant.”

Venezuelan chef, author and TV star Lorena Garcia appeared at The Venetian’s fire-pit cocktail party at the Inn at Spanish Bay. She will star in Vegas Uncork’d May 10 to 13 in Las Vegas. -- The Maui News / CARLA TRACY photo

California firefighters sample the Eat Your Invasives dish by Grand Wailea Chef de Cuisine Mike Lofaro at the PBFW Grand Tasting tent. -- MELISSA CHANG photo

The Resort at Paws Up in Montana had a booth at the Grand Tasting tent enticing attendees to its 37,000- acre luxury property. -- THE RESORT AT PAWS UP photo

Paloma cocktail by the fire pits at the Inn at Spanish Bay -- The Maui News / CARLA TRACY photo

Pisoni Vineyards farmer Mark Pisoni lead a group of Mauians on a jeep tour of his family’s vast estate in the Santa Lucia Highlands that also includes orange trees planted by his grandfather. -- The Maui News / CARLA TRACY photo

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