Side Orders • May 9, 2013

HOW SWEET IT WAS . . . Saturday was my 22nd year as one of the judges at the Maui Onion Festival, and the contests were just as exciting and tasty as ever.

Held at Whalers Village Fine Shops & Restaurants in Kaanapali, it was a day of fun for the whole family, and the crowds were totally pumped up.

First place in the Maui Onion Challenge went to Marc Urquidi, sous chef at Roy’s Kaanapali restaurant, who won with his sous-vide lamb.

In the Mixed Drink Contest, Dennis Day, bartender at Leilani’s on the Beach, shook it up the best to get first place for his drink, the Rufus.

Pounding the most of Maui’s famous bulbs for first place in the Keiki Maui Onion Eating Contest was Laura Brock, 11 years old of Lahaina.

Scarfing the most in the Adult Onion Eating Contest was two-time consecutive winner Darelle E. Ghormley Jr., of Lahaina. What, half pound, Darelle?

The contest garnering the most attention of all was the Maui Onion Recipe Contest at 4:30 p.m. Everyone wanted to see how Sheldon Simeon of Star Noodle would fare, as he was a finalist in “Top Chef” at the end of last season on the Bravo channel.

While Simeon shined with his chicken-liver mousse with onions done artfully in a couple of ways, it was Chef Nick Mastrascusa of Ulu Ocean Grill and Sushi Lounge at Four Seasons Resort Hualalai on the Big Island who took First Prize for his bold and expertly prepared Maui onion and uni flan with Maui onion hearts of palm soup, Black River caviar and roasted Maui onion.

Uni, or sea urchin, is an acquired taste, and you either love it or hate it. Luckily for Mastrascusa, we judges couldn’t get enough of the uni essence.


BITS AND PIECES . . . Speaking of acquired tastes, those who have it for natto may enter the Iwamoto Natto Eating Contest at 3:20 p.m. Saturday at the Maui Matsuri Festival at UH Maui College.

It’s got a slimy texture and stinky smell. But the soybeans fermented with Bacillus subtilis are a popular and traditional Japanese staple.

Maui Matsuri will also put the spotlight on the Sam Sato Saimin Eating Contest, and the Japanese Watermelon Game on Saturday, along with food booths, dancing, drumming and cultural demonstrations.

Chef Adam Tabura of Basil Tomatoes Italian Grill in Kaanapali is heading off to Vegas for the Food Network’s competition, “Food Truck Wars.”

We hear he’ll be gone awhile. Hmm . . . do we have a “Top Chef” of food trucks in the making?

We also hear Lee Anne Wong, who holds an “Iron Chef America” title, will cook a lavish six-course wine dinner Friday, May 17 at Humuhumunukunukuapua’a at Grand Wailea with Chef Mike Lofaro.

Others who harbor secret desires to own a restaurant or compete in food shows will want to attend UH-MC’s Open Kitchen from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Friday in Pa’ina Culinary Arts Center building in Kahului.

It’s a general orientation session about summer and fall culinary classes, and will offer info on how to enroll, tips on uniforms and tools to get started, with interactive food tastings and a look into the kitchens.

“You might discover you have what it takes to be the next Sheldon Simeon, MCA grad as well as “Top Chef” Seattle contender,” says Chris Speere, MCA’s external program coordinator.

By the way, Simeon will appear Saturday at Hana Spring Harvest dinner with other Oahu guest chefs Mark “Gooch” Noguchi and Dave Power. It will be presented at the private Plantation Manager’s Estate. Cost will be $100 including tax and gratuity. Call 248-8211.

Guava, Gouda & Caviar and its tasting room, Stuey’s Wine Bar, have closed as of April 30 at Wailea Gateway shopping center.

“Yes, I’ve hung up my retail cleats and will transition to do wholesale accounts under my original corporate name of Who Cut The Cheese,” says owner Anne Tuomela. “I will still continue to do the popular cheese plate for Stella Blues Cafe in Kihei.” Tuomela also says she’ll use the commercial kitchen of Fresh Tortillas of Maui, which hopes to move to the old Cafe 808 spot in Waikapu June 1.

I’o Restaurant, beachfront at 505 Front St. in Lahaina, is now running with a 50 percent off your second entree as a kamaaina special through May 31.