No matter how you slice it, Maui Onion Festival at Whalers Village Fine Shops & Restaurants Saturday in Kaanapali should be a ton of fun.
Actually, a half ton. We are talking about the bags and bags of sweet Maui Onion rings that will be deep-fried to a crunchy golden doneness in massive woks by the Maui Onion Growers Association.
"We'll truck down a half ton of the Maui Onions," says Kula farmer Bobby Ito, who is MOGA's current president. "We'll deep-fry plenty. We're expecting a lot of people, so we don't want to run out. We'll be prepared this year for sure."
Maui Onion Grower’s Association President Bobby Ito has been farming in Kula for 34 years and says the Maui Onion is the “sweetest in the world.” He and his pals will slice and fry a half ton of Maui Onion rings during the festival.
STEVE BRINKMAN / photo
Chinese immigrants who first arrived on Maui starting planting onions around 1880 in the Kula region. For decades, the onions were nurtured in the fertile Upcountry fields. Then in the mid-1900s, a hybrid cross of the Bermuda cultivars and the Spanish Grano strains became what is known as today's "super sweet" variety.
"The best onions come from Kula. We have the best conditions for the sweetness and the mildness. Kula is dry. It's got a cool temperature and good soil. It's really the sweetest onion in the world."
So move over, Vidalia onions. Step aside. Walla Walla. Saturday, the Maui Onion will reign as king.
Maui Onion Festival at a glance:
* Where: Outdoors and oceanfront at Whalers Village Fine Shops and Restaurants Center Stage and Beach House Lawn.
* When: Saturday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Special promotions and pre-event festivities begin Friday. There will be a dinner at Hula Grill Friday with celebrity chefs.
* How much: Free and open to the public. A canoe of Maui Onion rings will cost $5; a one-pound decorative box of Maui Onions, $4. Proceeds benefit Habitat for Humanity.
* Highlights: Chef demos, Maui Onion farmers cooking deep-fried onion rings, food booths, Kona Beer garden, keiki games, magic show, and farmers market, many prizes and giveaways.
* Hotel deals: From Westin Maui Resort & Spa to the Sheraton Maui to Outrigger Maui Eldorado, Kaanapali is offering discounted rooms to those who attend the festival. Call front desks for rates and packages.
* For more details: Call 661-4567 or visit www.whalersvillage.com.
This 19th annual event celebrates Maui's famous bulb and it will feature not only the crispy Maui Onion rings, but a slew of other fun family events as well.
"We have a great group of Hale Aina award-winning chefs from Maui and Oahu participating in the cooking demonstrations and recipe contest this year," said Marketing Director Lisa Donlon of Whalers Village Fine Shops & Restaurants.
Chef David Paul Johnson will wow the crowd with roasted beet, goat cheese and Maui Onion salad with a caramelized Maui Onion vinaigrette.
Chef D.K. Kodama of Sansei Seafood Restaurant and Sushi Bars will make fresh salmon Asian carpaccio with Maui Onion and apple salsa.
James McDonald of Pacific'o and I'o will make Maui Onion chutney-stuffed nairagi with Maui Onion lomi lomi and Maui Onion Mary. Chef Russell Siu of 3660 on the Rise will pan-sear and lacquer salmon in pickled Maui Onions and yuzu-butter sauce. And Chef Fred DeAngelo of Ola at Turtle Bay Resort will grill baby octopus and serve it with warm mojito salad.
"Center Stage schedule of activities start at 9:30 a.m. with emcee Manolo Morales of KHON2," says Donlon. "Activities include chef demos with samples for the audience by the chefs. There will also be the popular keiki and adult 'raw' Maui Onion eating contests as well as Hawaiian hula and Tahitian dance performances."
The Beach Lawn Stage activities start at 10 a.m. with a magic show by Kenn Serrano, followed by a talk-story session with Maui Onion Growers members about the distinguished crop and it history and cultivation.
"At 11 a.m., UH Extension Agent Robin Shimobukura will talk about the history and then farmer Benny Yamamoto will talk about cultivation," says Ito. "We'll probably do a raw cooking demo with pohole fern shoots with onions and tomatoes and we'll give out samples."
There will also be a Hawaiian smoothie demonstration for keiki with TV celebrity Chef Cutty Cutler, a Taiko drum show, an Air Force Band of the Pacific performance and a sunset jazz session.
Food booths by both the celebrity chefs and restaurants such as Roy's, Longhi's and Penne Pasta will sell items. There will also be the Grown on Maui Farmers' Market and Beer Garden at Leilani's Kapalua Room, which overlooks the Beach Lawn Stage. Open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., it's sponsored by Kona Brewing Company.
When shoppers spend $150 or more at Whalers Village, they are eligible to receive a complimentary earth-friendly shopping tote at the Marriott Maui Ocean Club kiosk near the ABC Store.
For those who wish to learn a little more about the festival before they attend, tune into KHON2 Friday morning from 6 to 8 a.m. live with Manolo Morales. Bobby Ito will appear and so will Chef Russell Siu, filmed at the Kakaako Kitchen.
All of the hotels in Kaanapali are offering discounted rooms and packages and shops at Whalers Village are dishing up plenty of deals as well.
"Come out this year to Kaanapali," says Ito. "I think it will be a great festival."