O'o Farm in Kula is my kind of place. During regular farm lunch tours, you may pluck fresh eggs from the henhouse, buzz by the beehive, stroll the aromatic orchards, pick leafy greens, peek into the native forest and flush out wild pheasants. After you listen to commentary and participate in some harvesting, you may enjoy a gourmet lunch al fresco in the cool Upcountry air. In a nutshell, O'o Farm is the best in agritourism. If you're lucky, you may even spot a pueo, or Hawaiian owl.
The pristine property lies in the misting forest of Waipoli at 4,000 feet in elevation below and to the left of the famous Ali'i Kula Lavender Farm.
Partners Stephan Bel-Robert and Louis Coulombe bought the 8.5 acres in the heart of Kula to exclusively grow the produce for their I'o and Pacific'o restaurants and their Feast at Lele luau show - all located at 505 Front Street in Lahaina. O'o also grows the coffee and the produce for 'Aina Gourmet Market, a store they manage, at Honuakai Resort in Kaanapali.
Executive Chef James McDonald shows off the chicken coop at O‘o Farm in Kula, where luncheon tours are offered.
The Maui News / CARLA TRACY photo
"O'o Farm is basically the most realistic vision of the Hawaii Regional Cuisine movement, which began with 12 chefs in 1990," says Farm Manager Richard Clark, who used to be the general manager for one of those chefs, Jean-Marie Josselin, of A Pacific Cafe fame.
"The owners of O'o have taken it further than anyone else. They own the land to grow the produce exclusively for their restaurants. It's rewarding that people come here for farm lunch tours and note the connection. Many of them end up following through with trips to the restaurants."
O'o Farm lunch tours now run Monday to Thursdays from 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Wear sturdy shoes, apply sunscreen, pack a hat and a sweater just in case. Some may also want to bring wine to sip.
* Farm lunch tours: Mondays to Thursdays from 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., O'o sets an elegant country stage for an al fresco feast.
* Where: Located in Upper Kula on Waipoli Road.
* Cost: $50 per adult; and $25 for children 5 to 12. You get four courses and you may BYOB.
* What you get: Greeting with fresh local fruit; raw vegetable ensemble with just-picked farm greens drizzled in lemon-herb vinaigrette; local fresh catch and seared tofu with steamed or wok-seared O'o vegetables; and Hawaiian vintage chocolate served with island fruits. Sip fresh Aina coffee from the farm.
* For reservations: Call 667-4341.
* The MIX: Come mix it up at I'o in Lahaina from 8 to 10 p.m. Friday with wine and beer, food on sticks, array of cheeses; farm-fresh risottos; island made desserts and more. Cost is $35 per person. Call 661-8422.
Tour guests Hal and Roberta Davis say that "combined with the setting, O'o Farm is an outstanding blend of education, superb ingredients and great cooking. Napa Valley has no equal."
"The idea is to showcase our pristine venue and unique farm products (which are then prepared for you in our al fresco kitchen by our resident artisan Chef Caroline Shaub), while we extoll the virtues of our organic and biodynamic practices," says Clark. "We even discuss conservation and sustainability. But if you're not interested, you can wander off and do your own thing."
My guess is you'll want to stick around and take the tour. Clark is a veritable wealth of information. He and Chef Shaub greet the guests with fresh local fruits such as naval oranges and cherimoya from the farm, as well as Lahaina mangos and strawberries from down the road.
"We grow about 60 crops year-round for our restaurants," says Clark. "We grow beets, Swiss chard, lettuces, arugula, fennel bulbs, herbs, and fun stuff like rutabagas, purslane and salsify."
The group picks what it wants to eat and then is treated to a raw-vegetable ensemble and farm greens with lemon-herb vinaigrette, served buffet style.
"We can serve up to 30 people on our blue pine table we made here and 20 people on the auxillary table. People trip out on the blue pine. It's awesome."
The al fresco kitchen is cool to the max with a Kuleto Cooker stove by famous San Francisco designer Pat Kuleto. Grapevines overhang on trellises and the ocean views are remarkable.
Other courses include local fresh catch and seared tofu with wok-seared or steamed O'o vegetables and island fruits with Hawaiian Vintage chocolates, or, perhaps, housemade biscotti.
"We encourage or even recommend that people may bring their own wine," Clark says. "We are also having more and more private events here, such as anniversaries, birthdays and Chaine des Rotisseurs meals and we get special liquor permits when we do these."
Speaking of alcohol, I'o restaurant will flow with a The Mix, a tasting of wine and beer, paired with food on sticks, cheeses and island-made chocolates from 8 to 10 p.m. this Friday.
"We're calling it The MIX as we will pour all blended wines at the event," says partner Bel-Robert. "We'll have Sauvignon and Semillon blend, a blend of Alsace white grapes, a Cabernet/Merlot, and a Cab/Shiraz -those kind of wines. The meal will feature risottos with farm-fresh ingredients from our new I'o menu - and it's sure to be a unique Maui experience."