While on vacation, would you indulge in a cooking class by a sizzling hot chef? What about imbibe in a fun, educational wine tasting? Or a farm tour, in which you meet the grower, pick the produce and savor a lunch outdoors?
If so, you are not alone.
In fact, culinary tourism, wine tourism and agri-tourism are the hottest trends in the destination biz these days. I know I'll have fond, lifelong memories of attending the one-day Bumbu Bali Cooking School in Indonesia and sipping big European varietals at Il Palazzetto International Wine Academy in Rome at the top of the legendary Spanish Steps.
Hot-as-it-gets TV chef Ludo Lefebvre will steal away from his famous food truck and pop-up restaurants in Los Angeles to be featured starting Thursday in “Made In America 2” at the Four Seasons Resort Hualalai.
"Culinary tours, food and wine events, and food competitions give travelers a chance to visit a new destination as they sample its local or regional cuisine," according to a recent article in USA Today. "Whether the trip involves an opportunity to learn new cooking techniques or to attend food and wine tastings, a culinary adventure can be a welcome change from the standard travel itinerary."
In Hawaii, we've got a rainbow of events to suit just about every taste and budget.
For starters, the Four Seasons Resort Hualalai on the Big Island will bring in the creme de la creme of the food industry Thursday to March 5 as part of its "Made in America 2" series of culinary events based on a book by that name.
"The first 'Made in America' was held here in October, and this one will be kind of similar," says Four Seasons Resort Hualalai's Executive Chef James Babian.
"Basically, we take celebrity chefs featured in Lucy Lean's 'Made in America' cookbook, and we do classes so that guests can interact with the chefs and ask questions. We also do farm tours, fishing excursions with chefs, wine tastings and more, along with pie making. We will send pies up to your room afterward, all the while producing dishes from the book."
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THE MAUI LINEUP
On Maui, there will be three, count 'em, three new festivals of the food and beverage kind - all multiday with fun, interactive, cutting-edge events.
Leading the way is FS Hualalai's sister property, the Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea. From June 7 to 9, it will set an elegant stage for Four Pinots, Four Seasons, with three days of seminars, dinners and an oceanfront gala.
Ka'anapali Fresh will debut over Labor Day weekend with the spotlight on farmers, chefs and culture at various venues to be determined at Kaanapali Resort.
Wailea Wine & Food Festival will be uncorked Dec. 7, and it will feature winemakers who actually have homes in the resort area as well as other stellar producers. Master sommeliers Fred Dame and Geoff Cruth have jumped ship from Kapalua Wine & Food Festival to head it up.
Speaking of which, the million-dollar question I'm asked over and over again is - will Kapalua Wine & Food Festival take place this year?
The answer is a resounding, "YES!"
The 31st annual wine and food festival, the oldest in the nation, will bring back the Grand Tasting, the hugely popular Seafood Festival, seminars, tastings and more.
In addition, acclaimed chef Alan Wong will make a special appearance at the Maui Agricultural Festival at Maui Tropical Planation on April 7 to do a culinary presentation and book signing of his new "Blue Tomato" award-winner as well as pump up his Amasia restaurant, which is set to open at the Grand Wailea this spring.
Chef David Paul Johnson recently kicked off another series of cooking classes titled "In the Kitchen With David," and the next one, the Mediterranean Meets Hawaii, will be held in his Lahaina restaurant today at noon.
The Hyatt Regency Maui Resort & Spa's Japengo will be on a roll with Saturday Sushi School, starting this weekend. Whole Foods Market Kahului will continue its Grown on Maui Celebrity Chef Series on Monday at 5:30 p.m., with Chef Sheldon Simeon of Star Noodle and Leoda's Kitchen and Pie Shop.
Helen Nielsen of Maui Natural Bee will share information about the lives of honeybees and their efficiency, the benefits of consuming local honey and useful ways to use honey in the kitchen at 6 p.m. Wednesday at Maui Culinary Academy as part of Slow Food Maui's Taste Education.
The list goes on and on. Loosen belts and get ready to grind!
In fact, when I gathered the info for this story, I was blown away by the response. It was mind-boggling what poured in, so I'm reporting about events, "first come, first served." This is in no way a comprehensive list statewide.
But I've got some juicy info nonetheless. So let's delve into more details about the bigger festivals and events.
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"Made in America 2"
"The first 'Made In America' event was a huge success for everyone involved," says Lucy Lean, whose cookbook is the namesake of the event.
"The setting at Four Seasons Resort Hualalai was magical and all the staff, particularly the chefs, incredibly welcoming. I still get emails from people who took part in the event who share stories with me of the food they have cooked from the book."
Oahu Master Sommelier Chuck Furuya will be on hand this year, pouring wines at the various events and teaching Wine101 class.
"I believe education is a great thing, no matter what the topic," says Furuya. "I would love to attend as many cooking classes as possible! "
TV star Ludo Lafebvre is smokin' hot this year. A French chef from Burgundy, he's based in L.A., where he puts out phenomenal nouvelle cuisine from a food truck, the location always changing - always a surprise.
"Ludo tweets about where he's going to be and when he gets there, over 250 people are lined up, snaking around the block, waiting to get his baby organic chickens he cooks in duck fat," says executive Chef James Babian of Four Seasons Resort Hualalai, where Ludo will be a featured guest chef with the others.
(A testament to this hot food truck phenomenon will be at Vegas Uncorked May 10 on the rooftop of the Bellagio. Hosted by Bon Appetit, the event is called Follow That Food Truck with top chefs such as Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Julian Serrano, among the other celebrities.)
What has Vegas got to do with Hawaii, you ask? It is the 9th island, of course!
In addition, wouldn't it be cool to see gourmet food trucks on Maui? How about one by Beverly Gannon, who just got nominated for a James Beard Award again in 2012. Can you imagine her bringing meatloaf from Hali'imaile General Store to Kahului Beach Road?
But I'm speculating here and segueing fa-a-a-r away from Back to America 2, which will continue to set trends with a pop-up restaurant.
"Ludo also picks a bakery or bistro in L.A. that isn't regularly open for dinner and writes a menu for that evening and then announces the location," says Chef Babian.
"Last time he did it, it was so busy, it crashed the OpenTable website. People were actually flying into L.A. from Oahu to check it out."
Now, all you have to do is fly over to the Big Island and visit his pop-up restaurant after the Made in America 2 festival March 6 to 17.
"We'll let him take over the former Alan Wong's restaurant now called Hualalai Grill," says Babian. "It will be called Ludo Bites Hawaii 9-0, a playoff of 'Hawaii 5-0' and the fact it's his ninth pop-up restaurant to date."
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Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea has invited top vintners and sommeliers of California pinot noirs to co-host a weekend of events called Four Pinots, Four Seasons June 7 to 9 at the resort. Meet superstars from Anthill Farm Wineries, Costa de Oro, Brewer-Clifton and Patz & Hall.
Wine-pairing dinners are planned for Ferraro's, DUO and Spago Maui, the resort's award-winning restaurants. A charity golf tournament at Wailea Golf Club highlights a cause supported by the four wineries.
Take part in wine seminars and a sunset oceanfront gala featuring local farm-to-table cuisine and vintages from over 40 hand-selected participating wineries. Chardonnay will also flow throughout.
That same weekend, June 7 to 9, the 31st annual Kapalua Wine & Food Festival returns for another year.
"For our 31st year, we are working collaboratively with the Kapalua Resort partners to create a new spin on the longest running food and wine event in the USA," says Tom Donovan, general manager and vice president of The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua, where the event will be held.
"This celebration of the finest in food and wine will embrace all things Hawaiian, and especially Maui. We want the world to know why we are all so blessed, 'lucky we live Hawaii,' as the saying goes, and we'll work with our local sommeliers to integrate our Hawaiian style and flair into each and every event including the fan favorites such as the opening night's Grand Tasting of premium and hard to find wines and Sunday's Seafood Festival, where Maui's best and brightest chefs showcase Hawaii ocean bounty.
"And, there will be seminars and quite a few new and fun surprises on the wine front as well. Stay tuned!!" continues Donovan.
In West Maui, Ka'anapali Fresh debuting on Labor Day weekend, Aug. 31 to Sept. 2, will fast become a signature food event, spread out from the Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa to the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort & Spa.
"The name is about many things," says Shelley Kekuna, the executive director of the Ka'anapali Beach Resort Association. "Fresh is one of Maui's brand pillar words as identified in the recent Hawaii Visitors & Convention Bureau's branding project. Fresh refers to not only fresh food, but also fresh ideas and fresh experiences."
Kekuna goes on to say that "Kaanapali keeps itself fresh by changing with the times."
"The event celebrates our great chefs, our fine farmers, our rich culture and our important relationships with our visitors and locals. Labor Day weekend will give us a chance to showcase Maui's bounty throughout the resort itself by having a progressive dining experience on Friday, a sumptuous dinner on Saturday night, a special Sunday brunch along with chef demos and farm tours during the day. This will surely be a fun weekend for all and an exceptional weekend for all of you, foodies."
James Beard Award winner Roy Yamaguchi just opened a restaurant in Kaanapali last week and will add star power. But Kaanapali already has a slew of heavy hitters.
Matt Smith, executive chef of Hyatt Regency Maui Resort & Spa, has been named chef chairman of the event.
"I am thrilled to be chairing the first ever Ka'anapali Fresh, A Culinary Experience," he says. "I'm constantly inspired and motivated by my fellow Kaanapali chefs and our local farmers in creating superior product from the farm to the table. I can't think of a better way to celebrate this abundant talent than through our cuisine. When paired with our location, entertainment, locally made beverages and fine wines, Kaanapali Fresh is a recipe for success!"
South Maui will be in the thick of it Dec. 7 to 9 with the debut of Wailea Wine & Food Festival.
"It will be a classy, high-end, resort-wide destination event," says Bud Pikrone, head of the Wailea Community Association. "We are putting our own footprint on it. A couple of homeowners here in Wailea are winemakers and we're inviting them and others and putting the details together for a great event that really fits the resort area."
As mentioned earlier in the story, master sommelier Fred Dame will jump ship from his previous hosting at Kapalua Wine & Food Festival to head up the Wailea event.
"It's all good, all amicable," he says. "It's the way the nut flies. We were at Kapalua for seven years and we decided it was time for a fresh start. We are working on the programs as we speak."
Other events that put food and wine on the front burner are for different audiences than foodies.
Take for instance, the Maui Film Festival at Wailea June 13 to 17 at various venues in the Wailea Resort.
"Sometimes, I think we should have called it the Maui Film 'Feastival,' rather than Festival, at Wailea," director and founder Barry Rivers kids, referring to the upcoming 13th annual celebration of cinema and culinary artistry.
"As always, the cosmic chemistry of the event - its under-the-stars summer cinema premieres and big screen tributes at the Celestial Cinema, seamlessly dovetailed with resort-wide mouthwatering special events - will again give what the Hawaii Tourism Authority refers to as the only 'Signature Cultural Event on Maui' its substance and sizzle."
Another case in point is the 20th annual Celebration of the Arts at The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua from April 6 to 8. It's all about Hawaiian culture, but when its Celebration Luau & show transpires April 7, it's hard to ignore the local food you can't find elsewhere.
"The Celebration of the Arts touches all the senses but The Celebration Luau and Show is guaranteed to satisfy your palate," says Ritz cultural advisor Clifford Nae'ole.
Another part of Celebration of the Arts is the Easter Sunday brunch.
"Our culinary team leaves no stones unturned when it comes to menu and creativity," says the Ritz's Executive Chef John Zaner.
Other bona fide culinary and wine events don't have firm dates set yet.
For instance, Maui Calls, the annual signature fundraiser for Maui Arts & Cultural Center in Kahului, will be held either Aug. 10 or 17.
Over 15 island chefs will be paired with 15 vintners from outstanding wineries and there will be auctions and live tunes for dancing.
Li'ula i Wailea will take place sometime in November at the Hotel Wailea's elegant Anuhea room with exceptional wines provided by Chambers & Chambers Wine Merchants and food by top restaurants such as Capische, Cuatro, Cafe O'Lei and more. Just mark your calendars, and enjoy!