Grand Wailea team excited about barbecue and new Okoa restaurant based on concept

Executive Chef Ryan Urig heats things up. Grand Wailea photo

I’m not sure what’s more newsworthy: The fact that Grand Wailea A Waldorf Astoria Resort will kick up its heels with what is being pegged as the “barbecue of the Pacific,” the second annual Fire it Up! live-fire food, wine, beer and bourbon event from 5 to 9 p.m. Saturday, or that it will open Okoa, a smokin’-hot outdoor restaurant concept, midmonth on the Chapel Lawn.

Since Fire it Up! is coming at us Saturday, and tickets are going as fast as you can devour smoked chicken in Alabama white sauce, let’s talk about it first.

This year’s participants 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.

Showcasing Hawaii’s epic bounty of meats, seafood and produce cooked exclusively with fire, it’s a family-friendly event that has attracted not only the nation’s best pitmasters, but the Mainland’s top media, including editors and writers from Travel + Leisure, Wine Enthusiast, the Food Network, Food & Wine, Coast Magazine, USA Today and Texas Monthly.

The chef team has been working for months to put it all together, and years building relationships.

“For the past two years, we’ve gone to the 4-H Auction Upcountry to incorporate Maui meats into the Fire it Up! menu,” says Executive Sous Chef Jorge Gonzalez.

“We bought six pigs total,” adds Executive Chef Ryan Urig. “One steer, a goat and a lamb.

Guest Chef Sanchez, who stars on the Food Network’s hit series “Chopped” as a judge, will marinate one of these Hawaiian suckling pigs in achiote paste and tepache vinegar for his own Mexican take on tacos al pastor. Guest Chef Jones, who was named “One of the Top 10 Pitmasters in the South” by Southern Living, will flame a succulent Hawaiian pig over white oak to make sliders.

Repeat Guest Chef Justin Brunson, from Old Major in Denver, will also utilize Maui 4-H pigs. In fact, Grand Wailea sent him some to make salami.

“We are very excited to share these locally raised pigs with our Colorado-made charcuterie from Red Bear American Meats, which is my new project, set to open sometime this fall,” explains Brunson.​

Grand Wailea chefs will also man booths, and they will utilize the Maui 4-H animals as well.

“I’m excited to be working with the wonderful product from Maui’s annual 4-H youth development program again this year,” says Adam Rzeczkowski, chef de cuisine of Bistro Molokini at the Grand.

“I’ll prepare dried-Hawaiian-chile-rubbed lamb barbacoa that will be smoked, then marinated and wrapped in banana leaf and slow cooked until tender. This will be served with homemade tortillas, grilled pineapple salsa, roasted poblano crema and shaved local radish,” he adds.

Grand Wailea Hawaiian Cultural Ambassador Kainoa Horcajo will cook one of the pigs in a traditional imu to show the Mainland pitmasters how it’s done.

Other aspects of the Fire it Up! are beverages, games for kids and desserts.

“This year we will have three specialty cocktails: a refreshing Guava-Cucumber Spritz featuring Maui’s Pau Vodka, a porch-swing-style bourbon cocktail with a mango sweet-tea, fresh lemon and Buffalo Trace Bourbon, and a vibrant dragon fruit margarita,” says Grand Wailea Beverage Director John Toigo about the choices.

In addition, the acclaimed wines of Kosta Browne of Sebastopol, Calif., will flow. Two representatives will be on hand, including Regina Sanz, director of Brand Engagement. Maui Brewing Co. is also one of the beverage sponsors and all pair well with the many foods at booths spread throughout the walkabout on the Molokini Gardens lawn.

“Games for kids to play include Corn Hole, Bocce Ball and Connect 4,” says Gonzalez. “There will be a ‘selfie station’ by the step-and-repeat wall where you can take selfies, email the photo to yourself and even print out souvenir photos.”

Desserts will be baked by brand new Grand Wailea Executive Pastry Chef and native of France Fabrice Benezit.

“I will make chimney cakes. It’s like a brioche done on a barbecue,” he says. “You roast it and turn it with cinnamon, sugar and vanilla powder and top it with chocolate or strawberry sauce.”

Pastry Chef Benezit will also impress dessert lovers with rum cakes presented in cute coconut shells with grilled baby pineapple slices flambeed in rum sauce. And he’ll do fruit tarts, too.

As for Okoa restaurant located oceanside of the Grand Wailea’s world-famous wedding chapel on the Chapel Lawn, it should open in the next week or two. Anyone exercising on the famous Wailea Beach Walk will soon be able to see (and smell) the aromas of amazing barbecue.

“Okoa will feature a 26-foot smoker that we got out of Houston,” says Gonzalez. “It will be a barbecue restaurant with tastes from all over the land, from the various regions including the Carolinas, Alabama and Texas and Hawaii.”

Diners will sit outdoors on picnic tables and walk up to the casual counter to place their orders. So called “cowboy cauldrons” that you will see at Fire It Up! cooking the various meats over flames will be used at the new restaurant as well.

“Beers will be held in a horse trough like ice-house style,” says Gonzalez, fondly remembering how it is done in Texas. “We’ll do briskets, pulled pork and smoked chicken. We’re hoping to incorporate some recipes and techniques from these pitmasters to make our venture successful.”

Word is already spreading like wildfire.

• When and where: From 5 to 9 p.m., Saturday beachside at the Grand Wailea, A Waldorf Astoria Resort’s Molokini Gardens.

• How much: General admission gets you in at 6 p.m. Cost is $150. VIP admission is at 5 p.m. Cost of $250 includes swag bag. Tickets for kids ages 5 to 12 are $75.

• What it includes: Live-fire food by 10 of the nation’s top pitmasters, beer by Maui Brewing Co., fine wines by Kosta Browne, bourbon by Buffalo Trace, desserts, live music by Makana and spins by superstar Chef Hubert Keller.

• For tickets or more details: Call 875-1234 or visit