Maui meets the Northern Prairie

Ka‘anapali team travels to Alberta, Canada, for ‘chef exchange,’ its marketing campaign to attract visitors

Farmer John Schneider and Ka‘anapali Beach Resort Association Executive Director Shelley Kekuna talk story in his organic wheat field during a celebrity chef event on property. -- BONAFIDE Media & PR photo

Canadians love Maui. And Maui just adores Canadians. They visit the island so often and in such numbers, you could say that they “butter our bread.” With lengthy stays that are well above the average, they also “sweeten it with maple syrup.”

That’s why the savvy team from Ka’anapali Resort regularly travels to America’s northern neighbor to tempt potential visitors with island cuisine, and to talk story about our white-sand beaches, ocean activities and luxurious hotel and condo accommodations.

Earlier this month, Ka’anapali Beach Resort Association Executive Director Shelley Kekuna led a chef-exchange campaign to Edmonton and Calgary, Canada.

It was the first time she and a chef team have ventured into the northern prairie in the province of Alberta. She has completed successful trips to Vancouver on three previous occasions and landed as far east as Toronto.

“The chef exchange is part of our overall campaign to top visitor markets,” Kekuna says. “We take a look at where people come from, and Vancouver is one of the main places –a major Canadian hub. Now, we are starting to travel to its feeder cities and expanding our reach to get to more people. Our Kaanapali chefs make TV appearances, cook at restaurants and festivals, and we buy print advertising.”

Shaka-happy Chef Tom Muromoto (from left) appears on the “Global Edmonton” TV show with host Kevin O’Connell, chefs Lino Oliveira, and Lyndon Honda, restaurateur Christian Mena and host Kent Morrison. -- BONAFIDE Media & PR photo

As usual, two seasoned executive chefs from KBRA accompanied Kekuna to take a taste of aloha to share.

They were The Maui News’ current Best Chef on Maui, Tom Muromoto of Ka’anapali Beach Hotel, and Lyndon Honda of Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa. Publicist Charlene Ka’uhane also traveled with the team, offering her expert “manao,” or “knowledge” on Hawaiian culture and Maui history.

“They are all such wonderful representatives,” Kekuna explains. “Tom is a great ambassador of the Maui lifestyle, and a fine example of how one can elevate his culinary craft and still remain humble.”

“And Lyndon is very capable of performing cooking demos and tantalizing travel writers and the vacation-seeking public with his island cuisine and personality.”

Picking up the Maui team from the Edmonton airport and showing them Canadian hospitality were Chef Lino Oliveira and Christian Mena, partners in the city’s Sabor restaurant, which is acclaimed for its Portuguese and Iberian fare as well as seafood.

Shelley Kekuna and a Sabor hostess get Maui kukui nut lei ready for gifting to 100 Canadian media. -- BONAFIDE Media & PR photo

Oliveira and Mena are boyhood friends from immigrant parents, who moved to Canada from Portugal and Chile, respectively. Both came to Maui in May for the first time to collaborate with Muromoto and Honda on the Turf Meets Surf dinner at the Sheraton Maui– and to take in island culture by visiting popular sites such as Iao Valley, and enjoying ocean activities such as snorkeling and fishing. Both were elated to return the favor.

“No matter where you are in the world, the kitchen is the heartbeat of every home,” says Oliveira. “Being welcomed into a chef’s kitchen to collaborate and prepare a meal together is truly an honor.

“Something special happens when you share stories of traditions, passions and inspirations — and it often results in incredible food and lifelong friendships,” he adds.

With eager hosts who like to bond, the Maui group was treated to prairie companionship at its finest — with epic excursions and meals. It all led to the grand finale of the chefs cooking at Sabor as a launch to its highly touted, month long seafood festival that will run through the end of the month.

About 100 members of the Canadian media from newspaper, magazine, radio, television and social media outlets, their guests and VIPs were invited to the fifth annual Sabor Seafood Festival launch — and asked to dress in Hawaiian attire. Many obliged.

Executive Chef Tom Muromoto forages for wild prairie mushrooms. -- BONAFIDE Media & PR photo

The feast was a collaboration, of course, with host Oliveira and Kaanapali chefs Muromoto and Honda. Kekuna and Ka’uhane presented each guest with a kukui-nut lei as they entered. After everyone was seated in the massive Sabor restaurant, Kekuna gave a warm and gracious speech, and explained lei giving and how it shows the recipient respect. Aretha Franklin would have been proud.

The Sabor partners made sure the Maui chefs got some respect, too, by presenting them with personalized Edmonton Oilers jerseys sporting their lucky numbers in front of the approving diners and hockey fans.

“An incredible trip giveaway rounded out the evening and was won by local blogger, Andrea Chan,” says Sabor publicist Jessie Cayabo of Bonafide Media & PR, who attended the event. “It was an incredibly memorable and exciting moment, especially since Chan will walk down the aisle in two weeks!”

The trip giveaway included roundtrip airfare for two to Maui, two nights stay at Sheraton and Ka’anapali Beach hotels, and a dinner by the chefs at each of the resorts.

At the reception, Muromoto impressed with ahi tartare on taro crisps, and Honda wowed with grilled prawns in coconut luau served on spoons.

Executive Chef Lyndon Honda wows with a grilled prawn appetizer. -- BONAFIDE Media & PR photo

“Prepared poke style, this (ahi) appetizer couldn’t be trendier in the city, and the taro chip itself was crunchy and addictive,” blogged the Edmonton Epicurious the next day. “I loved the grilled prawns, dressed in a coconut taro leaf curry. The smoky flavor was apparent in the ­plump prawn, and I enjoyed the subtle sweetness in Honda’s curry sauce.

“Of all of the plates that I tried, I’m pulling for this one to appear on the final festival menu!” Edmonton Epicurious continued.

Of course, Chef Honda was pleased as pie with the buzz on the Sabor event.

“I’ve never been part of an event with so much buzz on social media like this one,” he enthuses.

Sabor collaboration dishes included SPAM and clams by Oliveira and Koala lamb chops by Muromoto. Dressed in lei and kitschy Hawaiian attire, the media loved the dishes, says Kekuna.

KBH Executive Chef Tom Muromoto serves ahi tartare on taro chips at Sabor restaurant in Edmonton, Canada. -- BONAFIDE Media & PR photo

“His award-winning lamb chops take a cue from the aina, or land,” she adds. “He grills the rack of lamb with sweet soy, fish sauce, garlic, ginger, onions, salad oil, kaffir lime, sweet-chili sauce, black pepper and fresh herbs such as basil and cilantro. They are a winner every time.”

Other Edmonton highlights included a visit to Ono Poke Co., owned by Chef Lawrence Hui, who came to Maui to train with Chef Muromoto last year before opening his charming little poke shop.

It’s lucky he didn’t name it “Aloha Poke” because of the copyright brouhaha that’s been in the news of late.

Ono Poke instead is a true success story with giant OGG and Edmonton clocks hanging side by side, pictures of Maui in a collage and even a dish named after Chef Muromoto that is the No.1 seller in the eatery each day,

“It was a sweet moment to see this collaboration come full circle and see the little pieces of Maui showing throughout the space,” says Kekuna. “He even serves Maui Brewing Co. beer there!”

“When Chef Hui came to Maui, we introduced him to our Hawaiian ways and let him meet chefs as well as cultural practitioners,” adds Muromoto. “It’s obvious that he learned the right way how to make island poke.”

Next, the group shopped at the City Market Downtown where the chefs picked up local jams, sauces, liquor and wild game jerky to take home to the islands as well as ingredients for a farm dinner and media event.

That evening, they dined at the award-winning RGE RD., to experience locally raised beef, bison, duck and pork, all cured and butchered in the restaurant. Chef Blair Lebsack showed the fascinated team his butchery area and the aging cuts of meat.

“An appearance on ‘Global Edmonton’ television show by our chefs reached an audience hungry to visit Maui,” Kekuna says. “They both did cooking demos as well as talked about Ka’anapali Resort.”

“After a delicious brunch at Bodega 124 — with the chefs in tow, we headed over to Gold Forest Grains to prepare for a farm party that will go down in the books as being one of the most epic gatherings ever to be hosted on the property, bringing chefs and producers together,” says Cayabo.

Game meat cooked on open fires was mainly served. Hui of Ono Poke roasted a whole pig from a local producer. Honda made bear-fat SPAM-fried rice, kalbi-style moose heart and smoked bear with taro-leaf sauce and lomilomi salmon. Guest Chef Rogelio Herrera made bison tartare.

The Maui chefs were tasked with breaking open an 80-kilo wheel of Parmigiano-reggiano cheese. Eric Hendry handmade tomato-leaf pasta and tossed it inside the wheel halves.

“Julie Van Rosendaal, who came to Maui in May with the Edmonton chefs, made mixed fresh berry, cherry and rhubarb galettes from scratch, and then baked them in a clay oven. She pitted cherries and made the dough with flour milled from organic wheat on property,” says Kekuna.

On yet another adventure, videographer Kevin Kossowan invited the team to his urban home for a brunch of eggs from his hens, potatoes roasted in fatback and fresh herbs in his stone oven, berry jams and freshly baked bread.

Kossowan also traveled to Maui in late May. His “From The Wild” cookery series was nominated for a James Beard Award this year.

What city is on the agenda next for Kekuna in regards to Canada?

“We are planning a trip to Calgary in early 2019 for a chef collaboration with ‘Top Chef Canada’ finalist Jin Hee, and she will come here as part of the exchange,” says Kekuna. “Stay tuned!”

* Carla Tracy can be reached at

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Canadian visitor fast facts

• Year to date: Canada is the second largest international market for visitors to Hawaii. A strengthening Canadian economy and a more stable Canadian dollar have positively impacted travel demand for the Hawaiian Islands. Canadian visitor expenditures so far have reached $650 million • Primary purpose of stay is pleasure • Average length of stay is 12.51 days • First-time visitors account for 35.8 percent • Repeat visitors are 64.2 percent. — Hawaii Tourism Authority

James Beard Award nominated videographer-producer Kevin Kossowan cooked food from his backyard for the Maui team. -- BONAFIDE Media & PR photo

Bear luau was served at Gold Forest Grains organic wheat farm celebrity-chef dinner. -- Photo courtesy KBRA

Black Diamond Canadian vodka drinks with haskap berries was also served at the dinner. -- Photo courtesy KBRA