At the Upcountry Farmer’s Market on the Hawaiian island of Maui, a sign at the entrance reads “Thousands of Miles Fresher”. This has become the new mantra for the Maui’s growing farm to table movement. Often considered the most stunning of the Hawaiian chain, Maui has recently been boasting a new reputation.
No longer sourcing the majority of their produce and meats from the mainland almost 2500 miles away, Maui is home to a growing food scene that’s focused on what can be caught, grown or raised on this land. And it’s no wonder chefs and farmers are equally excited: They are basically sitting on a 727 square-mile greenhouse. From the fertile soils and cooler slopes of the dormant Haleakala volcano to the lush and bountiful rainforests, the abundance of sun, rain and trade winds, Maui’s sustainable future is evident on menus, at markets and with local farmers all over the island.
It all started in 1991 when 12 chefs got together to focus on using fresh, local ingredients. Named The Hawaiian Regional Cuisine Movement, one of the originals, Mark Ellman, now oversees 12 restaurants, including the farm to table Mala Ocean Tavern in Lahaina. “When I first arrived in Maui in 1985 and opened my first restaurant, I was buying 80% of my products from the mainland and 20% locally” Ellman recalls. “Since then, we are having 80% of our products from Hawaii. Farmers are exploding here in Maui.”
With a philosophy of seeking only the best quality local products, Ellman has relationships with many Maui businesses including Maui Seafoods, who supply his tuna for his signature Seared Ahi Bruschetta, and cheese makers Surfing Goat Dairy for the Beet, Goats Cheese and Kula Baby Green salad, “The community of commerce is very important to me,” says Ellman. “The circle brings harmony. The biggest and most important lesson I have learned living in Hawaii is respecting the host people and the land.”
“The circle brings harmony. The most important lesson I have learned living in Hawaii is respecting the people and the land,” Mark Ellman
Also in Lahaina is chef and James Beard award nominee Sheldon Simeon’s Star Noodle. The sacrifice of a beach view is worth the trip to this upscale bistro to taste his Steamed Pork Buns or locally grown Hana Fiddlehead Fern salad. With plenty of delicious noodle dishes and plates to share, Simeon works with small nearby farms to source his meat, herbs and greens. It’s no wonder this Top Chef contender is a local darling.
Over at the Andaz Maui Hotel at Wailea, Isaac Bancaco is the chef of Ka’ana Kitchen. “In the Hawaiian language, Ka’ana means to share,” explains Bancaco. Although the menu encourages everyone to come together around food and drink, Ka’ana kitchen, for Bancaco, is about sharing his Maui and his culture with guests. His menu highlights local food suppliers including Anuhea Flowers asparagus, Makawao Farms chicken and Waiala Estate chocolate. Not only is most of the restaurant’s produce local, it’s also organic, sourced from Ono Organic Farms, who have a daily roadside market open to the public in Hana. With 85% of his food coming from a 75-mile radius, Bancaco is proud of where the Maui food scene is going. “We have some of the best farmers in the world that grow goods in the best soil in the world. Our rich, nitrogen full volcanic soil, mixed with our cool trade winds make for some of the best conditions anywhere.”
At Market Fresh Bistro, ex-New York chef Justin Padro’s philosophy is to celebrate global cuisine while using local ingredients. From Organic Beef and Blooms to Kula County farms, every Thursday night, Padro prepares a seven-course tasting menu featuring a local ingredient paired with a region of the world, served to regulars and tourists alike at a long communal table.
“The most impressive thing is that a lot of our locally grown talent don’t see each other as competition or a threat to their business in any way,” Isaac Banacaco
Equally important, Maui farmers need to also forge relationships with restaurants and the public to keep their businesses thriving. O’o Farms, started by two surfing buddies who purchased a Kula citrus and stone fruit orchard in 2000, now yield coffee, fruit, vegetables, herbs and flowers they supply to upscale beachfront restaurant Pacific’O, and sister I’O. They also offer a public farm tour and lunch where guests forage for their feast in the stunning Upcountry setting. “The most impressive thing is that a lot of our locally grown talent don’t see each other as competition or a threat to their business in any way,” explains Chef Bancaco. “What I see is a collaboration of chefs, farmers, fisherman, ranchers, restaurateurs, entrepreneurs and local people that just want Hawaii to have great cuisine.” It looks like Maui might already be there.
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