KAUAI — The Hawaii Food and Wine Festival attracts people from around the world to sample the Aloha State’s most delectable, but it’s connections between chefs and farmers that keep the festival moving.
Volunteers at the Waipa Foundation on Kauai’s north shore were cranking out the usual 1,200 pounds of poi to sell all over the island during their regular Thursday poi day, but in June there were extra people in the ranks.
The foundation was the first stop for the Hawaii Food and Wine Festival’s Connoisseur’s Culinary Journey, a five-day event that highlights local food on different islands.
Hosted by Roy Yamaguchi, chef and owner of Eating House 1869, those in attendance explored the connection between farming and food on Oahu for the first two days of the tour and landed on Kauai for the third.
“It’s exciting to return to our roots with another culinary journey that honors our deep connection to everything that’s grown, raised and caught locally,” said Denise Yamaguchi, CEO of HFWF.
About 10 members of the media from around the country attended, and nearly everyone who showed up got their hands dirty, cleaning taro and diving into the traditional poi-making process.
“Making poi is a community activity,” said Stacy Sproat-Beck of the Waipa Foundation. “It’s one of the first foods we feed to our babies. It keeps indefinitely and, as a fermented food, it’s probiotic.”
After lending a hand at the poi mill, those on the Culinary Journey toured a bit of the Waipa Foundation’s 1,600-acre ahupuaa, which is owned by Kamehameha Schools and has been managed by the Waipa Foundation for more than 20 years.
The goal of the foundation is to provide an educational experience for those who want to know more about the ahupuaa resource management system, which holistically targeted the watershed and contributed to the thriving culture of ancient Hawaiians.
Taro grows in small patches along a road that leads to a garden, where many ingredients for the foundation’s community meals are sourced. Ingredients to feed educational groups that go through the foundation also mostly come from the garden.
“We like to eat here,” Sproat-Beck said. “We’re growing a lot of kale because our kids eat a lot of it. We have kale eating contests here instead of hot dog eating contests.”
After a fresh lunch that did indeed include a kale salad, along with Portuguese bean soup, rice and poi bread, the journey continued with a tour of the Haraguchi Rice Mill and Taro Farm in Hanalei.
About 30 acres of the 50-acre farm in the Hanalei Valley are planted with kalo, or taro. The farm, which has been in the Haraguchi family for six generations, is just one of many in the valley.
Together, the kalo farmers of Kauai work more than 200 acres and produce 73 percent of the state’s taro.
The Haraguchi family expanded their farm to include an element of agritourism, and they now offer educational tours.
“My mother was a teacher in Oahu, and she met my father, the farmer,” said Lyndsey Haraguchi-Nakayama, educational administrator and co-owner of the farm’s value-added business Hanalei Taro and Juice Co. “So we have education and agriculture.”
Once the journey made it to the loi, or fields, Haraguchi-Nakayama demonstrated how the family harvests the mature kalo for eating and the keiki for replanting, still all done by hand.
The Haraguchi farm also hosts the historic Haraguchi Rice Mill, which is on the National Register of Historic Places and is the last remaining historic rice mill in Hawaii.
The mill has been rebuilt twice due to hurricane damage in the past, but still includes original equipment.
Poi balls rolled in coconut flakes were offered after the tour, along with water from a coconut freshly cut by Jochean P.G. Finiiray, who works on the farm.
Dinner at Eating House 1849 in The Shops at Kukuiula wrapped up the journey with a family-style event at one of Yamaguchi’s restaurants.
Yamaguchi said he took his inspiration for the restaurant from Peter Fernandez, who opened one of the first restaurants in Hawaii in the mid-1800s, dubbed Eating House.
“This is a tribute to plantation workers,” Yamaguchi said, sitting at a table laden with spicy ramen, sizzled kampachi sashimi, baby back ribs and bowls of fried vegetables.
The Eating House 1849’s Hapa Burger, made with Makaweli Beef and Kulana Wild Boar, and the Plantation Paella, with tiger shrimp, clams, chicken and Portuguese sausage, completed the table.
“Back in the plantation days, people used to eat hearty,” Yamaguchi said.
Thursday was the only day the journey was on Kauai. Attendees wrapped up the five-day tour with the Hawaii Food and Wine Festival Launch Event at the Kahala Hotel and Resort in Honolulu.
The 2017 Hawaii Food and Wine Festival is set for Oct. 20 to Nov. 5. It will feature more than 100 culinary masters, mixologists and winemakers in events on Maui, Oahu and Hawaii Island.
Article written and photos taken for The Garden Island Newspaper, published June 4, 2017.