The stage was most certainly perched on an angle when I took my seat at the judging table during the Maui County Agricultural Festival. After participating as a judge in a dozen or so food and drink competitions, it was my first experience doing so from a proper “stage” — even a slightly precarious one.
On the grounds of the beautiful Maui Plantation, nestled at the base of the green mountains so familiar to the Hawaiian countryside, the day began as most on the islands do — a little overcast, a possibility of rain. The late morning clouds parted just as the festival opened its gates, the parking lot already full by 9:00 a.m. Pencil in hand, I joined my fellow judges for the day’s culinary competition, a showcase of farmers and chefs from around the island, each paired to feature the best of Maui agriculture.
With twelve dishes, I’m glad I had a small breakfast.
We started with the Chipotle Roasted Yacon and Shrimp Salad, and then the Shredded Cabbage and Chicken Salad. From there, I lost track — and tried not to think about what I might look like shoveling food into my mouth on a stage…
Highlighting Maui’s most wonderful agricultural scene, farmers were partnered with competition chefs, offering a unique main ingredient for each competitor. The goal, of course, was to create a plate with the chosen ingredient at the forefront. From the array of superior dishes, there were a bevy of stand out dishes (as well as a few amazing bites where the main ingredient was sadly a bit hidden), making the decision-making difficult. In the end, it was Chef Sheldon Simeon of Star Noodle who shined the brightest with his take on taro, followed by Chef Marc McDowell’s killer porchetta slider, the crowd favorite. Chef Jennifer Nguyen’s Shredded Cabbage and Chicken Salad was one of my top picks, as was the Pan-Fried Smoked Salmon-‘Ulu Cakes with Tapioca Tartar Sauce from Chef Riko Bartolome of Asiavous. Chef Jojo Vasquez’ Ube Macapuno (sweet potato with coconut) ice cream was by far the best way to wrap up the 2012 Maui County Agricultural Festival’s Taste Education culinary competition.
The full list of dishes and competitors:
- Sweet Potato Gnocchi with heirloom tomato and O’o Farm Herb from Chef James McDonald of I’o Restaurant, Pacific’O Restaurant, and Feast at Lele with Lynn & Russell DeCoite of L&R Farm on Moloka’i
- Pan-Fried Smoked Salmon-‘Ulu Cakes with Tapioca Tartar Sauce from Chef Riko Bartolome with Ian Cole of the Breadfruit Institute
- Chipotle Roasted Yacon and Shrimp Salad from Chef Jeffery Heubschman of Whole Foods Market with Bill and Marta Greenleaf
- Parmigiana di Melanzane (eggplant parmigiana) from Chef Wesley Holder of Pulehu with David Horsman and Manu Akana of Ho’opono Farms
- Taro Dumplings from Chef Sheldon Simeon of Star Noodle and Leoda’s Kitchen and Pie Shop with Bobby Pahia of Holaloha Farms
- Kalua Pork Laulau with Taro Fries and Coconut Taro Sauce from Chef Chris Schobel of Hula Grill Ka’anapali with Kekai Keahi and Willy Wood of taro lo’I Honokohau
- Ube Macapuno Ice Cream (sweet potato ice cream with coconut) from Chef Jojo Vasquez of Banyan Tree with Alika Atay, Maui Sweet Potato Company
- Ko Style Korean Beef Jun Sushi from Chef Tylun Pang of Ko Restaurant with Alex Franco of Maui Cattle Company
- Porchetta Mini Slider with frisee, favas, and fingerlings from Chef Marc McDowell of Makena Beach & Golf Resort with David Fitch of Malama Farms
- Pan Roasted Hawaiian swordfish, truffled rice and cauliflower puree from Chef Ivan Pahk of Cane and Taro with Northern Pacific
- Kona Kampachi crudo with Hawaiian Chili Pepper Vinaigrette and pickled root from Chef Joey Macadangdang of Roy’s Restaurants, with the beautiful Pacific Ocean off the Kona Coast
- Shredded Cabbage and Chicken Salad from Chef Jennifer Nguyen of A Saigon Café with Jamie Shishido of J Shishido Farm
*Photo Credit: Jennifer Heigl / Daily Blender; except for Pulehu, courtesy of the Westin Ka’anapali
**My incredible Maui experience was on invitation from the Maui Visitors and Convention Bureau. Many mahalos to Keli’i Brown and Charlene Ka’uhane for fantastic coordination; as well as the Old Wailuku Inn, the Fairmont Kea Lani, and the Westin Ka’anapali for their gracious hospitality during my stay.