Tag Archives: Maui

Celebrating all things Maui Onion

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It’s a good thing I like onions.

I was invited to be a judge for the recipe contests at the 25th annual Maui Onion Festival at Whalers Village in Kaanapali on Maui.

I didn’t really know what to expect.

I figured there would be those sweet onions Maui is known for. But I didn’t expect the crowds of people clamoring for Maui onions in just about every form: sautéed, deep-fried, in sauces, in tacos, on pizzas. It was an onion frenzy!

This year’s festival featured the annual Maui onion-eating contests, food booths and cooking demonstrations by celebrated chefs like “Top Chef” alum Sheldon Simeon and Mark “Gooch” Noguchi of Pili Group (see below).

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Sheldon and Gooch

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Here’s Gooch with co-emcee Ramsay Wharton of Hawaii News Now cooking charred Maui onion with Kupa’a Farm potato and bacon jam (recipe in another post).

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And here’s Chris Kulis of Capische, The Market by Capische.

But I was here for the recipe contests — and I was ready!

The first contest featured dishes by chefs who work in Maui.

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Here’s the dish by Jared Krausen: onion-crusted ahi with an onion jam and a succotash featuring sweet onions, sweet corn, chives and more.

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Here’s one of four components made by Joey Macadangdang: a Maui onion consommé with foie gras.

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His savory onion bread pudding with pickled Maui onions was my hands-down favorite dish.

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Here’s the willing dish by Ryan Luckey: a South American-inspired dish with local yuma root steamed down in Maui onions and milk with yellow aji chile and a Maui onion cilantro chimichurri on flat iron steak.

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It was a gorgeous day on the Kaanapali Coast — and I managed to squeeze in a surf session between judging.

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We grabbed some freshly deep-fried Maui onions made by the students of the Maui Culinary Academy.

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There were food booths everywhere at Whalers Village. We sampled the kalua pig tacos.

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I got back just in time to judge the cocktail contests. These Maui bartenders — Robin Blumer, Dennis Day and Ross Steidel — were preparing interesting drinks using Maui onions.

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Here’s the winning cocktail by Day. It uses sugar cane juice, tequila and ginger beer with locally grown oranges, mint and, of course, Maui onions.

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Then there was the finale: the recipe contest featuring top chefs from all over the state. Here’s Gooch preparing his dish, which were all top secret to the judges. (I snuck in this photo!)

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And here’s Simeon putting the final touches on his plates.

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Here’s the first dish by Jojo Vasquez of The Plantation House Restaurant: Maui onion flan with balsamic onion, Kumu Farms organic beets, onion powder, rye-cumin soil and an edible flower garden. Truly loved this flan and presentation.

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Up next was the dish by Nick Mastrascusa of Kuki’o: pan-roasted Maui onions with braised oxtail and Maui onion hearts of palm puree. The oxtail was dynamite.

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The third dish was by Simeon: funn noodles made with Maui onions. Props for creativity. Loved this, too.

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The fourth — and winning — dish was by James McDonald of Aina Gourmet Market: smoked oysters with Maui onions, cucumber “noodles” and a soft egg with curry oil. Eggs and curry oil — a winning combo!

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And the final dish was by Gooch — a take on what he served earlier.

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And here’s the winner, accepting his onion trophy. But to be honest, we were all winners. I got to try every single dish, every single cocktail — and I didn’t even need to brush my teeth in between! Can’t wait for next year!

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Why I love mom-and-pop shops

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The other day I had to fly to Maui for a story I was working on.

Since I had some time to kill between interviews, I, like usual, went searching for somewhere to eat.

A woman I had met earlier that morning told me to check out Takamiya Market in the Happy Valley area of Wailuku.

Actually, this is really how the conversation went down:

HER: “You hungry? Like eat wit us?”

ME: “No, I no can. I gotta go to Wailuku fast kine.”

HER: “Oh, then you gotta go Takamiya Market.

ME: “Where?”

HER: “What?! You nevah been to Takamiya Market?”

ME: “No. Where is that?”

HER: “You going Wailuku, right? It’s right dea, on da way. No can miss ‘em.”

So there I was, driving in my rental car with those basic-but-accurate instructions. The small, unassuming market was right where the woman had told me — “right dea” — on the side of N. Market Street on the way to Wailuku Town.

From what I hear, the market opened right after World War II by Jisho Takamiya, an immigrant laborer from Okinawa who worked for the Wailuku Sugar Co. His sons, Jin and Kenneth, along with son-in-law Sekichi Sakihara, took over the business and turned it into a grocery store. Later, Jisho’s youngest son, James, added grab-and-go foods, for which the market has become known.

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Inside the grocery store with goods like chips, paper plates and instant ramen lined neatly on shelves.

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Here are some of the grab-and-go offerings at the market.

I love these small mom-and-pop shops. It reminds me of Alicia’s Market in Kalihi — one of my go-to places for poke, roast pork and boiled peanuts — and Pukalani Superette in Upcountry Maui — love me the chili chicken and tako poke — where the offerings are simple, convenient and tasty.

These are the best places to find great locally made snacks and treats to eat on the go — or take home as gifts. Because you likely can’t find these items anywhere else.

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I bought apple and azuki bean manju to take home.

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I bought this — musubi with ume, fried chicken and a half a red hot dog — to eat on the road.

When I travel, I like to hit up places like Takamiya to get a real feel for what life is like in these small towns. Even though I come from a small town in Hawaii myself — I grew up in Kalihi Valley — every island, every part of of every island, has something different to offer.

I wonder what will happen to these small stores, if there’s still enough patrons living in these areas to keep them afloat. The big-box retailers like Costco and Walmart offer a substantially larger variety of goods at far cheaper prices. And with everything more expensive these days — electricity, cable, gasoline — and paychecks not getting any bigger, it’s no wonder folks are flocking to stores that offer discounts on the things they need.

It’s sad and there’s not much we can do about it — except patronize these small mom-and-pop shops whenever you can.

It might cost a little more, but to lose them will cost way more.

Takamiya Market, 359 N. Market St. Wailuku, Maui. Phone: (808) 244-3404.

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#CatTravels: Weekend in Upcountry Maui

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Maui has quickly become one of my favorite travel destinations.

And not just because we’ve got awesome friends on the island we love visiting.

Maui’s got great restaurants, hiking trails, friendly farms and gorgeous views (like the one of the sunrise at Haleakala above) that make any excuse to travel here a good one.

So when I got a writing assignment on the Valley Isle, I took it — and packed in a weekend of eating, hiking and cruising.

The only downside is, at some point, I gotta come home.

Here’s what the first part of the trip looked like:

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As soon as we arrived on Maui on Friday, we visited a start-up farm in Kula on the slopes of Haleakala. This farm is going to utilize aquaponics — the integration of aquaculture and hydroponics — to grow a variety of veggies. We lucked out with the weather, too. It was a balmy 70 degrees during the day in Kula.

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This farm is right next to the huge stretch of land owned by Oprah Winfrey. Not a bad view, right?

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We stopped off at Kula Bistro, which opened in this rural town in 2012, for a quick lunch. I had a grilled chicken sandwich with a pesto aioli.

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After visiting the farm, we headed to Makawao to stay with some friends — and immediately went to dinner at Makawao Steak House on Baldwin Avenue. This popular steakhouse started as a six-table restaurant in Makawao more than 10 years ago. Now it’s turned into a full-service restaurant and catering company with locations in Kihei, Kahului and Waiehu.

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We started with focaccia bread, calamari rings and this flatbread ($8).

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Here’s the slow-roasted 14-ounce certified Angus prime rib ($25) with an alaea salt crust and au jus.

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And here’s the fall-off-the-bone Asian-style braised beef short ribs ($23) with ginger, sesame, anise, sriracha, shoyu and steamed white rice.

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It was great to spend time with the Doyle family — here’s my pal, Anuhea — at dinner. This was really the best part of the entire trip.

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The next morning greeted us with nice weather again — Honolulu was getting hit with rain — so we planned our day around the sunshine.

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Well, after eating breakfast, of course. We stopped off at the locally owned Koho Grill & Bar at the Queen Kaahumanu Center in Kahului first.

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Here’s the King Platter, with eggs, corned beef hash and the best potatoes I’ve had.

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Honestly, I could have just eaten these potatoes as a meal. They were topped with green onions, bacon and cheese. Totally crave-able.

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Next stop: surf check at the world-famous Hookipa Beach. It was Saturday and the break was crowded (though windy). But it was still fun to watch surfers take off on shoulder-high sets — and wish we had brought our boards.

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Our friend, Tanya, took us to the Waihou Spring Trail in Makawao for a quick hike this forest reserve established in 1909 to protect one of the few perennial springs on the west slope of Haleakala.

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This reserve spans 186 acres, though the area we walked was fairly small. We turned off the loop trail and headed down to some old irrigation tunnels through this forest-lined stream bed.

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Those holes are the tunnels — and yes, you can climb into them.

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The next morning Tanya took me to La Provence in Kula that serves up authentic French pastries and other dishes. (We are already planning a girl’s trip to Paris.)

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It’s a quaint little place with views of the Central Maui Valley. And the pastries here — though it does offer a lunch menu with salads and sandwiches — were why we make the trek.

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Here’s chef Thierry J. Michelier making Hollandaise sauce. He was born in France and has lived on Maui for more than 20 years.

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I’m a sucker for chocolate croissants and these were the best I’ve had — in Paris or Japan.

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There were also three different kinds of quiches.

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This was one of the three boxes we took home. It was a great starter to Super Bowl Sunday and what will likely be another gorgefest. Until then, though, this will keep me happy for awhile.

Follow my #CatTravels adventures on Maui on Twitter @thedailydish and on Instagram @catherinetoth.

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Maui’s the star of tonight’s ‘Top Chef’

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If you’ve been following me, oh, since 2006, you’ll know my all-time favorite reality show is Bravo’s “Top Chef.”

And not since we’ve had local boy Sheldon Simeon (@chefwonder) from Lahaina’s Star Noodle last year have I been this excited for the show.

Based on the flavor-rich city of New Orleans, this season’s show is culminating with the final competitions right here in Hawaii — Maui, actually — with the first part of the finale airing tonight.

Oh, yeah.

Bravo filmed the two-part finale on the Valley Isle last October, showcasing the island’s rich bounty of ingredients and some of our best local chefs including Peter Merriman and Sam Choy.

What’s even cooler about the finale is that not only did Bravo show off the gorgeous grounds of the new luxe Andaz Maui at Wailea, the backdrop for the show’s online companion series, “Last Chance Kitchen” and other challenges, but a bunch of local farms and food producers got some air time, too, including Kumu Farms, Surfing Goat Dairy and Ocean Vodka.

I got to chat with Keli’i Brown, director of public relations and promotions for the Maui Visitors and Convention Bureau, about the finale on Maui, and here’s what he said:

Q: What was the experience of hosting the finale of this season’s “Top Chef” like?

Many would be surprised to learn for a destination such as Maui, “Top Chef” represents much more than being included on a popular TV show. This is simply a facet of a comprehensive marketing program which required the support of many including the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau, Andaz Maui, Merriman’s Kapalua, Gannon’s Wailea as well as various farms and farmers.

Everyone worked hard devoting tremendous hours and throughout the process, we learned about the inner workings of network productions. We established solid professional relationships, made new friends, and will be able to raise awareness of Maui. Viewers will capture a glimpse of our people, history, culture, food and other offerings that make our island home a highly desirable travel destination.

Q: How will this two-part episode showcase Hawaiiʻs food, farms and flavors?

A lively quick fire challenge with Chef Sam Choy centers around a “beloved” local staple and the semi-final challenge hosted at Merriman’s Kapalua celebrates Hawaii’s beloved foods including taro, breadfruit, fish and more. Maui is presented as a premiere culinary destination with a genuine food culture.

Q: I know you can’t give anything away, but is there something you could share with us?

There are a lot of locals included in the segments. It will be fun for all of us at home to see the chefs, farmers, food producers, cultural practitioners, educators and others who supported this project enjoying the various events.

Watch the first part of the finale at 8 p.m. HST tonight on Bravo.

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The best Neighbor Island bakeries

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Born and raised on Oahu to a family who loves to eat sweets, I’ve been to my share of bakeries on the island.

I have memories of going to Manoa Bakery as a kid for stick donuts, one of my dad’s favorites, and Valley High Bakery in Kalihi Valley for butter rolls.

I remember the long johns at 9th Avenue Bakery and the giant glazed donuts from Kimuraya Bakery, both in Kaimuki.

While those bakeries have been long closed — and sorely missed — that hasn’t stopped me from trying every bakery that’s popped up since then.

In fact, visiting bakeries could be listed as one of my favorite pastimes, along with surfing and hiking with my dogs.

But as much as I travel to the Neighbor Islands, I haven’t been to too many bake shops there. And I’m not sure why. Maybe I’m always there on assignment or to visit family and never really have time to explore the neighborhood bakeries. Sure, I’ve been to the most famous ones — like Komoda Bakery on Maui (above) and Punaluu Bake Shop in Naalehu on the Big Island. But that’s about it.

So I’m throwing this out there: where are the best bakeries on the other islands? And what should I order the next time I’m there?

This is good to know!

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