TV chefs headline Big Island gala Jan. 21-22

Food Network star Michael Symon and Bravo Top Chef Master Jonathan Waxman bring a benefit dinner to the Mauna Lani Resort on the Big Island, Jan. 21-22, 2011.



Michael Symon, Iron chef and host of Food Feuds on the Food Network, will cook on the Big Island in January.

Courtesy Food Network

Food Network star Michael Symon and Bravo Top Chef Jonathan Waxman will join forces to present a six-course gala dinner at the Mauna Lani Hotel & Bungalows on the Big Island, Jan. 22.  The event is a benefit for the James Beard House in New York City, and marks the first time that the James Beard Foundation Celebrity Chef tour has ever come to the Islands.

Michael Symon is credited with saving the Cleveland fine dining scene with his two restaurants Lola and Lolita.  A James Beard Award winner, he's also the winner of Iron Chef America, has hosted Dinner: Impossible and now hosts a new show, Food Feud.

Jonathan Waxman (below left) helped invent California cuisine as chef at the legendary Chez Panisse in Berkeley, Calif.  He became a culinary star at a New York restaurant called Jams, and is now chef-owner of Barbuto, also in New York City.  He's a best-selling author and did a star turn on Bravo's Top Chef: Masters.

Of course, the two celebrity chefs will arrive only days before the event, time for a quick tour of Big Island farms and ranches.  Since they are coming only with their wives, most of the kitchen duties will be assumed by Mauna Lani executive chef Sandy Tuason (below right) and his crew. 

I called Tuason.  Can celebrity chefs cook, or are they just publicity magnets?  "Yeah, they can,"  said Tuason.  "Waxman is a legend.  These guys didn't get to the top in two weeks, you know.  They worked every job in the kitchen.  They've made their bones."

Made their bones?  Since when do Big Island chefs talk like a character from The Sopranos?  Turns out Tuason grew up in New Jersey and went to Rutgers with James Gandolfini.  Since he's Filipino, he says, "Everyone assumes I'm from Hawaii--until I open my big East Coast mouth."

Tuason is pumped up to be cooking with the two celeb chefs.  He's got six courses planned.  Waxman and Symon will do four courses: Big Island greens and vegetables gathered on a farm tour; Kona clams, shrimp and mussels; onaga or ahi; and finally Big Island suckling pig.

Tuason and his crew will be doing "all kinds of great stuff" with whole Big Island grass-fed lamb.  "Plus we'll come up with a dessert.  Haven't figured it out yet."

As someone who's sat through more than his share of interminable multichef, multicourse dinners, I was please to learn that Symon came up with the idea of serving the meal simply, family-style.  "It will be fine dining, but it will also be fun dining," says Tuason.  "Plus we'll have lots of good wine."

The weekend kicks off with a meet-the-chefs cocktail reception Friday, January 21.  The news hasn't been released, but the cocktails for the reception will be whipped up by Bay Area mixologist,  Manny Hinojosa, also a Food Network feature.

Biting Commentary has just decided it has to be there.  Going to join me?  Event tickets, click here.  For the Mauna Lani Hotel & Bungalows, (800) 367-2323 or click here.

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