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Hawaii Food and Wine Festival 2014: Highlights from A Lucky Modern Buddha Belly


Chris Kajioka’s oysters (left); Nancy Oakes’ abalone.

I don’t know how this always happens, but the Hawaii Food and Wine Festival’s bash at The Modern always seems to land on one of the hottest nights of the year. Hot as in, is-this-what-global-warming-feels-like kind of hot, not as in hottest chefs, though there were plenty of those. The weather made the mostly chilled, light, and seafood-based offerings at last night’s A Lucky Modern Buddha Belly all the more refreshing. (I attended as media.)

The best of the bunch? Chris Kajioka’s Kualoa oyster with seaweed that played off of the oyster’s inherent kelpy punch; a dash of mignonette kept the whole thing from tasting too much like a gulp of ocean. Kajioka said he needed 1,500 oysters for the event; Kualoa only harvests about 1,000 a week, so if you can’t get any this month, blame Kajioka.

I also loved Nancy Oakes’ grilled abalone over a sea asparagus and heart of palm slaw. And bacon. Because why not?

Apparently, I’m not the only person who remembers Charles Phan’s incomparable fried chicken from last year. “I’ve had people who were mad at me because I didn’t do the fried chicken,” he said. Instead, he prepared a turmeric monchong over rice noodles, based off the iconic Vietnamese dish chả cá. In Hanoi, there’s a restaurant Chả Cá, more than a hundred years old, which serves just this one dish; it’s so famous the city renamed the street after it. Phan’s version was terrific, but it was no fried chicken.

Byung Jin Kim’s mul hoe (left); Andy Ricker’s yam tuna.

A chilled kochujang noodle soup by Byung Jin Kim combined fresh, raw snapper and uni. I’ll crave that long after the HFWF is over.

Andy Ricker’s yam tuna, a Thai tuna salad, suited the weather perfectly. “It’s a university student dish,” Ricker said, “usually made with canned tuna, so we upgraded it a bit.” It captured all the best Thai flavors—hot and sour, with shavings of aromatic roots such as young ginger and white turmeric that Ricker gets from the Big Island for his restaurants. “We were desperate for white turmeric, so we got on the internet and found this farm on Big Island that grows it,” he said. White turmeric tastes more like green mango than its musty, peppery yellow counterpart.

Michael Ginor’s foie gras (left) and Michelle Karr-Ueoka’s pineapple shave ice and candy bars.

Michael Ginor’s foie gras dish might have been the sort of thing that only a food writer could love—so, yes, I loved it. Shaved cold foie over fresh, crunchy sweet longan, macadamia nut brittle and li hing mui? I can see why a lot of people passed it up, but all of it together had this crazy, savory/sweet addictiveness. Kind of like Captain Crunch, a friend said. Except infinitely more fresh and texturally fascinating.

It reminded me of Michelle Karr-Ueoka’s shave ice, which was also a kitchen sink of textures. This, obviously, was less of a hard sell. Paired with her signature candy bar and truffles-squared (chocolate truffles with a filling of black truffle caramel) made her station the most popular dessert table of the night.

Most of the HFWF’s events are sold out, but there are still tickets left for a few throughout the weekend at hawaiifoodandwinefestival.com. (You can also try your luck on the event waitlists!)

Click here to see more photos.

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