Gourmet Home Tours on the Big Island

Home Cooking: This Big Island tour combines brunch with sneak peeks of homes.

Photos: Josh Fletcher

You could describe what Home Tours Hawaii does as a “culinary adventure” for those looking for a “taste of the Hawaiian lifestyle,” which is how Home Tours Hawaii describes itself on its website. Or you could just say it’s a fun thing to do on the Big Island for hungry real estate voyeurs.

The tour combines a four-course, progressive meal with visits to three distinctly different Kailua-Kona area homes. The experience is something like doing a series of Sunday open houses, except the tours take place throughout the week, the homes aren’t necessarily for sale, and instead of realtors you get a gourmet chef.

Chef Ann Sutherland uses fresh, Big Island ingredients to prepare food for her Home Tours brunches.

The ground rules for guests are simple: Do not open closed doors, drawers or closets. Other than that you’re free to explore the bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchens, gardens and whatnot at your leisure. Once your curiosity has been satisfied, brunch is served— a different course or two at each property—then everyone piles back into the air-conditioned tour van and heads for the next stop.

Home Tours Hawaii is run by two women: Pat Peterson, who does the driving and the dishes, and Ann Sutherland, who narrates the trip and prepares the food. Sutherland is cultured and droll, with a deep culinary background and lots of entertaining anecdotes. She comes from the North Shore’s storied Sutherland family, and talks about her mother, renowned solo paddler Audrey Sutherland, and her brother, big-wave surfing pioneer Jock Sutherland. She also talks about cooking for Ethel Kennedy; she was her personal chef for 11 months.

There are about a dozen homes on the Home Tours Hawaii roster, so repeat guests—and people do come back—don’t have to visit the same places twice. On my tour, we visited an oceanfront vacation rental with a saltwater wading pool and dolphin-shaped bathroom fixtures, an off-the-grid home on a coffee farm and a luxury estate with impeccably groomed gardens in a gated community. The light, locavore, banquet-like fare reflects the many years that Sutherland, who seems incapable of slicing a pineapple without turning it into a serving canoe, spent running kitchens in better hotels from Chicago to South Kohala.

Sometimes the homeowners are present when the tour van rolls up, and sometimes they’re nowhere to be seen. Once, a guest who violated the ground rules and opened a closet door found the owner sitting inside. “She had worked late the night before,” Sutherland says, “and I guess she was feeling shy that day.” Tours are given Monday through Saturday, and go from 7:45 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. Tickets are $139 regular, $110 for kamaaina. (877) 325-5772, hometourshawaii.com.