Hawaii Food and Wine Festival 2012 Highlights

Opening night event: Enter the Modern Dragon

Highlights from the 2nd annual Hawaii Food and Wine Festival (disclosure: I had a media pass to attend the following events):

Left: Peter Doyle's crab, ikura, grapefruit and heart of palm, right: Ming Tsai's ahi and foie fried rice

– The opening night event, Enter the Modern Dragon, was like an appetizer to kick off the weekend: visually flashy, the tastings mostly chilled, light and leaning toward seafood, like Ming Tsai's ahi and foie fried rice; Peter Doyle's crab, ikura, grapefruit and shaved heart of palm; and Chai Chaowasaree's abalone. Even Joanne Chang's dessert was airy, a tropical pavlova (compare that to her brunch item a few days later, a ridiculously decadent and gooey sticky bun).

Left: Roy Choi assembling pork belly plates; right: Joanne Chang with a tropical fruit pavlova

My absolute favorite thing of the night? OnoPops' popsicles: Rocky Road to Tokyo, made with azuki bean ice cream and sweet potato, studded with mochi and iso peanut; and Honeydew Fromage—almost like a Melona, but tasting more of fresh, sweet honeydew, and cut with the slight tang of Naked Cow Dairy's fromage blanc. On this night, if you wanted to "taste Hawaii" (and cool off on a tradewinds-less night) you parked yourself in front of the OnoPops' cart.

– Officially, the Friday late night event was dubbed "Streets of Fire"—unofficially, everyone called it the "after party" even though the HFWF was far from over. Still, Roy Choi's tacos and seven tequila cocktails (hello, barrel-aged "teq-roni," a tequila twist on a negroni) were enough to get plenty of chefs going. If you cared more about mingling with the chefs than tasting their food, this was the event to attend. Hubert Keller took over the DJ stand (apparently, that's his thing at food and wine festivals) while Marcel Vigneron took to the dance floor (after telling us about the pop-up restaurant he's opening in two weeks, called The Coop, in Restaurant Row in Los Angeles).

Left: Jeffrey Vigilla's smoked pork adobo; right: Dave Caldiero stokes the fire

– If Thursday's event at the Modern was all about seafood, then Saturday's headlining event at the Hilton, Makahiki Festival, was about smoke, fire and meat. Michael Ginor grilled skewers of Hudson Valley duck hearts and foie gras; Jeffrey Vigilla served smoked Malama Farm pork adobo (his impressive, trailer-sized smoker served as the backdrop for his station); Ed Kenney grilled more Malama Farm pork on a $10,000 grill left from last year's Iron Chef taping at Kaneohe MCBH. The longest line by far was for Jon Matsubara's dish: half a roasted lobster tail with bone marrow butter.

Maybe it was the homecourt advantage, but local chefs outshone visiting chefs this night. Especially for dessert: Mark Freischmidt's chocolate and lilikoi cake and Michelle Karr's famous hand-shaved (1200 servings!! Shaved by hand with a microplane!) pineapple shave ice were the perfect light, vibrant, sweet finishes to a hot, heavy and crowded night. (There were 22 chefs, each instructed to prepare 2-ounce servings. Do the math—no, I did not eat almost three pounds of food.)

Coolest upcycling spotted: Todd English using Spam cans as nine-pans (kitchen prep containers).

Left: Camille Komine and Susan Feniger; right: the fried apple bananas

– Best bite at the Girl's Got Game Brunch: Susan Feniger's fried apple bananas with Singaporean kaya jam, drizzled with sweet shoyu. Helping her out: Camille Komine, of Camille's on Wheels, who used to work with Susan Feniger at Street.

Left: poached egg delivery to Christina Tosi's station, which she served with housemade English muffins and onion jam; right: Tosi says yes, she does eat "real" food, not just junk food—the media edits interviews for the interesting/sensational bits (guilty).

Left: Patrick Fahy's verrine of white honey cream, cocoa pod gelee, lilikoi and dark chocolate; right: Perfecto Rocher's uni panna cotta

Cuisines of the Stars, the closing night event at Koolina felt less crowded and more relaxed. Maybe it was the drive that deterred people; maybe at this point, everyone had overdosed on food and wine. It was held literally on the beach—they handed out plastic bags for people to carry their heels in (though the last thing anyone needs at a grazing event is something more to carry!). Highlights: a sea urchin panna cotta from Perfecto Rocher, Dean Fearing's chicken fried quail, and Patrick Fahy's beautifully layered dessert of white honey cream, cocoa pod gelee, lilikoi, dark chocolate and coconut rum pearls. Finally, someone does something interesting with cacao pulp, that sweet, tangy fruit around the cacao seeds!

Closing night of the fest, everyone's more relaxed, including HFWF co-chair Alan Wong, with his "Sicilian brother" Celestino Drago.