NOTE: Check out the gallery above to get the visual scoop.
Images by Jonas Maon
On a hot Friday afternoon in September, a crowd gathered at the Commercial Fishing Market just off Nimitz Highway. One by one, we passed through thick plastic flaps into a chilly, high-ceilinged structure with slick concrete floors—kept wet for regular fish auctions—and were met with a welcome surprise. Tables were loaded with small, freshly made plates, and booths were stocked with local produce and manned by the people who grew or raised it. Stella Artois snuck through the door as a sponsor of the event, but the rest of the vendors were of the islands, with noted chefs hanging out alongside people like Kekia‘i Roberta Taira of Mamaki Native Hawaiian Herbal Tea and Roy and Jill Mattos of Hawaii Beef Producers.
After indulging in Big Island chef Scott Hiraishi’s dishes highlighting the Mattos’ grass-fed beef, one of which was served with ‘ulu, I gushed about the bumpy fruit to a lady assisting Hiraishi and she gave me one to take home. I talked story with John Kaneko of Hawaii Seafood, then enjoyed a convincing ahi and pai‘a‘ai spin on a pastrami sandwich by Troy Terorotua of Real a gastropub. At one booth, there was Hawai’i-made honey still on the comb; at another, samples of Big Island chocolate. A few booths down, Kona lobster claws jutted out from cubed ice in front of a beaming man getting his picture taken. The best dessert I found was a toothpick-full of creamy cubes of Stevens mango, freshly cut and presented by the Suiso family of Makaha Mangoes, who can tell seven varieties of the fruit apart by just the blush of their skins.
With the goal of connecting farmers and ranchers with chefs and media, the event was a welcomed nod to the amazing people working hard to grow our food in the islands year-round, and who make the flavors of the festival possible. If I had my way, this relatively humble gathering would have been for public celebration, not invite-only, so that along with brushing shoulders with chef stars, attendees can meet the makers. Luckily, with HFWF, there is always next year. So, for me? Seconds, please.