Originally published in USA Today 10 Best
Travelers know that Hawaii is easy to love. With picturesque beaches, incredible scenery and nightly breathtaking sunsets, it’s a truly unforgettable destination. And since the the Hawaii Food and Wine Festival takes place every October, food lovers have another reason to visit this tropical paradise in the fall.
Now in its ninth year, the festival has grown considerably, attracting chefs, culinary professionals and attendees from across the globe. Over the years, it has evolved from a small event into a wildly popular three-island, month-long festival with a variety of events, taking place at an array of tropical locations, many featuring stunning ocean views and a big serving of aloha (it’s Hawaii, after all).
With so many chefs, breweries and wineries involved in the events, there’s an abundance of opportunities to taste some classic and innovative dishes from a number of inventive creators – from the islands and far beyond.
World-renowned chef Roy Yamaguchi is the co-chair of the Hawaii Food & Wine Festival. He explained, “Hawaii is special. What makes it even more special is that there’s a community here that wants to take care of the next generation so that we can continue to make Hawaii a better place. For 2019, we’ve drawn inspiration from our islands and other cuisines for new, exciting event themes such as the ‘Iberian Feast,’ which will feature flavors of Portugal and Spain that have heavily influenced Hawaii’s culinary heritage. And the ‘Crazy Rich Cocktails’ event will highlight mixology with expert chefs creating Asian flavors.”
This year’s events will showcase over 100 award-winning and highly-acclaimed chefs including Masaharu Morimoto, Elizabeth Faulkner, Susur Lee, Graham Elliot and many more.
Hawaii Food and Wine Festival at night — Photo courtesy of Hawaii Food and Wine Festival
Offering attendees opportunities to mix and mingle with chefs and other food enthusiasts from the islands and across the globe, the many noteworthy, clever and lively events scheduled for 2019 include ‘Wicked Cocktail, Wicked Plates’ which takes place at the Sheraton Maui. This “Wicked” (the musical) themed event shines a spotlight on over a dozen award-winning chefs, including David LeFevre, Chris Cosentino and Anita Lo.
In addition, the ‘Brews & BBQ’ event on Oahu features eight local breweries using local ingredients such as lilikoi and pineapple. At this event, five chefs, including Timon Balloo from Sugarcane in Miami and Dean Fearing, of Fearing’s Restaurant in Dallas, will share creative Southwestern specialties.
The wild and fun ‘EFFEN Vodka presents Drag Appetit’ takes place at Outrigger Waikiki Beach Resort’s Blue Note venue and features six chefs who are supporters of the LGBTQ community, in addition to Honolulu’s best drag performers. At the Pasta La Vista event (located at the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort and Spa), attendees will enjoy Italian cuisine served up by culinary masters including Michael Chiarello, Celestino Drago and Daisuke Hamamoto.
Food-loving attendees can choose to participate in one or more of the events and try a limitless amount of culinary delights. Guests have the opportunity to select early or special access at some of the larger festivities. Best of all, the chefs, winemakers, brew masters and mixologists are accessible and always up for a chat. Every event is different in theme, vibe and culinary offerings – and they range from intimate meals to massive food, wine and beer tastings with live music and plenty of delectable specialties.
Chefs at Hawaii Food and Wine Festival — Photo courtesy of Hawaii Food and Wine Festival
A number of local chefs from the island’s luxury resorts are participating in the events as well, such as Jennifer Evetushick from the Westin Maui Resort and Spa’s Oceanside restaurant, as well as Mike Lofaro, the executive chef at the Grand Wailea resort’s premier seafood restaurant, Humuhumunukunukuapua‘a.
On Oahu, Colin Hazama, executive chef of The Royal Hawaiian, is scheduled to be at the ‘Life’s a Beach’ oceanfront event at the Four Seasons resort in Ko Olina. And the finale dinner, Alexandre Trancher, La Mer’s chef de cuisine, will be one of the featured chefs at the ‘Saks Fifth Avenue presents Halekulani Culinary Masters Gala – Michelin Stars.’
Denise Yamaguchi, CEO of Hawaii Food and Wine Festival says, “In recent years, there has been an explosion in the chef/foodie scene, and we hope to continue to be a part of that story for Hawaii and the international culinary community. It’s allowed us to expand from a three-day festival with 30 chefs in Waikiki to more than 20 events with over 10,000 attendees and 120 chefs spanning three islands: Island of Hawaii, Maui and Oahu. As more people are getting excited about food, we have the responsibility to introduce them to new flavors, new ingredients and new talent each year.”
Chef Rachel Alvarado’s charred Hawaiian pineapple — Photo courtesy of Hawaii Food and Wine Festival
Denise also noted that there are many female chefs participating in this year’s events, and the festival organizers are committed to encouraging women in the industry and supporting their careers. A few local chefs include Michelle Karr-Ueoka (MW Restaurant), Lee Anne Wong (Koko Head Café) and Delia Romano (Outrigger Reef Waikiki Beach Resort).
She added, “Being in a male-dominated field, female chefs have faced, and continue to face, many challenges in the culinary world. At Hawaii Food & Wine, we value our female talent and want to ensure that they have a platform to participate, experience and learn about the Hawaiian Islands and serve as inspiration to future female chefs – especially those who are currently studying culinary on our islands. We always invite local culinary students to assist visiting chefs, which serves as an opportunity for these young female chefs to see what’s possible.”
Festival leaders: Chefs Alan Wong, Roy Yamaguchi and Denise Yamaguchi — Photo courtesy of Hawaii Food and Wine Festival
Through the years, the festival has also been known for celebrating farm-to-table dining, while encouraging local chefs and restaurants to work with purveyors and create menus that encompass regional and seasonal ingredients.
Chef Alan Wong, co-chair of Hawaii Food & Wine Festival explains, “Roy, Denise and I started the festival as a way to give back to the community and unite the farmers, chefs and community of Hawaii, while showing the world everything that Hawaii has to offer. Now, nine years later, we are continuing to forge new relationships and further define Hawaii as a true culinary destination. Through agricultural and educational programs, we’re able to work with young farmers and future chefs to build a better foundation for the culinary community here.”
In addition, families can enjoy the Hawaii Food and Wine Festival, as it also features a few events for children called ‘Keiki in the Kitchen®’ with interactive and fun opportunities (some free and budget-friendly).