Maui Food and Dining

James Beard Celebrity Chefs Get a Taste of Maui

February 6, 2016, 2:58 PM HST
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“Lots of pleasure, lots of fun, lots of joy.”

That’s how Hubert Keller describes his visit to Maui, which is by no means his first. The master chef and restauranteur has been visiting Hawaiʻi at least once a year over the last 18 years or so, and says he’s excited to see how the local farm-to-table movement has come back around.

“As a chef it’s really important; I think I’m from a generation I’m a little bit older from some of the young chefs here,” says Keller, who was raised and trained in France, where cooking with fresh produce was the norm. “It had always been from the farmer to the chef, right? And then it got a little bit lost over the years, and now, we go back to the roots. It just makes sense.”

Keller owns Fleur and Burger Bar in Las Vegas, among other restaurants. He joins a handful of renowned chefs from around the country taking part in Maui’s Celebrity Chef Tour, hosted by Grand Wailea and Executive Chef Ryan Urig. The chefs donate their time, Hawaiian Airlines donates first-class flights, and many food providers donate ingredients, all to benefit the James Beard Foundation.

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“James Beard was kind of our first celebrity chef in the United States,” says tour director Jeff Black, who adds the New York Times deemed Beard the “Father of American Cooking” in the 1940’s. “When Julia Child came back from Europe in the 1950’s she and James Beard became best friends, and when he died in 1985, she wanted to continue his legacy of cooking, education and entertaining.”

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World-renowned James Beard award-winning chefs Jonathan Waxman (Barbuto & Jams, NYC; Adele’s & Bajo Sexto, Nashville; Brezza Cucina, Atlanta), Richard Blais (Juniper & Ivy and The Crack Shack, San Diego; Flip Burger, Nashville, Atlanta & Birmingham), Hubert Keller (Fleur, Las Vegas and Burger Bar, Las Vegas, San Francisco & Bejing, China), Kristen Kish (36 Hours Co-Host & Top Chef Winner, Boston), Michael Voltaggio (ink and ink.sack, Los Angeles) together with famed Grey Goose master mixologist Manny Hinojosa, converge on the Valley Isle for celebrity-studded events on Feb. 5 and 6.

Black says the foundation’s focus is on good food, and whenever possible, local food, which makes Maui a perfect first stop on the 2016 journey. The visiting chefs got to tour farms in central and upcountry Maui, to meet with farmers and determine the choice ingredients for their menus.

“This is such a unique place because there’s so many great ingredients here,” says Black. “There’s no place like Hawaiʻi. Period. No place like it.”

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Maui is the only tour stop that organizes a Friday night cocktail party along with a Saturday night dinner. Friday’s reception in the Grand Dining Room featured handcrafted island-themed cocktails from attorney-turned-mixologist Manny Hinojosa. The food included fresh bites and desserts from local guest chefs like Lee Anne Wong (Koko Head Café, Honolulu), JoJo Vasquez (The Plantation House, Kapalua), Cameron Lewark (Spago Maui, Wailea) and Greg Harrison (Morimoto Maui, Wailea). The celebrity chefs were in attendance to mix and mingle with guests.

The sold-out grand event known as the official Celebrity Chef Tour Dinner is under the stars at Grand Wailea Resort tonight.  At $250 per person, the evening will include live music and a perfectly-orchestrated six-course dinner crafted by the chefs.

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Chef James Beard, who inspired the James Beard Foundation. Photo by Paul Child.

Chef James Beard, who inspired the James Beard Foundation. Photo by Paul Child.

Renowned chef James Beard. Photo by Ken Steinhoff.

Renowned chef James Beard. Photo by Ken Steinhoff.

Desserts at cocktail reception for James Beard Foundation's Celebrity Chef Tour. Photo by Kiaora Bohlool.

Desserts at cocktail reception for James Beard Foundation’s Celebrity Chef Tour. Photo by Kiaora Bohlool.

Master chef Hubert Keller. Photo by Kiaora Bohlool.

Master chef Hubert Keller. Photo by Kiaora Bohlool.

Tropical decor at Grand Wailea for Celebrity Chef Tour reception. Photo by Kiaora Bohlool.

Tropical decor at Grand Wailea for Celebrity Chef Tour reception. Photo by Kiaora Bohlool.

Jeff Black, director of James Beard Foundation's Celebrity Chef Tour. Photo by Kiaora Bohlool.

Jeff Black, director of James Beard Foundation’s Celebrity Chef Tour. Photo by Kiaora Bohlool.

Celebrity chef line-up at reception for James Beard Foundation's Celebrity Chef Tour. Photo by Kiaora Bohlool.

Celebrity chef line-up at reception for James Beard Foundation’s Celebrity Chef Tour. Photo by Kiaora Bohlool.

Drinks and decor at cocktail party for James Beard Foundation's Celebrity Chef Tour. Photo by Kiaora Bohlool.

Drinks and decor at cocktail party for James Beard Foundation’s Celebrity Chef Tour. Photo by Kiaora Bohlool.

Craft cocktails at the reception for James Beard Foundation's Celebrity Chef Tour. Photo by Kiaora Bohlool.

Craft cocktails at the reception for James Beard Foundation’s Celebrity Chef Tour. Photo by Kiaora Bohlool.

Food from cocktail reception for James Beard Foundation's Celebrity Chef Tour. Photo by Kiaora Bohlool.

Food from cocktail reception for James Beard Foundation’s Celebrity Chef Tour. Photo by Kiaora Bohlool.

Sunset on the lanai at Grand Wailea for James Beard Foundation's Celebrity Chef Tour. Photo by Kiaora Bohlool.

Sunset on the lanai at Grand Wailea for James Beard Foundation’s Celebrity Chef Tour. Photo by Kiaora Bohlool.

Food made by island chefs at the cocktail party for James Beard Foundation's Celebrity Chef Tour. Photo by Kiaora Bohlool.

Food made by island chefs at the cocktail party for James Beard Foundation’s Celebrity Chef Tour. Photo by Kiaora Bohlool.

Grey Goose master mixologist Manny Hinojosa, who switched careers after practicing law. Photo courtesy of Grand Wailea Resort.

Grey Goose master mixologist Manny Hinojosa, who switched careers after practicing law. Photo courtesy of Grand Wailea Resort.

Grand Wailea Executive Chef Ryan Urig will host the James Beard Foundation Celebrity Chef Tour. Photo courtesy of Grand Wailea Resort.

Grand Wailea Executive Chef Ryan Urig will host the James Beard Foundation Celebrity Chef Tour. Photo courtesy of Grand Wailea Resort.

Grand Wailea Chef de Cuisine Mike Lofaro. Photo by Kiaora Bohlool.

Grand Wailea Chef de Cuisine Mike Lofaro. Photo by Kiaora Bohlool.

Planning and collaboration for the big events began up to a year in advance, says Chef de Cuisine Mike Lofaro from Grand Wailea Resort. Chefs get to stay on Maui for one week, instead of the typical tour stop of a few days.

“They’re traveling a far way to get here,” explains Lofaro, who calls the chefs “absolute legends,” and helps source and organize all the products for them.  “We make sure that when they get here, that everything in the walk-in (cooler) is labelled for them, they have everything they ask for, so they just kinda can bust it out! Really what it’s about is them enjoying this place, and in turn us enjoying their company. We want them to work, but not that hard.”

Organizers never forget these chefs are donating their time, which can be quite valuable.

“These guys get paid so much money sometimes to do a dinner, upwards of $20,000 for one night,” says Black.

Money raised from the chef tour will go toward the foundation’s general fund, which includes operational costs for the famed James Beard House in New York, which still hosts chef dinners several times a week. James Beard Foundation is widely known in the culinary world for its prestigious awards and scholarships. Here, chefs shared insights and advice while visiting students at UHMC’s Maui Culinary Academy, who had the chance to assist culinary teams at the weekend festivities.

“They get to see what it’s like to be at an event, work their tails off, see how these chefs are; it’s not the glory of TV, which is what they see these days,” Black explains.

After Maui, the Celebrity Chef Tour heads to North Carolina and California in March; Colorado, Massachusetts, South Carolina, Oregon and Tennessee in April; Ohio and Washington, D.C. in May; and finally, Washington State in June. Learn more about the foundation and tour here.

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