Photos and story by Karin Stanton/Hawaii247 Contributing Editor
It’s not hard to find good food on the Big Island, but usually it’s pretty well spread out over the entire island, which prompts some diners to post photos on their Facebook pages just to savor and share the experience. (Yes, you know who you are!)
So Friday evening was a treat for foodies as the ‘Mealani A Taste of the Hawaiian Range’ brought together dozens of the island’s top chefs, culinary wizards and most talented students for a 2-hour taste extravaganza at the Hilton Waikoloa Village.
The 14th annual Mealani’s A Taste of the Hawaiian Range and Agriculture Festival provides an educational venue to encourage and support local production of agricultural products through social, cultural and scientific exchanges.
The day also included a seminar, agriculture festival trade show and cooking demonstration, but the festival highlight is always the evening “A Taste of the Hawaiian Range,” which gives more than 30 of the state’s premier chefs a chance to dazzle diners with a bounty of dishes using local grass-fed beef, pork, wild boar, mutton, goat, lamb and fresh, island-grown fruits and vegetables.
Organizers had not finished tallying tickets Friday evening, but did more than 600 in pre-sales and said the ticket booth was still hopping as the doors opened at 6 p.m.
Crowd favorites included curries, kalua pig, a taco stand with all the trimmings, and for the first time, a wild boar that had been hunted locally, U.S.D.A. certified and roasted on a spit out on the lagoon lanai.
“Oh, I love it. We’ve been four or five times and it’s always very good,” said Lars Bergknut, a Sweden native who now lives in Hilo.
“We come over and stay a few nights. It’s excellent.”
Bergknut admitted he grew up with more fish and poultry than beef, but enjoyed all the dishes Friday evening.
“I’ve tried most of them. Maybe I am a little tired of beef by now,” he said.
A little ice cream to cleanse the palate, perhaps?
“Well, yes,” he said, “But I started with the ice cream.”
The event also is a chance for some of the the Big Island’s culinary students to dive right in to their chosen field.
“We’re very fortunate to have more than 70 students and eight instructors from Kona and Hilo here,” said Jim Lightner, of the Hawaii Community College-affiliated Culinary Institute of the Pacific.
“It’s a very professional environment and a great opportunity for them to see chefs from the 14 world class resorts and clubs we have on the Kohala Coast,” Lightner said.
Hawaii Community College student Kelly Yoshida said she appreciated the chance to be involved in such an event.
“I’ve never really work with a chef before, so I was really nervous, but they’re very nice,” said the second-year culinary student in Hilo.
Yoshida was assigned to the Tiki’s Grill & Bar booth, where she worked with chef Kapo Kealoha serving up his beef flank dish.
“This is really what it’s like in the industry,” Yoshida said. “It gets kind of hectic, but I was looking forward to this. This is the big one.”
Yoshida, a Keaau High School graduate, hopes to open her own bakery when she’s finished her culinary studies.
The evening wrapped up with a few awards.
The 2009 Recognition Awards went to:
* Andrew Hashimoto, dean and director of the College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, University of Hawaii Manoa
* Dr. Wayne Nishijima, associated dean and associate director of extension of the College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, University of Hawaii Manoa
Also 10-year participation awards went to the Waikoloa Beach Marriott and the Kawaihae Harbor Grill.
History and Mission
“This shows how many unusual cuts of beef can be used in great flavorful dishes,” Lightner said. “And we really need to be able to use as much as we can to make it profitable for ranchers on this island. It also goes along with being food self-sufficient and sustainable as an island.”
The ag showcase started in 1996 as the Mealani Forage Field Day and A Taste of the Hawaiian Range.
Mealani Research Station is part of the University of Hawaii’s College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources. Located east of Waimea, it includes 165 acres for livestock and 15 acres for horticulture and agronomy.
The original festival boasted tours of the forage gardens, educational seminars for ranchers and food producers, presentations and demonstrations, and, of course, the event taste extravaganza.
“I remember when this started in the meeting room in back of Kahilu Theatre,” Lightner said. “Then we out grew that. Went to Hawaii Preparatory Academy, then outside in tents. And then moved to the Hapuna Prince Resort and now we’re at the Hilton.”
Lightner said the event just continues to grow in size and reputation.
“It’s a major event,” Lightner said. “And, of course, it couldn’t be done without huge amounts of volunteers.”