Roya Sabri | Hawaii 24/7 Reporter
Last week, Hawaii’s residents and visitors celebrated “the good life” in the Four Seasons’ cool green and blue oasis in the black lava field. This annual “La Dolce Vita” celebration was co-hosted by Steve and Chrystal Clifton, owners of Palmina and partners of Brewer-Clifton wines.
The event took place from June 10-15 at the Four Seasons and at WOW Farms in Waimea. The Four Seasons has shared “the good life” with its guests since 2010.
Guests enjoyed fine food and wine in homey settings, including the Four Seasons’ Beach Tree restaurant. The juxtaposition of homey with the excellent parallels the image of “barefoot elegance—“ a phrase that Chef de cuisine Nick Mastrascusa used to describe the restaurant.
The Beach Tree’s refined hominess may be found in both its food and design. Many of the specialty menu items are adapted from Mastrascusa’s family repertoire—dishes that he ate at his family table and that he learned to make in his grandmother’s kitchen.
Mastrascusa uses mostly locally grown vegetables, meat and dairy products. The open chef pit has surrounding benches for the curious and friendly diner; and, the restaurant is mostly composed of cozy cushioned seating on wood floor that blends into the sand at its edge.
On each of the six days, guests enjoyed food paired expertly with fine wine from the hosts. Guests also had the opportunity to learn from Mastrascusa.
Mastrascusa invited guests to the Beach Tree restaurant on multiple occasions during the event to learn Italian recipes. First, he demonstrated a recipe for chocolate profiteroles. Then, he taught guests how to make his Sicilian grandmother’s traditional recipe for gnocchi. Finally, Mastrascusa shared a range of olive oil—including the Beach Tree’s own signature olive oil—to taste, critique, and use.
On the fourth day, Mastrascusa and winemaker Steve Clifton shared the gnocchi recipe in a way that made the guests feel like family members in their home kitchen. None of the guests had made gnocchi before, and most of had never even eaten good gnocchi.
The lesson was set up on a long table facing the ocean at the back of the restaurant near the open chef pit. It started with a toast, “to make sure that we’re at the right place at the right time,” Mastrascusa said.
Before looking at the recipe, Mastrascusa taught the guests a little bit about good gnocchi. The ingredients for gnocchi are from “la cucina dei poveri”—in Italian, the poor man’s kitchen. But, mixed in the right way, they may create something that Mastrascusa described as “light as a cloud,” or, more specifically, “pillows of heaven” that contrast with the dense pebbles that are often served as gnocchi.
Mastrascusa used tips from his grandmother to help teach guests how to create these delicate clouds.
Though the ingredients have humble and inexpensive origins, the technique for making gnocchi dough requires precision and intuition.
The most important principle to making good gnocchi is simple: water is its enemy. Moisture with flour create something dense. However, defeating that enemy requires both experience and the right conditions. With the right proportions, the right potatoes, the right atmosphere one may create good gnocchi.
Despite cooking near the splash of waves on the beach, the gnocchi came out light and delicate for dinner. After the students cut and rolled the dough, the gnocchi were surrendered to the kitchen for final preparation, and the tables of the Beach Tree began to fill for dinner.
To Mastrascusa, the table is key. It’s a place to “share with family and friends in conversation.” In his chef pit, Mastrascusa is part of that conversation.
After enjoying a dinner of Goat Cheese Carpachio with goat cheese from Puna, Spinach and Ricotta Gnocchi seasoned with lemon zest, and swordfish with caper tomato relish that cuts tenderly, a guest may take his wine to the bench by the chef pit and strike-up a conversation with the Mastrascusa while he rolls balls of dough on a traditional gnocchi board to create sauce-holding ridges.
While Mastrascusa chats with his guests, the flow of diners out to the beach and into the tables continues. At other restaurants, meals often dwindle to dessert and end quietly. But at the Beach Tree, notes of excitement catch eyes from neighboring tables as dinners come to spectacular finales.
The Beach Tree has continued the tradition of the Batik Room Bon Bons, circa 1964, which approach the table surrounded by a smoky haze. The frozen chocolate-covered balls of vanilla ice cream are piled in a bowl with a bright magneta orchid in the middle. The bowl sits atop a bucket of dry ice to resemble an erupting volcano.
The dish was adapted from a dessert that the legendary Mauna Kea Resort once featured.
The Beach Tree ties itself to great traditions on-island and off to create a rich experience. “We surround ourselves with the best,” Mastrascusa said.
Seventy-five percent of the ingredients on the menu come from over 160 local farms on the island. If Mastrascusa can’t find the right ingredients locally, he either ships the best from somewhere else, or he makes his own. The Beach Tree has its name on two products already; it is the only Four Seasons restaurant to have a label.
Its olive oil is made from four different types of olives from Tuscany. Beach Tree collaborated with one of the world’s finest extra virgin olive oil producers, Frantoio Franci, to develop the flavor. Its wine matures in Santa Barbara County.
Those who participated in La Dolce Vita enjoyed great food and wine with friendly people and in comfortable settings. But this experience is not unique to those few featured days. Every day at the Beach Tree restaurant, simple ingredients—local food, friendly conversation and tables open to the ocean and sky—are paired with great technical skill and a depth of experience to create an evening that may be remembered warmly by all.
To view a schedule of the events for La Dolce Vita: www.hawaii247.com/2013/06/06/f…
For more information about the Beach Tree restaurant, visit: www.fourseasons.com/hualalai/d…