Agri-Tours' Growing Popularity

Programs at two Big Island resorts allow guests to mingle with celebrity chefs and tour local farms

By: Marty Wentzel

KOHALA COAST, Big Island, Hawaii Clients can rub elbows with chefs and learn more about local agricultural products, during their vacation, thanks to new guest programs at two Big Island hotels.

Culinary Conversations, open only to guests of Mauna Lani Bay Hotel & Bungalows, brings food lovers together with a top U.S. chef for one weekend.

On Saturday, the group gathers in a private oceanview home, for a cooking class with the chef; and lessons in floral arrangements and wine selection.

On Sunday, participants visit a boutique lettuce farm, where they pick and prepare their own produce for lunch, which is paired with wines and served in a garden.

Rounding out the events are evening parties with the guest chef and Mauna Lani Bay executive chef, Edwin Goto, as hosts; spa activities such as yoga and tai chi; and a tour of a nearby coffee plantation.

The first Culinary Conversations event is to be held March 21-24, with Mario Batali, host of two Food Network shows and co-owner of three restaurants in Manhattan. Clients can book now for the next program, scheduled for Nov. 7-9, with Lee Hefter, executive chef and a partner in Wolfgang Puck’s Spago Beverly Hills restaurant.

“It’s easy to assume that only serious cooks would consider booking this kind of program, but that’s not our intention,” said Kurt Matsumoto, vice president of Mauna Lani Resort operations. “The classes are structured to appeal to cooking enthusiasts of all skills. While the goal is to share knowledge, it’s also designed for guests to have a great time with the celebrities.”

Only 10 places are available and fees start at $3,500 per person, including accommodations.


Another Kohala Coast resort, Hilton Waikoloa Village, is launching culinary tours and classes for summer visitors.

“We are designing these programs to increase awareness of the connection between farmers and chefs,” said the Hilton’s executive chef, Wilhelm Pirngruber. “We want to introduce our guests to the sources of their daily meals.”

Pirngruber said his resort hopes to tap into the growing popularity of eco- and agri-tourism. “By offering these programs, Hilton Waikoloa Village gives visitors a firsthand look at how we use locally grown products,” he said.

On July 18 and Sept. 12, Hilton’s Upcountry Chefs Tour is scheduled to take guests into the paniolo (cowboy) country of Kamuela, accompanied by Pirngruber and naturalists from the ecotour company, Hawaii Forest and Trail. Participants will learn about the history of the ranch, visit local farmers and a livestock company, and feast on a paniolo-style barbecue of Kamuela beef.

Hilton’s new Kona Coffee Plantation Tour and Chocolate Demonstration are scheduled the following days, July 19 and Sept. 13. Led by the resort’s executive pastry chef, David Brown, and a Hawaii Forest and Trail guide, the group will visit historic coffee farms, share a picnic and stop at the Kailua Candy Co.

Each tour costs $125.

800-HILTONS or 800-445-8667; www.hilton