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When Robyn Basso asks Western U.S. travel agents what their clients want to do in Hawaii, more and more often, their answers are related to food.
“Travelers are showing heightened interest in exploring the ethnic diversity and culture of Hawaii through food, whether it’s during farm-to-table experiences or food and wine festivals,” said Basso, who serves as senior director of travel industry partnerships for Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau.
At the same time, Basso says, clients are hungering for intimate, fun and educational pastimes such as food tours, where they can learn about local ingredients and where they come from.
“Attractions that are especially popular include Surfing Goat Dairy, Alii Kula Lavender Farm and MauiWine in upcountry Maui; and Hawaiian Vanilla Company, Big Island Bees and Hamakua Mushrooms on Hawaii Island,” Basso said.
As Hawaii continues to gain a ravenous following with its mixed plate of culinary offerings, we’ve assembled some headlines for food-loving clients looking to spice up their travel menus.
Fanta-Sea: Dinners and Farm ToursFor years, Colin Hazama, a Hawaiian local and executive chef for The Royal Hawaiian Resort, has dreamed of combining two of his passions — cooking and fishing — into a culinary program where guests learn about and taste locally sourced seafood. The result is “Fanta-Sea,” a series of table-to-farm presentations taking place throughout 2016. Each event begins with a Friday night dinner at the hotel’s Azure Restaurant that showcases seafood products from a partner company. On Saturday, guests visit the partner’s site for an interactive tour, cooking demonstration and lunch. Upcoming Fanta-Sea events are scheduled for April 22-23; June 24-25; Aug. 26-27; Oct. 28-29; and Dec. 16-17, in collaboration with the likes of Wing Sing Seafood, Kualoa Ranch and Kahuku Sea Asparagus.
Hawaii Food & Wine Festival: Exclusive Five-Day PackageThe annual two-week, multi-island Hawaii Food & Wine Festival lets visitors mingle with internationally famous master chefs and beverage-makers while enjoying a variety of food, wine, cocktails and activities.
In 2016, for its sixth year, the festival is introducing the Connoisseur’s Culinary Journey of Hawaii, an immersive Oahu package featuring five once-in-a-lifetime gastronomic experiences. Highlights include a trip to the Honolulu fish auction, an exploration of the North Shore and a Hawaii-style beach cookout, all in the company of Hawaii’s best-known chefs. Offered from May 23-27, the intimate new package is limited to 30 guests. The festival itself runs from Oct. 14-30 on Maui, Hawaii Island and Oahu.
Luana at Kea Lani: Putting Maui FirstFairmont Kea Lani on Maui prides itself on the use of island ingredients on all its menus. Clients can embrace that concept further at Luana, the resort’s new lobby bar, where cocktails, food and fashion are influenced by the destination’s culture. Mixologist Aaron Alcala-Mosely is tantalizing taste buds with innovative drinks such as the Makalapua, made with Maui’s Ocean Organic Vodka, Maui-grown Meyer lemons, hibiscus-rose syrup and grapefruit. Likewise, chef Tylun Pang has concocted a tapas-style menu drawing on Maui’s bounty, such as local smoked Portuguese sausage with Maui onions and blistered peppers. Even the staff uniforms — created by Hawaiian designer Sig Zane — evoke a sense of place, with patterns inspired by the hotel’s aalii trees.
MauiWine: Old Jail, New TourIn the 1800s, a little building in upcountry Maui was used as a holding place for wrongdoers until they could be moved to the county jail. Now, MauiWine has reopened the charming 150-year-old structure — dubbed the Old Jail — after a painstaking renovation, from repairing its lava-rock walls to refinishing its Hawaiian koa-wood bar. Clients can see the landmark firsthand during the new King’s Visit, which provides an exclusive tour of the winery, followed by tastings of its small-production estate wines in the Old Jail. Available Wednesdays and Thursdays at 4 p.m., the King’s Visit costs $50 per person. Clients can still try free sips of the attraction’s traditional wines in its King’s Cottage, built in the 1870s.
Oysters at Hualalai: Grown and Harvested On-SiteOysters on the half shell with spicy Maui onion and "ogo" (seaweed) mignonette and cocktail sauce. Fried oyster po’boys with arugula, Hawaii Island tomatoes and remoulade. Those are just two of the delicacies awaiting guests at Four Seasons Resort Hualalai, which recently began cultivating and harvesting its own organic oysters. They’re thriving in the clean, pure waters of the resort’s Punawai Lake, which, while man-made, looks and acts like a natural Hawaiian lake. It started with about 9,000 oysters ready for harvest, and capacity is expected to grow to 30,000 by mid-2016. Demonstrating Hualalai’s commitment to sustainability, it’s providing clients with an original way to savor the flavors of Hawaii Island.
Fairmont Kea Laniwww.fairmont.com
Four Seasons Resort Hualalaiwww.fourseasons.com
Hawaii Food & Wine Festivalwww.hawaiifoodandwinefestival.com
The Royal Hawaiian Resortwww.royal-hawaiian.com