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Chef Thomas Bellec grew up by the sea in France, so he feels right at home at the oceanfront Four Seasons Resort Hualalai. It also makes him the perfect person to lead the Hawaii Island hotel’s new interactive salt-harvesting walk and cooking class.
“I need the ocean,” Bellec said to me as I joined him for the experience. “Anything to do with the ocean, and I’m there.” The three-hour adventure is one of several “Only at Hualalai” programs created to showcase the destination. It takes its cue from ancient days, when Hawaiians gathered sea salt from pockets in flat seaside lava rocks. During the first hour of the tour, we strolled from the resort along the shoreline. As we explored the black cliffs, we looked for accumulations of delicate white salt flakes, which we scooped into bags.
Bellec described to me how he dries the salt, using the sun to purify it. He talked about the importance of salt to ancient Hawaiians, who relied on it not only for cooking but also for food preservation and medicine. He mentioned other varieties of salt found in Hawaii, including “alaea” — which gets its red color from iron in the soil — and dark kiawe salt.Time to Cook and EatBack at the resort, we participated in the second half of the experience: a hands-on cooking class and lunch. It takes place in an open-air space above Ulu Ocean Grill, a breezy setting with dramatic views of the sea.
Donning aprons, we made the first course: poke. We mixed bite-size pieces of fresh ahi tuna with Maui onions, scallions, kukui nuts, sesame oil, shoyu and hot sauce. We sprinkled half of the batch with kiawe salt and sea purslane, a type of seaweed grown at the resort. To the other half, we added alaea and sea asparagus. It’s remarkable how different the two batches tasted.The second course arrived precooked: It was a magnificent, salt-crusted local snapper that had been baking while we were walking. Bellec removed its outer layer to reveal a moist, perfectly seasoned fish. In keeping with the theme, lunch ended with a decadent salted caramel cake with salted cocoa nib gelato.For an additional fee, clients can follow the tour and tasting with the Salts of the Ocean body treatment at Hualalai Spa. The 80-minute indulgence features seven varieties of Hawaiian sea salt and seven unique island essences.
Guest Programs Honoring Hawaii Island’s BountyThe salt program complements other Four Seasons Hualalai initiatives that celebrate the resort’s focus on sea- and farm-to-table.For instance, the property now features an authentic coffee experience. It starts with a private tour of a boutique coffee farm, the source of some of the beans used in the resort’s brews. After learning about the coffee-growing and -roasting process, guests return to the hotel for a tasting that pairs four types of Hawaii Island coffee with freshly baked pastries. The property also grows its own oysters in a pond that guests can visit during a guided tour. Later, on their own, clients can sample the organic mollusks in innovative preparations at the hotel’s restaurants.In the same vein, Four Season Hualalai is launching shrimp-growing at the resort, with a guest experience on the horizon. Plans are also in the works for the creation of an on-site culinary academy that will host food and beverage programs.The ultimate goal is to help clients appreciate the bounty of Hawaii Island and the importance of respecting the destination’s environment.“Hawaii Island is at the forefront of sustainability in terms of food products,” Bellec said. “To be able to see and know where your food is coming from is key.”The salt harvesting experience is $450 per person for up to 20 people. The Salts of the Ocean body treatment is $285.The DetailsFour Seasons Resort Hualalaiwww.fourseasons.com