By Vanessa Wolf
This year’s ‘Aipono Award winners have recently been announced.
The awards annually recognize the best of Maui’s food, wine and hospitality industries. ‘Aipono combines the Hawaiian words ‘ai (eat) and pono (excellence) to communicate the idea of exceptional dining.
Kō, in The Fairmont Kea Lani, was honored with Maui’s most prestigious dining accolade, the Restaurant of the Year award.
The recently-renovated restaurant also earned the gold award for Best Hawaiian Regional Cuisine.
Kō, which translates to “sugarcane” in Hawaiian, showcases the diverse culinary history of the sugarcane plantation era, serving innovative Hawaiian, Chinese, Filipino, Portuguese, Korean, and Japanese dishes. Nearly 90% of the menu’s ingredients are local and feature family recipes that have been passed down for generations.
“We’re honored to accept the award for Restaurant of the Year,” said Executive Chef Tylun Pang. “Our team takes tremendous pride in showcasing cuisine that represents Maui’s many cultures. We couldn’t have been successful this year without the support of our island community. We’re very grateful.”
Meanwhile, for the first time in the 11-year history of Maui’s ‘Aipono Restaurant Awards, a chef has won the award twice.
Sheldon Simeon, executive chef of Star Noodle in Lahaina and Leoda’s Kitchen & Pie Shop in Olowalu, was named Chef of the Year.
The Hilo native, who began his culinary career on Maui as a prep cook for Aloha Mixed Plate, and was a recent finalist on Bravo Network’s Top Chef, has been dubbed the “Hawaiian Care Bear.”
“I think he was the best chef to represent Maui and the Hawaiian Islands on Top Chef,” said Perry Bateman, chef at Mama’s Fish House and himself a past ‘Aipono Chef of the Year. “Besides, Sheldon is humble and has true aloha.”
The restaurants that bare his mark – Star Noodle and Leoda’s Kitchen & Pie Shop – also took away prizes at this year’s ‘Aipono Award. Star Noodle received two golds, one for Best Asian and the other for Best Noodles, while Leoda’s won the gold for Best Dessert.
In addition, Maui chef and restaurateur Beverly Gannon received a Lifetime Achievement Award.
One of the twelve founding chefs of the Hawai‘i Regional Cuisine movement, Bev Gannon has been cooking her butt off and serving award-winning meals to residents and visitors since opening the Hali‘imaile General Store in 1987. To this day the busy chef/restaurateur heads Celebrations Catering, runs Joes, Gannons, and HGS, and writes for national publications such as Sunset, Food & Wine and Bon Appetit.
“What can be said that hasn’t already been said about the hardest-working chef in Hawaii?” asked Mark Ellman, who received his own ‘Aipono’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2012. “Notice I said ‘chef,’ not ‘woman,’ not ‘girl.’ Bev works harder than me, Roy Yamaguchi and Peter Merriman put together.” The 2013 ‘Aipono Awards also honored two Gannon venues: Hali‘imaile General Store received a Silver for Best Hawai‘i Regional Cuisine, while Gannon’s in Wailea captured the Gold for Best Pau Hana.
Finally, the late restaurateur, Bob Longhi, was named the first ‘Aipono icon.
The first-of-its-kind award recognized the late Maui restaurateur for his pioneering role in elevating the island’s culinary scene.
Bob Longhi passed away last July, and the Longhi family continues to honor his legacy and run the Longhi’s in Lahaina and Wailea.
While it’s too late to cast your vote for 2013, it’s never too late to check out the chefs and restaurants honored by these awards and determine for yourself what has earned them such accolades.
We welcome your feedback. Please let us know if you hear of any new restaurants opening or reopening, total menu overhauls, or simply know of a hidden treasure you want to share. Have a restaurant you want reviewed (or re-reviewed)? Drop us a line – Vanessa(@mauinow.com)
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