Maui Chefs Invitational: Eight Pros, Three Days
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A bunch of buddies get together to cook dinner. Sounds simple enough, right?
By “a bunch of buddies,” I mean eight top-name chefs from around the country. “To cook dinner” is actually to host a group of 60 foodies and diners at the Maui Chefs Invitational.
“We’re all good friends, we’ll always keep in touch,” says chef Jeff Scheer of The Mill House, which hosted the event. “We all have one thing in common: we all cook food, we’re a rare breed. We couldn’t have picked a better collaboration of chefs.”
The first annual Maui Chefs Invitational happened at Maui Tropical Plantation between November 11 and 13, with interactive dinners on Friday and Saturday night and a more casual barbecue on Sunday.
Along with Scheer, the hand-picked chefs included Gregory Gourdet from Portland, OR; Francis Derby from New York City, NY; Lee Wolen from Chicago, IL; Maya Erickson from San Francisco, CA; Bradley Kilgore from Miami, FL; Sheldon Simeon from Maui; and Lee Anne Wong from O‘ahu.
“I don’t really know how they found me, but they did, and I was lucky enough to leave the Midwest and come to a place like this for a week,” smiles chef Lee Wolen, of Boka in Chicago, who got to snorkel and scuba dive on his very first trip to Maui. “No where else like it in our country. Farms are incredible; definitely a good sense of place.”
The menu was a surprise to diners until they sat down, since chefs remained inspired by the local farms they visited earlier in the week before finalizing their dishes, which was the whole idea of the event.
On Friday, the eight courses featured smoked pork belly, cured ono, veal sweetbread, foie gras, look fun noodles, poached kampachi, suckling pig porchetta and coconut bay leaf dessert.
“I’ve been living in Hawai’i for three years now, 100% committed to using local,” explains chef Lee Anne Wong of Koko Head Cafe in Honolulu, “so every time, whether I’m on O’ahu or Kauai or Maui or Big Island, usually we try to go to farms and source as much as possible from the actual island.”
Chefs say there’s a strong sense of camaraderie at dinners like these, and with so many different styles and backgrounds, they can all learn from one another.
“It’s exciting,” says chef Francis Derby of The Cannibal in New York and Los Angeles. “I love events like this; see some old friends — Lee Anne and I go back, and Gourdet — and then make some new ones.”
Along with the hard work and natural inspiration, the memorable week brought plenty of laughs for the chefs, whether in the kitchen, on the farm, at the beach or in the midst of a mad Jenga competition!
“Jeff’s one of my closest friends, he’s one of the people on the island I get to share ideas with,” says Maui’s own chef Sheldon Simeon of Tin Roof. “We hang out on the weekends, we play Jenga together, and whatever Jeff does I’m here to support it.”
The event is similar in format to Maui Chefs Table, an interactive, multi-course dinner that happens at The Mill House most Saturdays. Scheer says this first invitational will certainly not be the last, especially given the island’s growing role in the nationwide farm-to-table movement.
“I think all of Hawai’i is becoming more of a food destination spot, but I think Maui is really taking the lead on food,” Scheer explains. “Farms and all the chefs are aware of that; they know about Hawai’i.”