Mahi Pono and Hawaii Food & Wine Festival Host Groundbreaking Chefs’ Corner Project
June 3, 2021, 3:19 PM HST
* Updated June 4, 2:59 PM
A blessing ceremony for Mahi Pono and Hawai‘i Food & Wine Festival broke new ground at Mahi Pono’s central Maui farm this morning.
The ceremony welcomed a new partnership between local chefs and farmers that was over a year in the making called the Chefs’ Corner project.
“Our collaboration with HWFW on the Chefs’ Corner project is a new and innovative way to close the farm-to-table gap even further while helping promote food sustainability in Hawai‘i,” said Shan Tsutsui, Chief Operating Officer of Mahi Pono.
Chefs’ Corner gives five local chefs each a quarter-acre parcel of land to grow fresh ingredients for their restaurants on Maui. Each chef chose their own diverse crop selection.
So far, the project features top local chefs Roy Yamaguchi (Roy’s Kā‘anapali, Humble Market Kitchin), Beverly Ganon (Hāli‘imaile General Store, Gannon’s Restaurant and Celebrations Catering), Chris Kajioka (Waicoco), Scott McGill (T S Restaurants – Duke’s, Hula Grill, Kimo’s and Leilani’s) and Lee Anne Wong (Papa‘āina).
The partnered chefs will have the first opportunity to purchase all of the produce grown in their plots. Any available surplus will be sold under Mahi Pono’s “Maui Harvest” label.
“It’s been a long journey,” said Chef Roy Yamaguchi after the ceremony. “Ever since the Hawai‘i Regional Cuisine Movement when chefs 30-some years ago got together to work with farmers, our whole vision was for chefs to work with farmers and to grow the ingredients that we want to see on our menu.”
The new opportunity also reminded Yamaguchi of his family history, as he used to work at his grandfather’s grocery store as a keiki on Maui.
“This is what was on the shelves when my grandfather had his market,” said Yamaguchi.
“People say you can taste the sun,” Chef Chris Kajioka of Waicoco said about Chefs’ Corner. “You can taste the sun when things are just that fresh so it’s an amazing opportunity for all of us.”
Kajioka said this was “really the best scenario,” adding, “I think it’s every chef’s dream to have access to something more curated and more specific to what you like to cook and eat.”
The ceremony took place on a piece of Mahi Pono’s land set aside for diversified agriculture.
“What we’re looking at today is a variety trial of warm-climate lettuces because we’re always told we can’t grow lettuce very well in the warm areas of Maui,” said Strand. “We’ve selected some varieties that are actually going to do well here.”
Mahi Pono plans to keep growing these trial plants such as kales, broccolini, lettuces, corn, green beans and carrots as well as consistent seasonal plants for locals.
“The concept of what we’re doing here on a larger scale is really to address the issue of getting local food out to local people,” said Mahi Pono Vice President of Agricultural Outreach and Business Development Darren Strand.
Mahi Pono owns and operates approximately 41,000 acres of agricultural land in Central Maui, which was formerly sugar cane and cattle land but has been revitalized in a year and a half process that included soil rejuvenation, irrigation and windbreaks.
The Hawai‘i Food & Wine Festival is the premier epicurean destination event in the Pacific. The Festival features a roster of more than 150 internationally renowned master chefs, culinary personalities, sommeliers, mixologists, and wine and spirit producers.