Seated dinner on the Mauna Kea Seashore Lodge to kick off the Hawaii Meals & Wine Pageant

Chefs and foodies celebrated the return of the Hawai’i Food & Wine Festival at the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, Autograph Collection on Friday October 1st.

About 140 people attended a dinner in the resort’s luau grounds for the festival’s first event, Pele and Poliʻahu. Pampered with a six-course menu, the menu offered a variety of local cuisine.

The COVID-19 pandemic forced the festival founders to cancel the event in 2020. However, they were able to use them on a smaller scale by the 11th. On Friday evening, Denise Yamaguchi, CEO and co-founder of the event, said that this year’s festival has remained true to its mission of putting local agriculture at the center and promoting sustainability.

“That is what we have always advocated,” said Yamaguchi. “When we talk about Hawaii we want it to be portrayed correctly.”

The pandemic, Yamaguchi said, has focused on the festival of Mālama ina (concern for the land). In doing so, they decided to partner with nonprofit organizations with a focus on caring for the land and the Hawaiian people.


The festival’s events began with chefs from across the nation learning about the cultural significance of kalo (taro). In addition, the five cooks visited the five hectare taro patch Kapapa Loʻi o Kealiʻikuaʻāina in the Waipiʻo Valley. The patch is owned and operated by the non-profit Kū A Kanaka.


“The ability to slow it down (festival) and dive deeper into the presentation of sustainability and culture meant a lot,” she said. “We are very happy with the way it went.”

Chef Michael Ginor presented the third dish of the evening, “Torchon of Hudson Valley Foie Gras”.

Ginor has participated in the festival since its inception. This year was different in that the COVID-19 pandemic continues to prevail, forcing last-minute adjustments.


Originally, Ginor said he should create a dish for a tour event for 500 guests. It was reduced to a seated dinner for 140.

What makes the Hawaiʻi Food and Wine Festival so special is not just the location, but founders Roy and Denise Yamaguchi as well, Ginor said, adding that they are finding different ways to connect the chefs with Hawaiian culture.

“Coming to Hawaii is a huge cultural and educational experience,” said the chef.

Ginor said it was unique for a food festival to last five years. He attributes the success of the event to the co-founders.

“These events allow us to interact with each other,” said Ginor. “It enables us to come together and exchange thoughts and ideas.”

At the end of the evening the cooks were trained and introduced to the dinner party. Chef Robert Del Grande from Houston, Texas created the second dish of the night, Hawaiian Octopus.

This was his 10th year attending the festival. When he comes to the annual event, he says he’s happy to marry his southwest kitchen with that of Hawaii.

Like Ginor, he was excited that the festival was postponed amid the looming pandemic.

“When it’s difficult, it’s always good to come home,” said Del Grande, adding, “Every time I come here I feel like I’m coming home.”

Chef Jason Neroni, from Venice, California, has been attending the festival for five years. He created the fourth dish of the evening, BBQ Hawaiian Prawns.

“It is a pleasure and an honor to come to Hawaii and show what we can do,” said Neroni.

The Californian chef considers the Hawai’i Food & Wine Festival to be one of the best food festivals in the world.

“It has become a tradition at home to come here with our family,” said Neroni.

Chef Edward Lee of Louisville, Ky., Provided the fifth dish of beef Kalbi Jjim with taro and hōio. This was his first appearance at the festival.

“I haven’t been on vacation in a year and a half; I’m here and I may never go again, ”said Lee.

Festival organizers have followed the state’s COVID-19 health and safety guidelines issued by local and state officials.

Two local chefs also attended the event. Ryan Brannigan, Executive Chef for Manta at the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, presented the first dish that focused on Hawaiian Kanpachi and Kona Abalone.

The final dish was a dessert and was created by Michael Moorehouse, head chef at Mauna Kea Resort. The guests were pampered with a Citrus Pavlova.

Officials said guest safety is a top priority and audience moods will be taken into account, especially given Governor David Ige’s new extension of restrictions on Friday.

Click here for the calendar of events during the festival.

Comments are closed.