KAPALUA - This year, the 33rd annual Kapalua Wine & Food Festival expanded to include the rebranded Montage Kapalua Bay. With the symbolic reopening of the resort on June 12, it was ambitious for them to host the sold-out Grand Tasting on the next day, Friday the 13th. But if there was any triskaidekaphobia, no one could tell. Everything from the wine, service and food to the weather and entertainment was pure perfection.
Montage is on the grounds of the old Kapalua Bay Hotel, which hosted the festival until the hotel was closed in 2006. It was great to return to the grounds where it all began. The Montage has transformed the area from the simple, understated, elegance of the old hotel to the posh, glitzy, up-scale, 21st century world-class property it is today. The area is spacious, with foot-bridges over dazzling pools, water features, many comfortable sitting areas and a spectacular view of Kapalua Bay as well as the Pailolo and Au'au Channels.
As the sun set, the sold-out crowd indulged in wines from all over the world and feasted on dishes from seven local eateries (such as Pineapple Grill, Merriman's Kapalua and all three Ritz-Carlton establishments) as well as gourmet cuisine from New Zealand Master Chef Brent Martin, while Angela Benoit sang standards such as "Blue Skies" with her husband, Phil, accompanying on guitar.
Hundreds of wine glasses await the guests at the sold-out Grand Tasting at Montage Kapalua Bay.
The festival began on June 12 with invitation only events and stretched until June 15, culminating in the Seafood Festival at the Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua on the Beach House Lawn hosted by Maui No Ka Oi Magazine. The festival golf tournament started with a shotgun start at 7 a.m. on June 13.
Over the weekend, the paying public was treated to wine seminars from Italy to New Zealand as well as Mainland wines from Santa Lucia, Washington State and the Russian River Valley.
Award-winning celebrity Chef Dean Fearing of Fearings in Dallas put on a cooking demonstration on Sunday that featured wines from David Arthur Vineyards. His lunch consisted of barbecue shrimp taco, followed by cast iron wild striped bass on lump crab corn succotash with some fire supplied by a Tabasco/bacon gastrique. The third course was thyme-crusted lamb chops, and a Parker County peach buckle covered in blackberry sauce capped it off.
Most of the events over the weekend were sold out, especially the Grand Tasting and Seafood Festival. Hundreds of people began queuing up an hour before the 6 p.m. start. To whet their whistles and to make the wait more pleasant, the guests were served Martini & Rossi prosecco in plastic flutes. Also, to speed the entrance of the guests, staff members went through the line collecting tickets and affixing red identification wristbands. This is a great idea, and other venues should consider doing this.
Promptly at 6 p.m., the crowd was let onto the grounds. The first stop was a table full of wine glasses. Then, it was on to the feast where 16 of Maui's finest food establishments were ready to serve the assembled guests.
Maui's own "Top Chef" Sheldon Simeon was doing a deconstructed lau lau with marinated salmon roe that popped in one's mouth like champagne bubbles. "Iron Chef" Morimoto has opened a place at An Daz Resort in Wailea, and Chef Greg Harrison was doing a different take on seafood with Wagyu beef carpaccio, hot oil, yuzu soy and sweet garlic as well as a hamachi taco.
My personal favorite was Alan Wong's Amasia Kona kampachi Crudo with Hamakua tomato-negi vinaigrette and Thai basil oil, with Chef Simeon's deconstructed lau lau coming in second.
But the night belonged to Roy's Chef Joey Macadangdang and Star Noodle Chef Gemsley Balagso. They received the gold and silver awards, respectively, from the judges. The public agreed with them, because Macadangdang also got the fan favorite prize.
Chef Balagso's runner-up dish was a scallop and compressed watermelon poke with watermelon balsamic reduction. One comment I heard was, "It's more like a dessert than a pupu." Chef Macadangdang's winning dish was an olive oil-poached monchong with soba spaetzle and curry. Interestingly, it was billed as poached mekajiki (Hawaiian swordfish), but they were unable to get it, so they substituted monchong.
Entertainment was provided by Nuff Said; they kept the night going with lively, up-tempo rhythm and blues and reggae tunes.
Unlike Friday night, when Grand Tasting revelers were greeted by a Maui Police Department traffic stop just down the road from the entrance to Kapalua, the Seafood Feasters had clear sailing back to their homes and an eagerly awaited 34th annual Kapalua Wine & Food Festival.