KAANAPALI - When Hyatt Regency Maui Resort and Spa's signature restaurant, Japengo, introduced Maui Tastemakers dinner programs in the fall of 2015, the idea originated from the chefs' philosophy of using fresh, local ingredients. As the series developed, dinners presented in partnership with Maui-based beverage makers like Maui Brewing Co., Ocean Vodka and MauiWine were so well-received that Japengo decided to extend the series and expand its scope to more local partners, including food artisans, farmers and seafood purveyors.
In January, Japengo launched its new Maui Tastemakers Series, which will take place each Friday every other month to showcase the variety of quality foods and beverages grown and made in the islands.
Japengo Chef de Cuisine Gevin Utrillo remarked, "We are having fun with this dinner series and really excited for this year's upcoming partnerships. It's important to support local products, and we are proud to showcase them."
Kai Ala Braised Short Rib & Smoked Tomato Risotto is a melange of flavor and texture.
I recently experienced a Maui Tastemakers dinner, featuring dishes created by Chef de Cuisine Utrillo and Sushi Chef Jin Hosono to pair with beers from Kohola Brewery in Lahaina. Japengo's setting, perched above the lushly landscaped pool, offers an expansive ocean view toward Lanai and Lahaina. The casual, open-air ambiance makes a perfect match for the locally-inspired, three-course dinner paired with three craft beers.
Kohola Brewery Co-founder Ian Elumba told me that he chose their Hawaiian-style beers, meaning the ones that are infused with local ingredients like coffee, lilikoi and pineapple, for Tastemakers. Chefs Gevin and Jin tasted the beers to come up with the flavor combinations they would use in their dishes.
The first course is a strikingly beautiful sushi presentation: Kaua'i Sweet Shrimp and Scallop Carpaccio. Fresh shrimp and scallops are aligned with green avocado slices and shiso leaves and topped with orange uni and ikura. Pineapple pilsner jelly squares, white truffle oil and microgreens complete the picture. The dish is served with Pineapple Lokahi Pilsner, whose sweet yet crisp finish complements the saltier seafood.
"I am familiar with using Japanese sake, vodka and wine, but beer was a first for me. I wanted to use Japanese ingredients (scallops) and local ingredients (sweet shrimp) to come up with something different. Pineapple Lokahi beer was a best match with Japanese broth to make jelly. It was challenging at first to adjust the amount of beer and broth to make it well-balanced, but I think it finally came out really nice," explained Chef Jin.
As the entree, Kai Ala Braised Short Ribs and Smoked Tomato Risotto with Hamakua mushrooms and tatsoi greens are artfully presented with grilled asparagus spears and sliced kabocha squash. This dish is a melange of flavor and texture. Fresh veggies punctuated the creamy risotto; the braised beef fell off the bone and its rich sauce was enhanced by the sweet and nutty pumpkin squash. It is served with Kai Ala Saison, a Belgian farmhouse-style ale with hints of lilikoi.
Chef Gevin noted, "Working with beer is a lot of fun. I love the fullness and bold flavors that you get from the level of flavors in beer. For the entree course, I did not want to go entirely with a heavy set, but balance the course with a crisp beer. It was only fitting that I braise the bone-in short rib with the Kai Ala Saison and accent the flavors more with local lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves."
The Tastemakers menu finishes with a dessert course. Chef Gevin created a classic Chocolate Pot de Creme. His version was sprinkled with coarse Hawaiian sea salt (a delectable combination) and served with coconut haupia. These flavors were well-matched with Mean Bean Coffee Stout, a creamy dark beer that has been infused with freshly roasted Ka'anapali Estate coffee beans.
Maui Tastemakers Series promises more culinary inspiration for locavores in March with dishes featuring the line of Adobo Loco hot sauces. In May, Ocean Vodka will show off its craft cocktails, and in July, produce from Simpli-Fresh and Maui Shrub farms will be in the spotlight.
Japengo is open for dinner and sushi nightly from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. Lounge service is from 5 to 10 p.m. with a happy hour from 5 to 6 p.m. For reservations, visit japengomaui.com.