Lisa Christian likens the search for residences for her Culinary Home Tour to "being on an Easter egg hunt. I’m always on the lookout for unique homes, and it’s exciting to make a new discovery. I never know when and where I’ll find another wonderful property and homeowner."
Christian is the owner and operator of Home Tours Hawaii, which showcases distinctive homes and lifestyles in Kona. She became involved with the company as a homeowner when it launched in 2007.
As the business grew, so did Christian’s involvement with it. In addition to offering her oceanfront condo as a stop, she worked as a guide, drove the vans and cooked with chef/co-owner Ann Sutherland.
"You could say I had been groomed to take over the business when Ann and her partner decided to sell it and move back to the mainland in May 2012," Christian said. "Filling their shoes was a big challenge, but since I bought the company, I’ve added fabulous new homes and expanded the concept."
Originally, the homeowners were not present when tour groups arrived. Home Tours Hawaii’s guides escorted them around the houses, and Sutherland shared stories about her culinary adventures, including being Ethel Kennedy’s personal chef for 11 months.
|CHICKEN MACADAMIA NUT SALAD
(one of the brunch courses)
2 cup diced seasoned cooked chicken breast
Mix all ingredients together thoroughly. Cut two papayas in half, remove seeds and fill the four halves with chicken salad. Serves four.
When Christian took over, she realized she had to make adjustments since she had no "wow" Kennedy stories. "I visited each of my 20 homeowners and realized they had such interesting lives," she said. "Why not invite them to be part of the experience? Having them meet our guests and share insights about their home’s architecture, decor, views, history and landscaping has added a whole new dimension to the tour. It shows guests that the Hawaiian lifestyle covers a wide range."
For example, one stop might be a home that was built as the first Buddhist temple on the west side of Hawaii island. The original worship area — complete with gilded altar — has been preserved, although services are no longer held there. Other buildings on the former temple grounds, including the fellowship hall and the priest’s living quarters, have been converted to living spaces for the family that now owns the 111-year-old property.
"During our visit the homeowner explains that after World War II the Japanese wanted to appear more Americanized, so Buddhist temples throughout Hawaii were renovated to look more like Catholic and Protestant churches," Christian said. "Wooden pews often replaced traditional cushions and tatami mats, which is what happened at this temple."
Another home reflects the owner’s penchant for tikis, which he started collecting in the 1980s. More than a hundred of them, ranging in size from a few inches to 5 feet tall, are displayed everywhere — even in the garage, kitchen and bathrooms.
"The owner worked as an imagineer for Disney," Christian said. "His favorite rides were the Jungle Cruise and Enchanted Tiki Room, and his house reflects that kitschy Polynesian look. Some of the tikis date back to the 1940s; most are from the 1960s and later. Some of the tikis made by inmates at Oahu Prison (now Oahu Community Correctional Center) in the 1950s and 1960s have toenails. Carving those details helped prisoners pass the time."
Tour participants might also visit a 5-acre coffee and cacao farm with a house that has three Balinese-style pods: the master bedroom pod, the guest bedroom pod and the main pod with the kitchen, living room and other common areas. Built with sustainability in mind, it also features water catchment and photovoltaic systems and doors and windows facing the ocean and mountains to take advantage of the breezes.
"There are spectacular ocean, coastline or farm views from every room," Christian said. "The interior is 2,000 square feet, but when you add the long, broad lanai that connects the pods, it doubles the living area. On a stroll through the farm, guests learn how coffee and chocolate are made. The owner even makes natural soap from things he grows in his orchards, including ground citrus and papaya seeds."
Every Culinary Home Tour includes 45- to 60-minute visits to three homes; these vary, depending on the homeowners’ availability and the size of the group (six to 26 people can be accommodated on each tour). Guests rave about the progressive four-course brunch, which includes local favorites such as Portuguese sausage, malasadas, banana macadamia nut bread and 100 percent estate-grown Kona coffee.
"Our tour takes visitors beyond the hotels, beaches, shops and luaus for an up-close look at kamaaina’s homes and communities," Christian said. "We give them a taste of how we enjoy life in our beautiful islands, with all of its beauty, diversity and aloha."
IF YOU GO …
» Pickups: 8:30 a.m. at two locations in Kona (specifics are given upon book ing)
Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi is a Honolulu-based freelance writer whose travel features for the Star-Advertiser have won several Society of American Travel Writers awards.