7 tips for the best Hawai’i Food & Wine Festival experience
Here are 7 ways to maximize your experience — and dollars — at this year’s Hawai’i Food & Wine Festival.
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The Hawai‘i Food & Wine Festival has a daunting schedule of premium events, at premium prices.
Here are ways to maximize your experience (and dollars):
>> Focus on smaller events: The rooftop wine-focused event at the Hawai‘i Convention Center (Swirl, Oct. 25, $250) and the beachside extravaganza at Ko Olina (Life’s a Beach, Oct. 26, $275) sell out every year. But chowhounds miss out when they pass on the festival’s three under-$100 events — the after- party at the Hyatt Regency Waikiki Beach Resort (Fiesta 24/7, Oct. 25, $95), the opening-night outdoor event at Ward Village (Brews & BBQs, Oct. 23, $85) and the brunch on the last day of the festival (Drag Appetit, Oct. 27, $95). The participating names are just as big, but with fewer stations and guests, it’s possible to really talk to the chefs and take time to savor their food. At last year’s after-party, Los Angeles chef Nyesha Arrington wowed the crowd with her Korean shellfish hot pot flavor bomb, and nine months later was featured in the New York Times as one of “16 Black Chefs Changing Food in America.”
>> Local chefs: Don’t overlook Hawaii chefs in favor of only big-name visiting talent. The festival is a chance for our homegrown cooks to flex their culinary muscles and go beyond what they’re known for at their day jobs. For example, Foodland supermarkets’ executive chef Keoni Chang’s garlic Kauai prawn with crispy taro cake and coconut curry was one of the hits of last year’s Feng Shui & Cocktails event. This year he’ll be at Swirl.
>> Research chefs and their cuisines: Despite what I said above, the festival is very much a chance to try dishes and cuisines you normally would have to board a plane to eat. So do go to the festival’s website and click on “talent” to do some homework. Yes, the Peter Cho cooking at Crazy Rich Cocktails (Oct. 24, $250) is the same guy you saw on the cover of Food & Wine for his innovative contemporary Korean food. Picking events based on what you like will make you happy.
>> Mexican food: Are you one of the ukubillion people on Oahu who drone, “There’s no good Mexican food here”? Well, get a ticket to Fiesta 24/7 for food by three of the country’s most lauded Mexican chefs — Ray Garcia, Hugo Ortega and Katsuji Tanabe (he’s hapa!). Plus, it’s great to see the festival focus on a specific cuisine.
>> Keep hands free: I invested in a small crossbody bag — big enough for essentials, small enough not to weigh me down. This way, hands are open for plates and glasses, and waving to people you know.
>> Pace yourself: Every event has a lot of food — and beverages. Don’t wolf down three plates of the first thing that makes your eyeballs roll into the back of your head. There are always surprises to be had from “old dog” legends and up-and-comers alike. And those chefs from China no one has heard of — their dishes are always stellar. Save room for those.
>> Rideshare if possible: The bartender and winemaker lineups get better every year, and there’s nothing to keep you from saying, “Just one more.” ’Nuff said.