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Everyone’s a Winner at Great Waikoloa Poke Contest

September 12, 2017, 10:42 AM HST
* Updated September 8, 11:06 AM
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Twenty poke chefs, both professional and amateur, showcased 37 different entries at the 2017 Hawai‘i Island Festival’s Great Waikoloa Poke Contest held in the Waikoloa Beach Marriott on Saturday, Sept. 9.

A crowd of over 250 enthusiastically sampled—sometimes with a little hesitance—offerings by this year’s competitors.

For those of you new to the islands, poke is a raw fish salad served as an appetizer in Hawaiian cuisine and sometimes as a main course. 

Categories in this year’s competition included Best Traditional Poke, Poke with Soy Sauce/Limu and an “anything goes” category called “Poke Fusion.”

The ingredients in the traditional poke contest are limited to those of Hawaiian origin, such as raw native fish, sea salt, limu (all varieties of seaweed), inamona (roasted kukui nut), taro, breadfruit, coconut and wana or ha‘uke‘uke (sea urchin).

The entrants in that category created poke with amazing flavors. As one spectator put it, “It’s the simplicity of the ingredients that makes the traditional poke so ono!”

The growing poke trend across the country has led to the creation of the “fusion” category. In this category, there is no limit to what is used in—or in some cases—on your poke. Creativity is encouraged and one did not have to look far to find it.

After turning the reigns over to Monica Ventura-Lindsey, former event chairperson Linda Pokipala convinced her three sisters to join her and together they created a Hawai‘i-South Carolina-Texas fusion poke entry that incorporated flavors from the various regions where they live.

The result was a Pokipala Sisters crawfish-infused, Cajun egg roll, shrimp jambalaya poke with Cajun seasoning and topped off with Cajun remoulade. The fusion is not just a mouthful to say but also a mouthful of flavors that evoked a chorus of “mmms” from those poke foodies eager to try it.

Attendees had the opportunity to their own winners in the People’s Choice Award category, where each poke fan voted for both their favorite professional and amateur poke entry.

After the ballots were counted, the first People’s Choice Award in the professional category went Pedro Almazan.

The amateur award went to Keali‘i Garmon for his Ahi Poke creation. Enhancing the ahi, the recipe included sesame oil, olive oil, avocado, inamona (a traditional poke seasoning), green onion and a wasabi aioli.

When asked how he felt about his award, Keali’i said, “This award is cool because it was the people who chose it.”

Contestants were also encouraged to decorate their displays, as it is well-known that the first bite of food is actually taken with our eyes, not our mouths.

Using a separate panel of judges, each display was evaluated. Winning the Professional Presentation Award this year was Peter Kaluna; the prize in the amateur division went to Anthony Carvalho.

Amateur Category Winners

  • Best Traditional Poke – Kai Auld
  • Shoyu/Limu – Joliene Schutte
  • Fusion – Makana Parker

Professional Category Winners

  • Best Traditional Poke – Peter Kaluna
  • Shoyu/Limu – Kau’i Kanekoa
  • Fusion – Ernie Gray

Asked what was the hardest part of being a judge in the amateur categories, Ryan Kidani said, “For me, it is being openminded to the different styles of poke—especially in the fusion category.

Robert Otake said that being away from Hawai‘i for so many years, he missed the food the most and for him, “Nothing was bad. It’s just that some do it better than others. I ate it all.”

Numerous sample cups and plates later, it was clearly visible that poke lovers from Hawai‘i and all over the world who attended had gotten their fair share of fresh fish.

For more details on the Hawaii Island Festival – Great Waikoloa Poke Contest visit http://www.hawaiiislandfestival.org/.

Creatively served poke in a handmade opihi and bamboo spoon at the 2017 Great Waikoloa Poke Contest. Darde Gamayo photo.

Fusion poke entry at the 2017 Great Waikoloa Poke Contest—poke cheesecake. Darde Gamayo photo.

The newly crowned Ms. Aloha Nui Jessica Kunishige ready with her Poi Pop to sample some pokeat the 2017 Great Waikoloa Poke Contest. Darde Gamayo photo.

Everyone loves poke, from keiki to kūpuna, at the 2017 Great Waikoloa Poke Contest. Darde Gamayo photo.

Keali‘i Garmon, winner of the Amateur People’s Choice Award, with his proud mom, Nālani Garmon, at the 2017 Great Waikoloa Poke Contest. Darde Gamayo photo.

at2017 Great Waikoloa Poke Contest: Nothing goes better with poke than some poi. Darde Gamayo photo.

Contestants were encouraged to decorate their tables at the 2017 Great Waikoloa Poke Contest. Darde Gamayo photo.

Judges at the 2017 Great Waikoloa Poke Contest sample the professional poke entries. Darde Gamayo photo.

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