Indigenous cuisine celebrated during 2023 Hawai’i Food & Wine Festival
October 22, 2023, 8:18 AM HST
* Updated October 22, 8:37 AM
Hawai’i chef Kealoha Domingo pounded fresh poi on the lawn of the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel Friday night, while well-dressed guests trickled in during sunset to catch a glimpse of the action.
Domingo, owner of Nui Kealoha Catering, where he honors the spiritual connection between the ‘āina (land), kānaka (humankind), and mea ‘ai (food), was one of 10 chefs that evening highlighting indigenous cuisine as part of Hawai’i Food & Wine Festival and Kamehameha Schools’ Indigenous World Cuisines event.
The night centered around sharing the rich traditions of indigenous communities all over the globe, from Turtle Island tribes such as Oglala Lakota, the people of the Caribbean and Polynesia. Conversations focused on preserving indigenous ingredients, cooking traditions and knowledge for the future.
“In indigenous culture, there’s this innate mindfulness around sustainability – what we consume and how much we consume, being thoughtful for generations versus being thoughtful for the week,” Domingo said.
Using taro grown on Hawai’i Island, and ingredients from his own farm on Oahu, Domingo created a dish to represent his home, with the poi, pork, lūʻau, sweet potatoes, and a pickled garnish with edible flowers.
This is the first year the Hawai‘i Food & Wine Festival, now in its 13th year, centered an event solely around indigenous cuisine, said acclaimed chef and restaurant owner Roy Yamaguchi, who co-founded the festival with chef Alan Wong.
He said the event drew on commonalities and raised awareness about indigenous food systems.
“Everybody is proud of their heritage. I think that’s most important. They’re also proud of the fact their cuisine goes back many generations and centuries. Unfortunately, for some of the cultures, some of that has gone away, especially the indigenous ingredients from that culture. So I think they’re doing their best to get farmers, growers, whatever it may be, to start being able to go back and find out more about what might have been here from the past and hopefully being able get that back in the ground,” he said.
One of those chefs trying to get indigenous food back in the ground is Sean Sherman, a member of the Oglala Lakota Sioux tribe and founder of the nonprofit North American Traditional Indigenous Food Systems (NATIFS). The organization is dedicated to addressing the economic and health crisis impacting Native communities and re-establishing Native foodways.
He was present Friday night where he shared his mission through his dish, made with ingredients such as corn and carrots that were grown from indigenous farmers.
Other chefs featured dishes that infused their cultural backgrounds with Hawai’i ingredients.
Florida-based chef Timon Balloo used his Caribbean roots to create a jerk butter lobster dish with spices from Trinidad and Jamaica topped with pickled ulu (breadfruit).
“It’s amazing that we travel so far and have a connection,” he said. “Like with the ulu, it’s one of the main ingredients in Hawaiian culture but it’s also used in the Caribbean.”
Chef Monique Fiso, from Aotearoa (New Zealand), grilled local Hawai’i lamb topped with a tasty au jus, in an effort to raise awareness about the importance of sourcing food where you are.
“That’s kind of why we’re all here tonight,” she said.
Yamaguchi said there appears to be a growing global interest in locally-sourced foods right now.
“When you travel, you’re looking for the fabric and landscape of that culture. So in that sense, we’re striving to learn more about the different cultures that make up the world,” he said.
Christina Metzler, from Kona, said she’s been coming to the festival for years, but this year’s was “the best so far.”
“Literally, the gin and the whiskey is made on Oahu and in our state. That’s incredible,” she said.
Following Friday’s food tasting, the festival hosted a panel discussion on revitalizing indigenous food systems and reclaiming ancestral knowledge and native foodways. Moderated by Ambassador of Culture for The Council of Native Hawaiian Advancement, Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu, the Indigenous Food Culture Panel on Saturday included Domingo, Fiso, Sherman and Crystal Wahpepah of the Kickapoo Nation.
During the presentation they discussed the importance of land management and native agriculture, obstacles to accessing indigenous food ways, the impact on the health and wellness of communities and how the past affects food sovereignty for the future.
Yamaguchi gave a simple answer when asked what was his main focus for the weekend.
“I’m just praying for peace,” he said.
Proceeds from the Hawai’i Food & Wine Festival support local ‘āina-based and community organizations committed to culinary and agricultural education, sustainability and cultural programs.
In 2022, the organization raised $380,000 to support 17 beneficiaries, bringing total giving since 2011 to $3.5 million.
The Hawai’i Food & Wine Festival is a three weekend festival that features more than 150 internationally renowned master chefs, culinary personalities, sommeliers, mixologists, and wine and spirit producers across Oahu, Maui and Hawai’i Island. It is the largest food and wine festival in the state.
For more information about Hawai’i Food & Wine Festival, visit this website.