COURTESY OF ORTANIQUE RESTAURANT
A jerked double pork chop with guava flor de cana spice rum sauce and South American moros topped with drunken raisins tropical fruit flambe is a sample of the food being prepared by Cindy Hutson at the Kahala Food and Wine Classic 2008.
Gourmands get together at the Kahala
As a young boy growing up in Brazil, Venezuela and Australia, John Blanco learned to make bouillabaisse, beef bourguignon and other classic dishes from his mother, whom he describes as "an amazing chef who would've excelled in any of the world's great restaurants."
He later received professional training in Michelin-starred establishments in France, Italy and Switzerland. His mentors were uncompromising in their quest for quality ingredients: sea urchins fresh off boats in Viareggio, Italy; plump oysters from Marennes, France; daily deliveries of sweet berries from neighboring farms.
"Working under Michelin chefs was always intense, with no detail spared," recalled Blanco. "I quickly learned that cooking is indeed an art, requiring as much care as a painter would put into a creation on canvas."
Today, as managing director of the Kahala Hotel & Resort, Blanco's responsibilities extend far beyond the kitchen, but he maintains an avid interest in and appreciation for fine food and libations.
Honolulu-based Trinity Investments LLC acquired the AAA Four-Diamond property in March 2006. Its chairman, Chuck Sweeney, has been a key player in many Hawaii ventures spanning 40 years, including developing, building and managing the Kea Lani Hotel, Suites and Villas (now the Fairmont Kea Lani) on Maui.
"There is a passion for the culinary arts and wine throughout our organization starting with Mr. Sweeney," said Blanco. "This was evident in the successful Great Chefs on Tour event, which attracted over 30 acclaimed culinarians and winemakers to Kea Lani from 1996 through 2000. It made sense to further enhance the history of world-class gastronomy that already exists at the Kahala with a similar program."
IF YOU GO ...
» Place: The Kahala Hotel & Resort, 5000 Kahala Ave., Honolulu
» Dates: Friday and Saturday
» Times: Various; see accompanying sidebar
» Cost of events: $30 to $185 per person
» Call: 739-8888 or toll-free (800) 367-2525 from the other islands
» Web site: www.kahalaresort.com
» Notes: The $450 kamaaina package includes one night in a mountain-category room, one dinner and either the cooking class or wine tasting for one person. The $850 package includes two nights in a mountain-category room and all events for one person. Two people can share the room, but the second person must pay for the events separately.
» "Rhythms of the Night": Hutson, Ferguson, Clendenen and the Kahala's culinary team present an oceanfront opening-night dinner of five courses paired with Au Bon Climat wines. Schrader invites comments from each expert. Enjoy Davidoff cigars and cognacs after dinner, 6 to 9 p.m. Friday; $145 per person.
» "In Cindy's Kitchen": Hutson teaches an interactive, open-air cooking class in a rooftop setting overlooking the ocean. Includes tastings of Au Bon Climat wines, Kabocha Squash Bisque and Caribbean Curried Crab Cake, which participants will make. From 10 a.m. to noon Saturday; $75 per person.
» "Wine-ology with Jim Clendenen": The winemaker shares secrets of his trade as guests sample five wines and tapas, 2 to 4 p.m. Saturday; $50 per person.
» "Epicuria, a Journey of the Senses": Hutson joins Hirabayashi at Hoku's to prepare a six-course dinner paired with wines selected by Clendenen, 6:30 to 10 p.m. Saturday; $185 per person.
» "Toes in the Sand: A Cigar Conversation": Guests savor Davidoff cigars, sweets, fruits, chocolates, ports, cognacs and conversation beachside with Herklots. From 10 p.m. to midnight Saturday; $30 per person.
On Friday and Saturday, the hotel will launch the Kahala Food & Wine Classic, a quarterly celebration geared for gourmands. Each Classic will feature a notable local chef and a renowned chef and winemaker from elsewhere (for the Australian-themed September event, a chef and winemaker will be coming from Down Under).
Unlike most of Hawaii's food-and-wine fetes, which pack hundreds of people in large venues, the Classic will match the Kahala's intimate ambience, with a maximum of 100 participants for the dinners and 50 for the cooking class and tastings.
"This format will give guests the opportunity to personally interact with the experts, providing a richer learning experience and greater value than the big 'grazing' events," Blanco said.
The focus of the inaugural Classic will be on cuisine from sunny, tropical climes, which typically incorporate seasonings such as ginger, citrus, cilantro, cumin, coriander and curry.
"We believe food from those areas offer the most exciting flavor combinations," said Blanco. "The dishes that will be presented are not necessarily brand new, but they'll be a unique spin from the original recipes."
Cindy Hutson, chef/owner of Ortanique on the Mile in Miami, will introduce her "Cuisine of the Sun," a slogan she uses to describe the Caribbean and Latin influences of her award-winning fusion creations.
She has been using hearts of palm from Hamakua Farms on the Big Island and fresh catches from Oahu's Honolulu Fish Co. for years, and is looking forward to discovering new local products this week during her first visit to Hawaii.
"Dining is a sum of many sensory elements directly impacted by scenery, climate, state of mind and culture," said Blanco. "Into that, the 2008 Kahala Food & Wine Classic will fold in the highest-quality ingredients, unusual flavors, and commentary by talented, knowledgeable experts, providing the recipe for a truly memorable experience."
Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi is a Honolulu-based free-lance writer and Society of American Travel Writers award winner.