Obama's D.C. luau thrills isle tourism executives


POSTED: Friday, June 26, 2009

The White House luau was actually not a concept cooked up by the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau, though it and the rest of the state likely will benefit from the hula-hoopla it generated.

“;Wouldn't it be neat if we could take credit for that, but it was definitely the president's idea,”; said Darlene Morikawa, HVCB director of public relations.

Hawaii-born President Barack Obama greeted those gathered with “;a big aloha,”; and introduced the lei-bedecked members of his family as well as Vice President Joe Biden.

“;It was awesome ... to be on the South Lawn between the White House and the Washington Monument,”; said Morikawa, who was the lone HVCB representative in attendance.

“;We took an early leap of faith,”; thinking there might be a bit of national press coverage, she said.

Indeed, The Associated Press, CNN, Gannett Co. Inc. and a videographer who was to distribute video footage to television networks were on hand to cover the event.

CNN had intended to go live, but that coverage was pre-empted by the sudden death of pop icon Michael Jackson, she said.

Officials expected more than 2,000 attendees and “;it was standing room only.”;

Some attendees were wearing suits, but many dressed in the spirit of the occasion wearing aloha shirts, sun dresses “;and dresses that looked like”; muumuu, Morikawa said. News coverage showed Obama wearing a solid-blue, buttoned shirt.

No butcher paper topped luau tables for this crowd.

“;They had floral-print tablecloths, signs with 'aloha,' a place set up for the kids to play with beach balls and a dunking booth,”; Morikawa said.

White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel was the first to get dunked. The president was not dunked, she said.

Hawaii chef and restaurateur Alan Wong arrived with his 14-member team on Monday and started working with the White House culinary staff to prepare the food, and it was “;a fabulous spread ... super ono,”; including pipikaula, short ribs, lamb, kalua pig, lomilomi salmon and other dishes.

Nobody dug an imu in the South Lawn, Morikawa said.

Much of the food was sourced in Hawaii, including “;proteins, products and greens,”; she said, though she was not permitted to release the menu or disclose the purveyors. As for official event information, “;Everything has to come from the White House,”; she said.

However, she did notice that Big Island-based Kona Brewing Co's. Longboard Island Lager was being served.

The entertainment by Honolulu-based Tihati Productions Ltd., established in 1971, also included the requisite embarrassment of, er, impromptu Polynesian dance lesson for, five victims, er, people, picked at random from the audience.

Neither President Obama nor his family members were pressed into a potentially embarrassing booty-shaking display.

Tihati brought 18 dancers and musicians and Morikawa caught a glimpse of the president greeting members of the troupe in one of several tents erected on the lawn.

Guests started arriving at about 5:30 p.m. local time, the entertainment began at about 7 p.m. and by 9 p.m. the party was wrapping up. Most of the attendees stayed to the end, Morikawa said.

Within the next few days, HVCB will post Morikawa's snapshots on its White House Luau page, which already features links to some of Wong's luau recipes.

On the Net:

» gohawaii.com/whitehouseluau


Erika Engle is a reporter with the Star-Bulletin. Reach her by e-mail at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)