Select few to spend
3 days with chef Mario

By Betty Shimabukuro

The term "fortunate few" could have been coined for next month's culinary event at the Mauna Lani Bay Hotel & Bungalows. Mario Batali, the superstar television chef ("Molto Mario" and "Mario Eats Italy"), as well as owner of three acclaimed New York restaurants, is coming to the resort on the Big Island's Kohala Coast March 21 to 23.

But only 10 people get to attend.

The ultra-exclusive event includes cooking sessions in which participants will chop and stir, sauté and roast, right at the chef's side.

Cost is a formidable $3,500, but that does include accommodations at the Mauna Lani.

Plus, it's the ultimate elbow-rubbing opportunity. "You can mingle with the chef," says Edwin Goto, Mauna Lani's executive chef. "He'll be right there, cooking next to you. You can ask him all kinds of goofy questions."

Batali's three-day event is the first of the Mauna Lani's new Culinary Conversations, which replace the annual Cuisines of the Sun food-and-wine festival -- last held in the pre-9/11 summer of 2001.

Cuisines was a four-day extravaganza of gala dinners and hands-on cooking workshops featuring a lineup of celebrity chefs -- 10 or more each year. The events could draw upward of 300 participants.

The Culinary Conversations mark a distinct change in approach for the Mauna Lani toward more intimate, exclusive events with similar big-name panache.

Conversing later in the year will be Lee Hefter of Spago in Beverly Hills, who is scheduled for a three-day visit Nov. 7 to 9.

Batali's visit begins March 21 with a meet-the-chef reception. The following day includes a luncheon workshop in a private Mauna Lani home. Dinner is a series of dishes by Batali. On March 23 another workshop will be held at the outdoor kitchen at Hirabara Farms in Waimea, followed by a dinner beach party.

Kurt and Pam Hirabara say the plan is for Batali to lead a trek into their fields, picking fresh vegetables for lunch. In preparation, they've uprooted some of their Asian vegetables and planted Italian items that they've seen him use on television.

"We've heard him say on his show that the best food is the food that travels the least, meaning garden-to-table," Pam Hirabara said.

For information or reservations call Susan Bredo at the Mauna Lani, (800) 367-2323.

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