Story by Becky Speere
Perry Bateman beams as he shares a childhood memory. “When we were kids, the macadamia-nut field in Waikapū was our playground. We would play in the tall grass and pick up buckets of nuts. I think at times we ate too much,” he laughs, recalling bellyaches from devouring handfuls of the raw, crunchy morsels. Twenty years later, Bateman is the executive chef at Mama’s Fish House — and the mac nuts he buys for his recipes are harvested not far from where he grew up.
Waihe‘e Valley Plantation is Hawai‘i’s largest privately owned macadamia-nut venture. Here on the North Shore, where the Central Valley curves up into West Maui’s mountain, manicured lawns grow between rows of majestic macadamia trees. Managers Shannon and Todd Arnold remember how these fields looked a decade ago, when workers waded through tall grass and crawled on their hands and knees to fill seventy-pound bags with fallen nuts, found one at a time. “I had to burrow through the grass to retrieve the bags,” Todd recalls. “It was hot, hard, ugly work.”
Shannon adds, “At first we sent the nuts to the Big Island for cracking and drying; then we’d buy them back to resell.” Six years ago, they obtained equipment from Australia: a high-capacity picker, sheller, color sorter, and nut drier. “The nuts are dried at low temperatures — 98 to 100 degrees — for seven to ten days,” Shannon says. “This allows us to [label] them ‘raw,’ since high temperatures haven’t destroyed the nutrients.”
Soon I am on the hunt for dishes made with this local nut.
MAMA’S FISH HOUSE
My first stop is Mama’s, where Chef Perry has prepared a few tasting dishes. My editor, Rita Goldman, has selflessly agreed to join me. Our first course is a local baby greens salad topped with a crunchy and savory macadamia-nut crab cake, dappled with bits of sweet Kīhei mango and avocado. We polish off the salad, stopping short of scraping the plate clean. Next: a nut-crusted ono filet served on a bed of edamame pasta that’s been tossed in macadamia-nut basil pesto; every bite is worth savoring. We are bursting at the seams when the grand finale, a sublime apple-banana macadamia-nut crisp topped with Tahitian vanilla bean ice cream, arrives. We glance at each other, take a deep breath and simultaneously dig our spoons into the buttery nut crust. It’s heaven in a bowl . . . and we manage to eat the whole shebang.
799 Poho Place, Pā‘ia | 808-579-8488 | MamasFishHouse.com
TOMMY BAHAMA RESTAURANT & BAR
Shannon Arnold had told me that Tommy Bahama’s Maui venue began purchasing mac nuts from Waihe‘e Valley Plantation from the production’s get-go. The corporate chefs were so impressed, they arranged to purchase Waihe‘e nuts for the entire restaurant chain across the country. A fun appetizer, the chicken lollipops are smoky and tender, with diced macadamia nuts clinging to the mango-orange glaze. They pair — oh, so well — with the grapefruit basil martini, as does the macadamia-crusted goat cheese drizzled with a balsamic reduction and served as a topping for crispy paprika-herb lavash. The local fresh snapper scores an A+; dredged in macadamia-nut flour with a generous spoonful of wasabi beurre blanc, it’s a Hawai‘i Regional classic. A brown butter blondie, moist and buttery with Hawaiian sea-salt caramel, is the exclamation point at the end of this superb dining experience.
The Shops at Wailea, 3750 Wailea Alanui Drive, Kīhei | 808-875-9983
THE MILL HOUSE AT MAUI TROPICAL PLANTATION
At this Waikapū restaurant, Executive Chef Jeff Scheer incorporates macadamia nuts into a compound nut butter to accompany the black-soy-and-sesame-flavored Korean kalbi beef. He also adds them to a house-made mortadella sausage, and has been known to toss them into his country pork paté for added texture and richness. A decadent item on the children’s menu is the grilled pumpernickel bread spread with mac-nut butter and Maui honey, topped with brûlée apple-banana slices. Cocoa added to the dough darkens and sweetens the bread and enhances the caraway and mac-nut butter. (Where’s the Fountain of Youth when you need it?!)
1670 Honoapi‘ilani Highway, Waikapū | 808-270-0333 | MillHouseMaui.com
SUGAR BEACH BAKE SHOP
Located in the old Suda Store at the Kealia end of South Kīhei Road, this bakery is chockablock with baked mac-nut treats. The same folks who own Ululani’s — the ‘Aipono Award-winning shave-ice stand — create carrot cake, giant white-chocolate macadamia-nut cookies, and a smooth and rich ganache-blanketed mac-fudge brownie you’ll go just plain nuts over.
61 S. Kīhei Road, Kīhei | 808-757-8285 | SugarBeachBakeShop.com
*Oceanside is temporarily closed for renovation. Check their website for updates on re-opening.
The new kid on the block, Oceanside began wowing the crowds in late 2015 with a fresh kampachi crudo sprinkled generously with mac nuts, cilantro, ginger and lime. Chef Gary King, a transplant from the New York dining scene, creates menus using ingredients sourced daily. Stop in and you’ll probably find a few more of your favorite nuts baked in or topping his exquisite farm-fresh fare.
Mā‘alaea Harbor Shops, 300 Mā‘alaea Road, Mā‘alaea | 808-868-3481 | oceansidemaui.us
Waihe‘e Valley Plantation supplies more than two-dozen restaurants, bakeries, and food manufacturers with their produce. Next time you eat a dish with mac nuts, ask if it came from the farm. Or go buy a bag at the Upcountry Farmer’s Market, 55 Kiopa‘a Street, near Longs Drug Store in Pukalani, Saturdays, 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. Tell them Becky sent you.
History in a Nutshell
Native to Australia, macadamia nuts are named for John Macadam, a nineteenth-century Scottish chemist, physician and politician who worked on laws to prevent the adulteration of food. Mac nuts arrived in Hawai‘i around 130 years ago, but “remained a delicious oddity for about 50 years, laboriously prepared and consumed only by the affluent sugar barons” who planted the trees on marginal cane land.1
In the late 1970s, Wailuku Sugar Company closed its sugar mill, changed its name to Wailuku Agribusiness, and began planting macadamia orchards in Waihe‘e and Waikapū in Maui’s Central Valley. By 1999, unable to compete with foreign producers, the company abandoned the operation, and soon after, sold the land.2 John Varel purchased 1,200 acres that became Waihe‘e Valley Plantation.
1“Macadamia Nuts in Hawaii: History and Production,” by Gordon T. Shigeura and Hiroshi Ooka, 1984, College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, University of Hawai‘i.
2“Ag Lands and the ‘M’ Word,” by Rob Parsons, 2007, Legacy Projects Hawai‘i.