Hāna Kū: Native practitioners team with top chefs (VIDEO)

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A Hāna Kū brunch spread that's almost too pretty to eat...well, almost.
A Hāna Kū brunch spread that’s almost too pretty to eat…well, almost.

Hāna Kū—I’ve never experienced anything quite like it. Equal parts cultural classroom and chef’s table, this intimate weekend was no doubt sprinkled with a bit of Hāna-style magic.

According to Kauʻi Kanakaʻole, Ala Kukui Executive Director and the weekend’s host, “Hāna Kū” is a saying Hāna people use to describe the more rustic, back country people who live simply, yet richly. The term has an endearing connotation that is celebratory of the fundamental things in life that all human beings value: love, happiness, family and a sense of belonging.

The gathering was held Sept. 30 through Oct. 2 at Ala Kukui, a Native Hawaiian cultural and retreat center in Hāna. The Lind family of Hāna, comprising of native practitioners, fishermen, hunters, gatherers and farmers, were the guests of honor and our teachers for the weekend. They were joined by Jon Waston of Hāna Ranch Food Truck, plus two former ʻAipono Restaurant Awards Chef of the Year winners: Chef Sheldon Simeon of Top Chef acclaim and owner of the popular Tin Roof Maui restaurant, and Andaz Maui Executive Chef Isaac Bancaco. Each experts in their own way, the “Hāna Boys” (as they were affectionately referred to) and the chefs learned from each other, were inspired by the others’ crafts, and simply celebrated one another’s company.

Chef Isaac Bancaco cuts the fresh-caught fish into sashimi slices.
Chef Isaac Bancaco cuts the fresh-caught fish into sashimi slices.

By Friday evening, an intimate and eclectic group had already assembled on the sprawling grounds of Ala Kukui. At one end of the property, someone was transforming fresh kalo into poi, each strike of the pōhaku (stone) onto the wooden papa (board) creating a familiar cadence that can only mean we’re about to eat goooood. Kids of all shades and sizes weaved through the crowds, their laughter adding to the evening’s soundtrack. An assembly line formed behind the grill, pumping out drizzled seared ʻahi bites so delicious that I heard at least a few folks begging for the secret sauce recipe. The once-bare table at the center of the room was a food magnet. Every few minutes, it seemed, a new dish would squeeze into the spread.

Versions of this scene replayed with each meal. The Lind family provided the ingredients—fresh lobster and fish, wild boar from the mountains, morsels of prized ʻopihi, to name a few. Produce was gathered from the Ala Kukui grounds and nearby Mahale Farm. Guests added their own edible gifts to the abundance.

Members of the Lind family prepare the fish.
Members of the Lind family use ʻopihi shells and other tools to clean the fish.

With no real itinerary and no set menu, the weekend unfolded ever so gently. Impromptu dishes were inspired by what was available, the day’s activities blended into the next, and while guests scattered throughout the day, everyone faithfully appeared just in time for each meal.

According to Kauʻi more Hāna Kū collaborations are in the works. I think Chef Sheldon said it best in the video below when he cheered, “Hana hou!”—Hawaiian for “Do it again!” Yes, another helping of Hāna Kū, please. 


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