Tropica chefs advocate sustainability

By Simplicio Paragas

They may receive bushels of arugula one week; the following, they may get a delivery of rainbow carrots. Maui onions, of course, come in weekly, as do beets and watercress. In an effort to be sustainable, Tropica chefs Ikaika Manaku and Jennifer Evetushick have developed relationships with local Maui farmers, ranchers and fishermen whose efforts have allowed the two culinary artists to maintain a menu that is 80 percent local.

“It’s almost like a ‘Quickfire Challenge’ every week,” says Evetushick, in reference to a segment of the popular Bravo reality TV series “Top Chef.” “We never know what we’re going to get from the farmers.”

Across the state, island chefs have taken up their own form of green challenge, adopting the familiar mantra of “Buy Fresh. Buy Local.” Manaku and Evetushick take those four words seriously, incorporating such ingredients as Big Island tomatoes, Surfing Goat Dairy cheese, Ali‘i mushrooms and Kula lavender into their dishes whenever possible.

“My primary responsibility as a chef is to keep the integrity of the ingredients,” says Manaku, executive sous chef at the Westin Maui Resort & Spa. “Each ingredient should be able to stand on its own but when combined, each one should complement the other.”

One of the best examples of this approach can be found in the seared Hawaiian-chili-peppered ahi and crispy pork belly appetizer ($15). The pairing of the two may seem unusual and somewhat disconnected, and while each has its merit as a standalone pupu, a single bite of the two ingredients offers a harmonious balance between spicy and salty, and soft and crunchy. A little sweetness — not cloyingly sweet — is added to the flavor profile with the accompanying Maui onion jam and Yamasa caramel shoyu.

“When I first started in the kitchen as a high school senior, it was all about French techniques,” Manaku recalls. “You had to follow this and that step; it was very strict but I have to admit it was good training.”

Opakapaka ceviche

However, now that he has a little more experience under his toque, Manaku says he likes to break the rules and run with the food and see what happens. “We’re just building on our basic Hawaiian cuisine,” he says, offering his slices of seared Pohaku beef as an example. “It’s natural prime rib that’s served on a hot cooking stone and served with a ponzu sauce and Kula onion confit.” In other words, it’s taking the hibachi steak to a gourmet level.

With her admiration for local herbs, Evetushick says she’s going green with her opakapaka ceviche (market price), which is composed of mint, cilantro, chives, basil and a splash of lime juice, all garnished with lime zest. The acidity from the citrus heightens the sweet flavor of the snapper, while the remaining components offer a subtle background flavor that’s barely detectable.

To prove their commitment to the concept of sustainability, Manaku and the resort’s executive chef, Garret Fujieda, now offer a four-course “Ahupua‘a” menu, which pays homage to the surrounding ancient land division of Kā‘anapali, starting from the stream of the mountain headwaters and cascading to the coastal delta.

“Native Hawaiians were already practicing sustainability long before the term even existed,” Manaku says. “People living in an ahupua‘a could use whatever grew wild in that area and they could catch whatever was in the fishpond.”

The “Ahupua‘a” menu reflects the bounty and produce sourced from the nearby environs, featuring such elements as blue “opae” (clawed shrimp) served with Pohole Fern salad; Kula onion risotto accompanied by roasted Kapalua beets; Maui cattle striploin dusted with Kula grape tomato and served with Upcountry sweet potato croquette; and coconut ice cream garnished with Kula strawberries.

“We have a lot of sustainable choices,” Evetushick says. “It’s a matter of how much land the farmer has and how much can they supply us with any particular item. It’s always a ‘Quickfire Challenge’ around here.”  •IO

(Tropica, Westin Maui Resort & Spa, 2365 Kā‘anapali Parkway, 808-667-2525, www.westinmaui.com.)

Add your comment: