We are gathered for the inaugural Tasting Kauai Culinary Tour. A day-long culinary romp through paradise where we’ll be sampling Kauai’s best, from farm to fork. The day is packed with an authentic taste of Kauai and includes a tour of Ein Rogel Farm, lunch at the Kauai Marriott Resort, and cocktails with rum from the Koloa Rum Company, made by mixologist Dave Power.
Under a covered awning in the wet morning air, we gaze at a large display of freshly cut tropical fruit. “I always tell people to have a light breakfast because when you come on the tour, you’ll be eating a lot!” says Jesse Schwartz, the guide for Ein Rogel Farm.
The 26-acre sustainable exotic fruit farm is nestled in the Kahuna Valley. There are 80 varieties of tropical fruit on the estate and the five-million-year-old Makaleha Mountain range provides the trees with pristine spring water. Twenty-four of us listen to Jesse, our mouths watering in anticipation.
Andree Lecocq, owner of the farm, passes around dixie cups that look like they have water in them. “Coconut water is full of electrolytes,” Jesse says as we all take a sip of the sweet liquid. “It’s nature’s Gatorade!”
As Andree refills our cups, Jesse passes around a tray of miracle berries. We pop one into our mouths and are instructed to slightly mash it with our teeth, and then slowly suck. Our cups are now filled with coconut water and a squirt of lime juice. One sip and we don’t taste the lime’s tart edge. “Miracle berries make everything that tastes sour or bitter, sweet,” says Jesse with a grin.
We sample guava, white pineapple, golden pineapple, coffee berries, cacao nibs, apple bananas, red Cuban bananas, oranges, mangosteen, mamey sapote, grapefruit, pomelo, sugarcane, papaya, passion fruit, and soursop. Everything was harvested from the farm last night, even racks of honeycomb that Andree cuts into 1-inch cubes. I’ve never had fresh honeycomb before. I pop one into my mouth and savor the sweet tropical honey that squirts from the chewy beeswax. “Just spit the beeswax on the ground when your done,” she instructs us.
After snacking on the succulent fruit and honey, we walk through the farm. Luckily, most of us have umbrellas. Tropical storm Daniel is making his way through, but after a short shower the rest of the day is dry and sunny. The one thing we didn’t bring is bug juice, and after the rain, the mosquitoes come out. We buy jars of honey from the farm, and hop in our cars to make the short drive to Guy Higa’s home.
As the executive chef for the Kauai Marriott Resort at Kalapaki Bay, chef Higa grows his own produce and uses it at the resort. “Kauai gets most of its produce from the mainland,” he tells us. We are assembled around his garden which consumes his entire front yard.
“It takes a long time for produce to get here, yea?” he continues. He’s a local boy with an easy smile that lights up his eyes. “I got tired of getting wilted herbs, fruit and vegetables, so I decided to grow my own for the restaurants.”
We are only there for a half hour, checking out the tomatoes, eggplant, avocado and herbs growing in his front yard. In the back, chickens happily roost in a pen, and watercress grows along a small irrigation ditch. Fiddlehead fern shoots (known as pahole in Hawaiian) have been harvested for our lunch, but a few curly stalks unfurl in the dappled shade. A giant passion fruit vine wraps itself along 40-feet of fencing, and is leaden with purple, tennis ball sized fruit. Guy’s easy-going style charms us all, and we pepper him with questions.
At the impeccably landscaped Kauai Marriott Resort, Guy stands behind a table and gets cooking. We are sitting outside, in Puna Court. Palm trees sway as two assistants help things move at a relaxed but efficient pace. A beautiful server makes sure all of us receive a plate. Kauai Fresh Farms has a table with a display of their produce, and flyers for their farm tour.
Guy walks us through the steps as he makes our first course: Kauai Fresh Farms Grilled Eggplant and Lettuce Salad with Chef’s Garden Herbs and Kauai Honey Vinaigrette. The eggplant is succulent and flavorful, the salad is crisp and juicy with thin slivers of cucumbers and radish. The vinaigrette ties it all together beautifully.
Our plates are cleared, and Guy begins making our second course: Wild Wailua Fern Shoots, Kauai Fresh Farms Tomatoes and Pulehu Kauai Grown Shrimp. Pulehu is the Hawaiian word for “broil over a fire”. The Kauai Shrimp are butterflied and Guy puts them briefly on the grill. They are smokey, tender, and sweet, as only Kauai Shrimp can be. He shows us how to cook the fiddlehead fern, which are slightly crunchy, and as my husband Dan says, “Super tasty.”
My favorite dish by far, that had me exclaim from the back, “If I had to pick a last supper, this would be it!” is the Kaneshiro Farms Roast Pork with Okinawan Yaki Soba Noodles. Guy picks up a rack of crispy pork belly, and as he sets it on the table, we hear a dull thud. This hunk of rendered bacon is paper-thin and crispy. In a large wok, he tosses the noodles in a savory sauce, adds succulent roasted pork, green beans, and Big Island mushrooms, before garnishing the dish with scallions and thin strips of the crispy pork fat.
For dessert, we indulge in Lilikoi Cream Brulee that was made from the passion fruit grown in chef Higa’s garden. He shows us what to use to get a perfectly caramelized top, and then torches each one. Snapping through the burnt sugar crust, we find a sunset-yellow custard that tastes like paradise.
Since The Feral Pig is close by, we all decide to walk through the Marriott, and along the beach. We weren’t overly stuffed, but we want to burn some of it off.
Dave Power, owner of The Feral Pig, sectioned off the back of his neighborhood pub for us. While it’s not as luxurious as the Marriott, the comfortable feel is welcome. Jeanne Toulon explains how the Koloa Rum Co. makes their small-batch spirits using sugar from cane grown on Kauai. Each place setting has a colorful tri fold card with 12 recipes from Kauai bartenders.
Dan and I pass out recipes for Corn ‘n Oil and Old Cuban, the drinks Dave will be making. A few in our group decide they only want one drink, but a young couple from California are happy to imbibe.
Lynn Kenton from Ventura, CA, gave us our first review on Yelp. She says in an email, “Really enjoyed the day!!! Got to learn about some of the local crops, products, etc. and enjoy the fruits of their labors as well. I thought my husband would balk at the price but he said it was worth every dollar and would do it again on our next visit.”
“We were lucky enough to be on the inaugural tour for Tasting Kauai and it was a truly memorable experience,” writes Cathy Weselby of San Jose, CA, in her Yelp review. “We both really enjoyed the tour of the farm with all of the tastings of the various tropical fruit. And Chef Guy Higa was so gracious to allow us to tour his private garden as well. The lunch that he cooked for us at the Marriott–well I’m still thinking about the noodles with the roast pork that he made! To die for! He also served a salad with greens from his persona; garden and he topped off the lunch with a lovely passion fruit creme brulee. We had a great time and highly recommend this tour.”
A few days later, Adrienne Abbott from Stockton, CA, wrote, “We thoroughly enjoyed our tour, it was very interesting and great fun. The lunch was fantastic and the rum cocktails were great too! My friend and I both thought it was a great day and money well spent.”
We are thrilled that everyone had such a delightful time, and that we can share some of Kauai’s exceptional farmers, chefs, and mixologists. The tour was such a success, we decided to do another one. Our next culinary romp through paradise is Friday, August 24. Hope to see you there!