The annual Made in Hawaii Festival 2014 is coming up this weekend in Honolulu, so I thought it would be the perfect time to transfer over this post from my food blog and give you a virtual experience through the visit I made last year. I have updated the information whenever relevant. I hope you like chocolate! Here goes…
In the end, I decided that parking at Ala Moana Shopping Center and taking an EcoCab to the Blaisdell and back would be the smart way to do it. The Made in Hawaii Festival is so popular that traffic and parking at and around the Blaisdell Center is a logistical nightmare, even if you get there on the first day before it opens. For all my good intentions that morning, I was running late, so I had to get creative, and fast.
I purchased my ticket (which I should have done on-line), stepped up to the entrance door, took a deep breath and… the only way I can express this is “I merged with the flow”, which gives a whole new meaning to going with the flow, or following the current, or riding the wave. Yes, there were lots, and lots, and lots, and lots, and lots of people and then some more. Besides my foldable rolling cooler, a brilliant idea, I had arrived loaded with patience, heaps of it, and I ended up needing every tiny bit of it as I crawled my way up and down each single alley trying to get a glimpse of everything. Mostly. though, I was keeping a lookout for edible goodies. I found quite a few, but did not find all the ones I was looking for that I knew were there. I have a feeling I must have missed a piece.
The busiest area was where the Girls Who Bake stand was, along with a couple more food vendors. It was literally unapproachable, as was the booth selling fried ice cream. Hawai’i people loooove their food!
Still, I came home with said rolling cooler filled to the brim with the goodies you see in the image above, plus some Mochi filled with Lilikoi Cheesecake and Haupia which I shared with a friend and, between the two of us, was gone before you could say “have a bite”.
The rest was photographed, samples were tested and swooned over by moi, and then shipped out to eager friends around the world, most of it anyway. I did keep one small box of chocolates, and I am slowly savoring my way through it.
One of the vendors I had gone to find was Sweet Paradise Chocolatier (images above and at top of article). I have been following them on Facebook for a while, waiting to get myself to Maui and explore their shop, so I just had to find them. When I got there, an unexpected problem arose: what to buy. I wanted to buy everything. Can you blame me? Look at these little gems of chocolate art! They are not just beautiful to look at either, but also oh-so-good! The list of flavors makes you drool just reading it, names like Lilikoi Silk, Strawberry Guava, Mango Mojito, Coconut Créme Brûlée, Banana Rum Truffle, Macadamia Nut, Vanilla Bean… and the list goes on and on.
Hand crafted on Maui, these chocolates are truly little bites of heaven, or should I say Paradise. And let’s not forget their Chocolate Dipped Dried Tropical Fruits, Chocolate Covered Kona Coffee Beans and Macadamia Nuts, among many other items. Kudos to you and your artistry, Melanie Boudar, and all your team!
Just so you know, Sweet Paradise Chocolatier ships just about anywhere. Or maybe you should simply come to Maui and pick some up at the shop. It’s a good enough excuse, don’t you think?
I am really loving how chocolate is becoming such a strong and high quality product here in Hawai’i. Very often it is also produced locally all the way from tree to bar, like in the case of the passionate artists at Madre Chocolate, such David Elliott and Nat Bletter, who keep winning awards left and right with their amazing artisanal chocolate.
Nat and Dave are true cacao and chocolate experts, with a deep well of knowledge on the subject and incredible experience. They produce their bars in small batches, using mostly cacao grown right here in Hawai’i, and infusing them with local flavors. You can find out more about their story and the bean-to-bar process by clicking here.
If your interest in chocolate runs deep, you can also check out the various classes and events they host regularly throughout the year. You can find all of that right on their website.
One more chocolate find before moving on to other foods: Kokolani Chocolates. Maitré Chocolatier Virginia Anne Douglas produces hand crafted artisan chocolates and confections in small batches right here on O’ahu. The only ones she had for sale at the Festival were those lovely dark chocolate bites you see in the image above, but I am looking forward to tasting a wider variety when she opens her shop.
Incredibly, the box they came in was unbranded and the card carries no website information, so I cannot just insert a link to them like I usually do. Here is the information I have for this chocolatier:
KOKOLANI CHOCOLATES l 324 Ku’ulei Rd. – Kailua, Hi 96734 l 808-781.6353
Let us now put some salt on all that chocolate, and isn’t that a great combination?! I had caught sight of two or three other sea salt vendors, but this one was the one I managed to approach. I am so glad I did, as their sea salts are not just excellent, but beautifully packaged as well. Sea Salts of Hawaii, owned by the lovely (inside and out) Sandra Gibson, is right here in Honolulu and feature a line of gourmet Hawaiian cooking sea salts and flavored blends that I am really enjoying. I also like that they are simply, but beautifully packaged in practical tins with a lid instead of the usual zippered plastic pouches.
You can find Sea Salts of Hawaii in several retail locations on the islands, including the gift shop at ‘Iolani Palace, but you can also purchase directly through their website, as they ship everywhere. Sea Salts of Hawaii donates 1% of all their proceeds to the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation 501. Click here to find out more about this.
One more wonderful find at the Festival were the preserves by Anthony Labua-Keiser and Maleta Van Loan of the award-winning Maui Preserved. True to their name, this company is based in Haiku, on the island of Maui and, as their website says: “Maui Preserved is dedicated to handcrafting the produce of the Hawaiian Islands into flavors both traditional and extraordinary.” Basically a farm-to-pantry deal. Sounds good to me!
I spent a few minutes talking with the enthusiastic and talented Anthony, then proceeded to make my choice. Now I wish I had purchased more, but by then my rolling cooler was filled to the brim. So I chose the items you see in the image below: Sweet & Spicy Maui Pineapple (OMG, is that good!), Pickled Pohole Fern (wonderful in sandwiches), and a tub of Maui Vanilla Powder, which is actual vanilla bean seeds pre-scraped out from the pods.
These Maui grown and handcrafted preserves are available at several locations around the islands, as well as in a few New York City specialty stores. They can also be purchased directly from the producers through their website, as they do ship.
Last but surely not least, a classic of Hawai’i nature’s yield: the versatile and addictive macadamia nuts. The ones I picked up that day are by the well known Ahualoa Farms, located on the Hamakua Coast of the Big Island where, besides mac nuts, they produce coffee and specialty foods. Their products can be found at several retail locations and farmers’ markets around the islands, as well as purchased directly from their website shop.
I chose a selection of flavors in their gift pack size as I was planning to ship some to a couple of foodie friends: Chili Spiced, Sea Salt, Pineapple Coconut and the always irresistible Lilikoi (Passion Fruit) were the flavors I picked. Other flavors available are Kahlua Coffee, Cinnamon, Mango, Coconut Curry, Vanilla Glazed, and the classic Dry Roast.
The only major Hawai’i food product that I did not pick up at the Festival is coffee. I could say that it was because the place was incredibly crowded, making it really difficult to reach any vendor and interact, and that would be true enough. However, to be honest, I just plain forgot. I don’t brew coffee at home, and, very Italian of me, my coffee drinking only happens at coffee shop that feature espresso and espresso drinks. I suppose this non-active consumption of coffee on my part is what made me keep walking past the stands. It was unconsciously done.
I felt I should mention this because coffee is indeed one of Hawai’i’s high quality and most pleasurable drinkables. Which reminds me: don’t forget the Kona Coffee Cultural Festival is happening in and around Kona on the Big Island from Friday, November 7 through Sunday, November 16 2014. It is another perfect excuse for a trip to Paradise!
Time to close this post. I have two super cute puppies at my feet doing their best to let me know that it’s dinner time, just in case I forgot. They tap me on my leg and, when I turn to look, they suck in their cheeks to look starved and lick their snouts. Honestly, I think they attend your-human-is-a-sucker-for-a-cute-face classes before they are born. I am really well trained.
I hope you have enjoyed this virtual and sans-crowd mini visit to the Made in Hawaii Festival, and that you might be enticed to brave the crowds this coming weekend, or maybe get hold of some of the goodies directly from the producers. I wish I had found the other vendors I was looking for. If you are interested, you can click here to view a full list of this year’s (2014) vendors.
I will not be attending the Festival this year, so I won’t be making a report. If you are interested, you can follow Edible Hawaiian Islands on Instagram at @ediblehi with hashtag #MadeInHawaii for 2014.