Hawaii’s Culinary Scene

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Chef Colin Hazama cooking at Starwood Hawaii’s "Table to Farm" dinner series. (Photo credit: Starwood Hotels & Resorts Hawaii.)
Chef Colin Hazama cooking at Starwood Hawaii’s “Table to Farm” dinner series. (Photo credit: Starwood Hotels & Resorts Hawaii.)

Recommend’s Editor-in-Chief had a chance to check in with Karen Hughes, v.p., Meet Hawaii and travel industry partnerships, Hawaii Visitors & Convention Bureau, to talk about how Hawaii’s hotels are upping the ante when it comes to their culinary offerings.

Paloma Villaverde de Rico (PV): What are hotels doing to up the ante in terms of their culinary offerings—new menus, cooking classes, etc.—and how can travel agents use this to sell Hawaii?
Karen Hughes (KH): Hawaii has so much for agents to offer their clients, from breathtaking natural beauty to world-class cuisine and luxury hotels. With a consistent satisfaction rating of 98 percent or higher, they can also rely on clients thanking them for recommending Hawaii, a rich source of repeat and referral business.

Cuisine is just one factor that makes the Hawaiian Islands a world-class travel destination. Agents can demonstrate their expertise by recommending great dining and culinary experiences to their clients. With different culinary experiences and events on each island.

Great dining experiences are at the forefront of any successful vacation. Hotels in the Hawaiian Islands are doing a fabulous job serving thoughtful, locally sourced meals, and it’s nice to see chefs collaborating on pop-up dinners and special events. The combination of amazing meals, unbeatable settings, and fun social events are helping draw locals to these hotels.

For example, Andaz Maui at Wailea organizes Chef Bloc Maui collaboration dinners at Kaana Kitchen, where executive chef Isaac Bancaco teams up with another Maui chef to come up with an inspired locavore menu for 12 diners. The diners can interact with the chefs and culinary team, plus help plate the dishes if they’d like to. Intimate experiences like these are really memorable and help clients earn that “merit badge”—doing something that locals do, that not every visitor gets to experience.

Starwood Hotels & Resorts Hawaii goes a step further with its Table to Farm dinner series, which gets clients out to experience the destination. First, they have an exquisitely prepared meal at the hotel. The following day, the same diners join chef Colin Hazama on an excursion to the farm that their food came from. It’s a great way to meet Hawaii’s local farmers, sample fresh produce, and see some of the most beautiful landscapes in the state—that aren’t in guidebooks.

There’s an authentic sense of excitement for these special dining experiences, not just for visitors but for locals as well. Agents will want to find these types of dining events and programs and recommend them to their clients.

Another thing for agents to consider is building an itinerary around one of Hawaii’s food-related festivals. Hawaii Food & Wine Festival, Kona Coffee Cultural Festival, Taste of the Hawaiian Range, Kau Coffee Festival, Kapalua Wine & Food Festival, Maui AgFest, Kaanapali Fresh, and Joy of Sake are a few. The calendar on gohawaii.com is a great resource for festivals and event listings.

PV: Do you believe the Hawaii culinary scene is one of the factors that drives today’s visitors to Hawaii?
KH: Absolutely. Today’s visitors are seeking authentic experiences, and one of the best ways for them to learn about Hawaii’s culture, landscape and people is through our cuisine. Food is, after all, the universal language.

Hawaii has long been known for plate lunches, spam, and Mai Tais, but we offer so much more than that.

Honolulu is a foodie city that competes with the best in the U.S. Several chefs and/or restaurants are nominated for the James Beard Foundation Awards this year, including Town, The Pig & The Lady, and MW Restaurant.

Whether it’s finding something new or going with the tried-and-true, there is something for everyone in Hawaii when it comes to cuisine. On top of that, farm tours across all islands really give visitors a new perspective on Hawaii’s diverse culinary scene. Some of the newer experiences are wagon rides and zipline tours at Kahuku Farms on Oahu, vodka and rum tastings at Ocean Vodka on Maui, and tours of Big Island Bees and Hamakua Mushrooms on Hawaii Island. Clients can pound their own taro with the Waipa Foundation on Kauai.

We encourage agents to visit HVCB’s travel agent portal at agents.gohawaii.com. The site was recently revamped with the busy travel professional in mind, and is designed to help agents plan and sell an inspired Hawaii vacation.