By Nadine Kam
Nadine Kam photos
Plastic bibs awaited guests at the Rotary Club of Ala Moana's annual Crab Fest.
When West Coast-style crab mania hit Honolulu last summer, in the course of reviewing the restaurants, I mentioned that I missed the East Coast style crab feasts. One reader picked up on that and promised to invite me to the Rotary Club of Ala Moana's annual Crab Fest fund-raiser.
At the time, the event was about nine months away, but she made good on her promise April 6, when the 6th annual event took place at the Kapiolani Community College Ohia Cafeteria. To date, the annual event has raised nearly $35,000 for scholarships granted to 65 students attending the KCC Culinary Institute of the Pacific.
KCC students put their skills to work in feeding the 300 to 400 guests all-you-can-eat Dungeness crab feast (no take homes except for the Rotary Club members who were working the event and didn't have time to eat on the spot), complete with seafood chowder, potatoes, sliced sausages and boiled corn, plus local appetizer extras of fried chicken wings, lumpia, soybeans and potato chips.
Early on, I was warned not to fill up on appetizers and save my appetite for the crab. Couldn't resist the soybeans and homemade chips, though.
The formal part of the dinner began with students serving tossed salad, in a two-tiered system that had sponsor tables dining off china, and the rest of us dining off paper and plastic. But the extra ambience didn't matter when it came down to digging hands on into the crab. Although the students kept coming around to check whether we wanted more crab, for most, a single Dungeness was sufficient.
Mallets were provided, but were unnecessary, except for those who needed to unleash some pent up rage.
What I really missed was the Old Bay seasoning common in the Southeast, and was told that although the seasoning was originally used, diners complained because they wanted their crab plain. It's a taste I acquired while living briefly in D.C., and while the combination of mustard, paprika, celery salt, bay leaf, pepper, crushed red pepper flakes, mace, cloves, allspice, nutmeg, cardamom and ginger may be too strong for many, I really miss it. In the Chesapeake Bay area, you could find it on popcorn, salads, eggs, fried chicken, french fries, corn on the cob, boiled peanuts and potato chips. Sort of the condiment equivalent of Sriracha, slivered nori or wasabi here.
The club dates back to 1972, founded by Maurice "Sully" Sullivan, who was also the co-founder of Foodland in 1948, and continues to meet from noon to 1 p.m. Thursdays at the Ala Moana Hotel. In addition to assisting local students of all ages by contributing books and supplies to needy children, the club gets involved in international goodwill projects, such as donating kitchen facilities for the poor in Cambodia, medical equipment and supplies to East Timor, Cambodia, Vietnam and the Philippines, setting up micro banks in Malawi Africa, a van to transport orphans to school in Thailand, provide potable wanter to villages in Indonesia and Kenya.
One crab was filling for most of the event goers.
Before heading into the dining room, guests were funneled through a silent auction room that included several bottles of wines and housewares. The top prize was a Las Vegas charter package for two from Vacations Hawaii.
Spiced garlic soybeans were one of the appetizer attraction.
Corporate tables were served plated salads, while the rest of us dined out of takeout containers.
One of the student volunteers delivered chowder to guests.
Crab fest necessities.
Häagen Dazs ice cream for dessert.