PHOTOS BY NADINE KAM / email@example.com
We are so far-removed from the source of our food that seeing a living Pacific white shrimp was a thrill to those on The Royal Hawaiian Hotel's Fanta-Sea Table farm tour to Kualoa Ranch's Moli'i Fishpond. A few wanted to hold them in the air to get a good look at them.
The introduction of oysters to Kualoa Ranch's Moli'i Fishpond started in 2008 as an experiment in controlling the excessive growth of invasive algae to create a healthier environment for its food fish. They had already tried adding more herbivore fish, but these were too easily cannibalized by the pond's carnivorous barracuda, ulua and toau.
The oysters not only did their job, they flourished and presented the opportunity to become another sustainable source of food for our isolated islands. The ranch was cerfified to sell shellfish two-and-a-half years ago, and today, visitors to the property can buy Miyagis or Kumamotos on site, or if we're lucky, we can spot them on the menus of Oahu's farm-to-table restaurants.
During Part II of The Royal Hawaiian Hotel's "Fanta-Sea Table" event initiated by executive chef Colin Hazama, that took place Aug. 21, participants who a night earlier had enjoyed feasting on the oysters and other products from Kualoa Ranch and its fishponds, took a bus ride to the country to visit the source of the sumptuous meal prepared by Hazama at Azure restaurant, with the help of Azure sous chef Colin Sato.
Pacific white shrimp fished out of Kualoa Ranch's shrimp ponds.
Oysters are removed from their cages and given a "spa day," where their shells are cleaned of algae and barnacles to keep them attractive for market.
Fishpond ki 'ai (guardians) Kui'ipo McCarty and Ikaika Velez took us out on the 153-acre fishpond to visit the oyster cages, placed on the water's surface, where they do nothing but get fat quickly feeding on algae drawn to the surface by sunlight. The ranch doesn't interfere with this natural balance—in place for 800 to 1,000 years according to carbon dating—putting no other food or additives into the water.
Due to the plentiful algae, the oysters grow to market size for dining on the half shell in about nine months, whereas this would take a year to two in Washington and Oregon, which still supply most of the oysters we eat in our restaurants. The flavor of the Kualoa oysters is mild and clean, due to the ranch's process of letting the oysters fast in nutrient-free water and poop days before going to market. Velez said that prior to using this state-mandated practice, the oysters had a more fishy flavor reflecting the pond environment.
Ikaika Velez shows oyster cages that are tied to posts in the fishpond, allowing the oysters to feed and grow in the natural environment. The tumbling action of gentle waves helps smooth the oyster shells so they don't have the sharp, jagged edges of bottom growers.
It was amazing to see the work being done, and learn about the interrelationships between all the flora and fauna that comprise the pond ecosystem. As a fisherman and outdoorsman, Hazama has been a longtime proponent of maintaining the balance between man and nature, and events such as this are a reminder that all of our actions have an impact on the planet.
Over the two days, I learned more about the invasive species we consider trash fish, a self-fulfilling prophecy in which we refuse to eat them just because we are told they are rubbish fish and assume they taste bad or are somehow unclean. Toau is one of them, but the blacktail snapper from Tahiti is as moist and delicious as any snapper, and they are plentiful in the fishpond, where they wreak havoc on native populations. We could keep them in check by eating them, but there is no demand because most people paying restaurant dollars will opt for the familiar rather than take a chance on the unknown. Events like this raise awareness and lead us to commercial realities, like the fish being cast as rubbish by commercial fishermen who can't make money off of catching them.
Following the boat ride on the fishpond and tour of the shrimp facilities, we sat down for another wonderful lunch by the two Colins, this time with a "Down by the Kualoa Bayou" theme inspired by Louisiana cuisine. Here's a look at the day:
Fanta-Sea Table creator chef Colin Hazama, right, with, from left, his chef collaborator Colin Sato, 6th generation Kualoa Ranch co-owner David Morgan and Ku‘uipo McCarty, who runs the seafood program on the ranch.
A view of the fishpond, where fry enter from the ocean through sluice gates, get fat on algae, and are unable to escape back to the ocean.
The next Fanta-Sea Table events will take place Oct. 21 and 22; and Dec. 16 and 17. Following the weekend's dinner, people were signing up on the spot for the Oct. 21 dinner featuring Kahuku sea asparagus and Kona Cold lobsters. Hazama will team with chef Nathan Tasato to present a meal at Azure restaurant featuring chilled Kona mussels and clam brushchetta, Hawaii kampachi carpaccio, white bouillabaisse with tea-smoked Kualoa shrimp and Kona Cold shellfish, fricasee of Kona Cold lobster, Moroccan-spiced Niihau lamb loin and Kona Abalone brulée, and dessert of a local citrus bar.
The next-day excursion will be to Kahuku Sea Asparagus, followed by lunch. The cost is $150 or dinner; $180 with wine pairing; $250 for dinner (no wine) and farm tour; and $280 for dinner with wine pairing and tour.
For reservations for the next event, call the Starwood Waikiki Dining Desk at (808) 921-4600.
After hours in the sun on a boat and touring the shrimp ponds, we were happy to enjoy refreshments including this Kula strawberry and lavender lemonade. Those so inclined could add a splash of Pau Maui vodka.
Before lunch, Azure sous chef Colin Sato presented a demonstration on how to make a Kualoa shrimp salad with Ho Farms smoked tomato medley, charred Ewa sweet corn, and Wailea heart of palm remoulade.
Hazama also presented a demonstration on how to shuck an oyster. He's able to shuck 150 in 25 minutes. Don't try to break his record, at risk of injuring yourself.
Being on the water inspired the chefs to take their cue from Louisiana bayou fare, so one of the lunch dishes we enjoyed was Kualoa Ranch oyster po' boys with 'Nalo Farms herbs, yuzu kosho mustard aioli, and Maui onion fennel.
Sato also created an outstanding Jidori chicken gumbo with Ho Farms okra, housemade Portuguese sausage, grilled shishito peppers and optional crispy chicken cracklings.
Hazama's Forbidden Dirty Rice with blackened spice, lup cheong and Mari's Garden Tokyo Negi.
Jasmine rice dusted fried green tomatoes with charred Maui onion ranch and crispy pipikaula.
Nadine Kam is Style Editor and staff restaurant critic at the Honolulu Star-Advertiser; her food coverage in print in Wednesday's Crave section. Contact her via email at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter, Instagram and Rebel Mouse.