Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Chefs on stage at Kapalua festival

June 14th, 2016


Sautéed Kona lobster with wild mushroom brodetto was one of the dishes prepared by chef Michele Mazza at the Kapalua Wine & Food Festival June 11 at the Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua. This dish was paired with 2011 Il Fauno di Arcanum Super Tuscan.

Chefs and wine experts at the four-day, 35th annual Kapalua Wine & Food Festival that ended June 12, have a strong message for aspiring young chefs: less is more.

Chef Hugh Acheson, the Ottawa, Canada, born chef hailed as the James Beard Awards' 2012 Best Chef, Southeast, said during his June 12 cooking demo that much of the hubris in restaurants today is the result of the rise of molecular gastronomy that set thousands of young chefs on a mission to emulate culinary geniuses like Ferran Adría and Grant Achatz. The problem is, he said, that most of them will never get there because they don't even know how to cook the perfect roast chicken.

"You have to walk before you can run," he said.

Mazza gamely got up from his own meal to pose for photos after his demonstration.

A deconstructed seafood lasagna was another dish presented by Mazza.

A deconstructed seafood lasagna was another dish presented by Mazza. It was paired with 2013 Tenuta di Arceno Chianti Classico from Tuscany, Italy.

Panna cotta with blood orange granita was dessert, paired with an intense golden and raisony 2013 Tenuta di Castellaro, Malvasia delle Lipari, Italy.

To the audience of culinary geeks, he cautioned, "Be wary of chefs who want to cook for themselves. I want to cook for you. I want to make people happy, not threaten them with the idea that they may not get what I'm doing."

He added that he's noticed young chefs tend to cook on high heat. "I'm like, you guys don't need to do that. It has a dial."

Sharing his knowledge a day earlier, chef Michele Mazza of New York's Il Mulino and Trattoria Il Mulino, also said the biggest mistake home chefs make is to cook on high heat. He believes in roasting over low heat for a long time, and he prefers a wood-burning oven instead of an electric or gas range.

He, too, had a word for young chefs whose penchant is for excess. The tomato sauce for his lasagna was very simple, seasoned only with salt, basil and oregano. Mushrooms accompanying his lobster dish were seasoned only with rosemary and oregano.

He said use of specific herbs for particular dishes is what defines the dish. Echoing his sentiments, host Master Sommelier Michael Jordan said, "Wherever you go in the world, that is what the better chefs are doing."

Both chefs shared some tips for demystifying their craft to get people cooking again, and part of what they had to share included breaking down the process into simple math, such as the vinaigrette ratio of three parts oil to one part acid, and revealing a family secret, Mazza said the perfect pasta involves using six eggs plus six yolks for every pound of flour. "The rest is elbow grease."

When sautéing fish to achieve the perfect crisp, Acheson said most people, including his wife, have a tendency to be impatient and push food around in the pan. "Don't push it around, let it sit."

Acheson will be back in fall for the Hawai'i Food & Wine Festival.

Chef Hugh Acheson served up his new Southern cooking with a hefty dose of humor.

The first of his dishes was a simple grilled corn salad of tender romaine also with chilies, basil and lime.

His second dish was crispy kampachi topped with a field pea ragout and herb salad. The dish was apired with 2014 Heron Chardonnay.

Acheson's seafood stew with fennel-topped crouton, and farro. Paired with 2014 Heron Pinot Noir.

Dessert was an unusual pairing of pepper and strawberries served with vanilla bean ice cream and paired with 2012 Eroica Gold Riesling from Columbia Valley.

Fans lined up for an audience with the chef after his demonstration.

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 and follow her on Twitter, Instagram and Rebel Mouse.

Eating Dubai 4: Just like Vegas, dinner + dancing fountains

May 20th, 2016


The Dubai Fountains were among elements that reminded me of Las Vegas. I loved the regional music that accompanied the dancing waters. Those who dine at Dubai Mall's Wafi Gourmet or Karam Beirut have a ringside seat.

DUBAI, U.A.E. — Before leaving on a trip to unlikely destinations, there's always the question, "Why?"

"Why Dubai?"

Twelve years ago it was, "Why Portland (Ore.)?" It's pretty clear now it's a fantastic place to be, right?

The other question is, "What's Dubai like?"

I had to go to see for sure, but my stock answer at that time was, "It's the Las Vegas of the Middle East."

And so it was, minus the gambling.

Sited on the Eastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula, Dubai was initially a fishing village also sustained by a bounty of pearls. It wasn't until 1966 that oil was discovered there, and the wealth that came with that led to modernization.

With the last remaining oil deposits in the United Arab Emirates expected to run out in 2029, there's been a push for economic diversification beyond oil, and for Dubai that has meant a rapid boost in finance, real estate and tourism sectors so that today, only about 5 percent of its economy is based in oil.

It wasn't until a visit to the tallest building in the world, Dubai's Burj Khalifa, that it became visually obvious how new the desert city is. Construction on the building started in 2004, and pictures from the top levels in 2009, before it opened in 2010, showed mostly desert in the background. Most of the city sprung up in the last six years, and there are hundreds of cranes throughout the city as it is poised for more growth leading up to its hosting of the 2020 World Expo.

The view from the 125th floor of the Burj Khalifa shows Dubai's natural landscape. Below, development surrounding the tallest building in the world came up within the last 10 years, and where Honolulu might have 10 building cranes around town, there are hundreds here.

It took 10,000 workers six years to complete the 2,722 foot structure. To compare, the original twin towers of New York's World Trade Center stood 1,368 feet tall. In addition to freeways, they're building a 90-mile rail to Abu Dhabi.

Developments will include more man-made islands like the palm tree-shaped Palm Jumeirah, including retreats awaiting personalization by the wealthy. (Now there's an idea for Hawaii, if we could ever build anything on time, because most people would prefer to live off our shores.)

Dubai Mall is the largest in the world by area, covering 5,400,000 square feet, with 1,200 shops. In this part of the world, where a "mine is bigger than yours" mentality prevails, the mall may one day be eclipsed by another project in the works, The Mall of the World, envisioned as a fully air-conditioned city comprising more than 48 million square feet.

And, what really made it feel like Las Vegas was dining at Dubai Mall's Karam Beirut restaurant, where we could watch the Dubai Fountains, like those at the Bellagio, as well as people zip-lining over the fountains toward the mall from the Burj Khalifa's residential towers.

Here's a look at dinner:

At Karam Beirut, almonds were an amuse served on ice. It's supposed to moisten the skin, making them easy to peel. Why would anyone want to get rid of the extra fiber? I didn't get it, but because the peels became wet, soggy and chewy on ice, we had to peel them to get the crunch.

Lamb is the specialty at the Lebanese restaurant Karam Beirut. You can get any number of raw lamb dishes, plus lamb's liver for $39 dirhams (about $11 USD), lamb's brain ($32 dirham) or lamb's tongue ($32 dirham), which I found rather squishy. This is the basic, grilled lamb topped with cilantro-coated flatbread.

Hammour, a kind of grouper, is a favorite fish here because it's meaty, moist and is well suited to the barbecue grill. This was very yummy.

Desserts included ashta, a Lebanese clotted cream topped with honey and almonds, and below, halawet el jibn, a semolina pancake willed with clotted cream and sweet cheese.

db dessert

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 and follow her on Twitter, Instagram and Rebel Mouse.

Eating Dubai 3: To the markets, a trek to Abu Dhabi's food souks

May 17th, 2016


Giant prawns are among the fresh catch offered up at the Mina Fish Market at Mina Zayed Port in Abu Dhabi, where you can also get your seafood cooked up at adjoining kitchens on the spot.

ABU DHABI, U.A.E. — There comes a time on every trip when one must part from the gang, and a 90-mile day trip to Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, was that occasion.

Some wanted to go to Yas Mall and some wanted to head to Ferrari World to ride the world's fastest roller coaster, the Formula Rossa, which attains a speed of 152 miles in 5 seconds, approximating the speed of an F1 racer.

I wanted no part of that, so Melissa Chang and I headed instead for the various markets, starting with the Mina Fish Market at the Mina Zayed Port. It would be like getting dropped off a couple of piers away from Honolulu's Pier 39 and having to walk to Nico's. In the hot, isolated area, I asked the cab driver how we were going to get back to civilization. He said to wait for a taxi. I was like, "Really?" And shrugged, if you say so, taking his word at faith as I got out of the car.

It was a really hot day as we made our way across asphalt on foot after being dropped off by taxi to reach the Mina Fish Market and a nearby fruit and vegetable market. People had a hard time directing us from place to place because given the desert climate, apparently, nobody walks in Abu Dhabi.

Luckily, with all the seafood on ice, the fish market was the coolest place to be as we got a look at area favorites such as hammour, a grouper, and sheri, a spangled emperor or reef snapper.

If I were hungry and thinking straight, I would have bought something to have cooked up on the spot. I'm sure it would have been delicious.

The waters of the Persian Gulf are home to many species of crab. These crabs look like Maryland blue crabs.

Posters remind shoppers to make sustainable choices. Sound familiar? I like the names of their fish, like Sultan Ibrahim (thread fin bream) and Disco (another grouper).

Next, we walked over to a fruit market, but it was something of a bust because all the fruit they sold is imported. It is what they prize in the desert where an apple or orange is something of a miracle, but isn't what we wanted to see at all.

I was really thirsty that day, but they aren't so commercialized that they have cafe spaces or vendors selling fresh juices or smoothies. (I smell business opportunity!) So, the only thing I could drink was coconut water from an imported Thai coconut, which I have to say is not as good as our own.

In between the fish and produce souks, there were garden shops where people could pull up, park and pick up all manner of plants. But some of the lawn ornaments had us baffled.

They could use a better artist for their lawn deer.

At a vegetable souk, this gentleman from Kerala, India, was happy to be photographed with his produce.

I had a little bit of a gross-out moment when I wanted to eat the coconut and had the vendor hack it open, which he did with a machete on his open palm! That was crazy. But then, he proceeded to scoop out the meat with said machete, which I don't how was used before or how long was left sitting attracting flies.

Even though I was sick and my immune system was weak, I didn't want it to go to waste so I ate it. Of course I couldn't eat the whole thing on the spot, so I asked for a bag. Then, he proceeded to pick up a piece of the cut meat with his fingers and drop it into the bag! I was like, "No, whole shell." That later turned out to be my lunch, but I threw out the meat that was touched.

Across the way, there was a row of date vendors, all inviting us to taste. I didn't have much of an appetite and could see how these sugar-, fiber-, vitamin-, calorie- and carb-rich fruits could sustain desert tribes over long periods. If I were healthier I would have compared the dozens of varieties offered to find the best.

Just as one of the vendors handed a date to me with his fingers, I remembered the news that 30 percent of American men don't wash their hands after using the restroom, and thought that figure must be much lower in this part of the world. Again, I was grossed out but ate it anyway to avoid appearing rude.

Overall, these markets are more for locals than tourists because access is difficult. When we reached the end of the line and actually had to get back, another westerner in a cab pulled up and I said, "Thank you for coming!" I was so grateful.

So far, I've been lucky. In all my recent international travels to Indonesia, Thailand, Korea, China and Japan, I haven't been sickened by the food, not even street food in a dusty environment. (In Shanghai I was slightly sickened by the water from brushing my teeth because I forgot there's a reason every hotel offers bottled water.) My body actually has a harder time adjusting to coming back to hormone-pumped meats and other processed aspects of the American diet.

A building behind the fresh produce market featured about a dozen date vendors.

Accepting a date from a stranger. Shoppers are welcome to taste before they buy.

Dozens of varieties of dates.

If I were feeling better, I could have told you the difference between these dates, but I couldn't eat much.

Nadine Kam is Style Editor and staff restaurant critic at the Honolulu Star-Advertiser; her food coverage is in print in Wednesday's Crave section. Contact her via email at and follow her on Twitter, Instagram and Rebel Mouse.

Eating Dubai part 2: Call me nomad, dining like the Bedouin

May 16th, 2016


There's a reason I stayed covered up in the desert. The fine sand gets everywhere.

As a wayward Sagittarian, I often leap before I look, and in signing up for a desert safari in Dubai, I didn't quite know what I was getting into, as in, "How we gonna get there?"

I knew we were in trouble when our driver picked us up in a Toyota Land Cruiser fitted with roll bars, and I noticed that all of the overhead grips (the ones that help passengers lift themselves into tall vehicles) in the cruiser were broken, except the driver's. I guessed that the damage came via previous passengers holding on for dear life.

It was all going fine as long as we were on asphalt, and not knowing the desert terrain, I just assumed it might be a bumpy ride. Pretty soon we came to the end of the paved road, and what ensued was a sport called dune bashing, off-roading on sand dunes that involved drifting, sliding down and surfing the slopes in our oversized vehicles as we screamed our way through the desert. Pictures and video don't do the natural roller coaster experience justice.

Camels are quite goofy looking. A bunch of them were roaming the Lahbab desert.

Camels are quite goofy looking. A bunch of them were roaming the Lahbab desert, and for some reason, my travel companions thought we were going to eat camel for dinner.

There was order to the huge caravan of Land Cruisers because everyone had to be going in the same direction. What we didn't want was someone coming in from the opposite direction, rising to top of the same blind peaks, with the potential for a head-on collisions. Check out the video walkthrough on this dune-bashing game link for an idea of what it feels like: Obviously I could not shoot my own video or photos because I was hanging on for dear life.

Check out our experience here:

I checked out other YouTube videos and note that the screams are the same in any language:



Depending on which company you choose, the cost of the desert safari ranges from about $40 USD for the dune-bashing experience, to about $54 for the ride plus dinner.

I felt so much better when the ride was over and we could relax on the Persian rugs that lined the ground of a Bedouin-style camp, with low tables for dining.

The English word "Bedouin" is the derived from the Arabic words "bedu," referring to those who live in the open desert, and "Badawiyin," a generic name for a desert dweller.

Although the Bedouin population—from the Sinai Peninsula of Egypt to the Sahara Desert of North Africa—numbers about 4 million today, only about 5 percent of Bedouins still live as nomads in all of the Middle East because it is becoming increasingly dangerous to do so.

In that moment, it was so beautiful being under the open sky, that I could easily see the attraction to the desert lifestyle. I would have loved to spend the night there. Throughout Dubai, I could see a fascination with the night sky in the architecture and murals. Even on our Emirates flight, there was enough empty seats on the way over so that I could lie down and stretch out, and looking up, the ceiling was full of tiny twinkling lights, like the night sky.


The Dubai desert safari is their equivalent to our luau. Once we got to our destination, there were camel rides and we could take a photo with this baby falcon, Rayna. I already loved raptors, but now I really wish I could have a falcon. This bird was so sweet and much heavier than she looks.

Sun setting over desert sand.

It was easy to see the attraction to the Bedouin lifestyle at night, while dining at low tables, being entertained by dancers and relaxing on comfortable cushions.

A buffet dinner was set up in tents, and options included plenty of salads and grilled meats.

For some reason, my traveling companions were convinced that camel would be on the menu that night. Nope, we were just eating the traditional Middle Eastern combo of beef, chicken and lamb.

In a normal time, I would have been game to taste camel, but I was sick before I left Hawaii and was sick the entire trip. I was alarmed when a sign before boarding the flight to Dubai warned of MERS, or Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome that was killing people, because my immune system was already weak.

It was only after returning from the desert—and being exposed to camels—that I looked up the risk factors for MERS, and they include exposure to camels and eating camel meat!

More than 90 percent of dromedary camels tested positive for MERS antibodies, suggesting that MERS or a related virus had infected dromedary camels. Other animals tested, water buffalo, pigs, cows, sheep and goats, did not have the antibodies.

Which meant a visit to Local House restaurant in the Al Bastakiya region, was also out of the question. It's the only restaurant in Dubai that serves camel burgers.

And that meant camel milk chocolate as omiyage was also out of the question. I wouldn't give my friends something I wouldn't eat.

Following are a couple of snippets from the evening's performances, including a whirling dervish. I don't know how he does it without getting dizzy. Afterward, he invited one of the audience members on stage to give the dance a whirl, and she fell to the ground after about three spins.

Nadine Kam is Style Editor and staff restaurant critic at the Honolulu Star-Advertiser; her food coverage is in print in Wednesdays Crave section. Contact her via email at and follow her on Twitter, Instagram and Rebel Mouse.

Eating Dubai: Puffy pitas and other Lebanese treats at Wafi Gourmet

May 16th, 2016



A colorful array of vegetable and meat kebabs on display at Wafi Gourmet in Dubai Mall, which specializes in Lebanese cuisine.

DUBAI, U.A.E. — While in Dubai, I thought we would certainly be eating at Saudi or Emirati restaurants, but somehow, we always ended up eating Lebanese or Indian cuisine, at malls and hotels, no less.

What gives? I put the question to one of the Dubai chefs and he said it's because the Saudis have no real cuisine, and it's only been in the last year that three Emirati restaurants have opened, in a city of 2.5 million people.

Well that was a shocking statement. In my food-centric world, every culture has a cuisine that speaks to its soul and is a point of pride to its people, such that you can't talk stink about anyone's food.

Before reaching the tables at Wafi Gourmet, we were tempted with all kinds of marketplace treats, such as a variety of olives, sweets, pastries, and below, pistachios, dried fruit and almonds.

wafi nuts

But, it made sense. People of Saudi Arabia were descended from nomadic sheep- and goat-herding tribes, who could only eat what they could carry, such as dates, nuts, figs, flat bread called fatir, and spices that flavored meat grilled in the desert.

Dubai, on the Persian Gulf and Arabian Sea, started as a fishing village, making grilled fish a simple, satisfying meal.

Also, the nation's Islamic laws include restrictions against eating pork and drinking alcohol, and it's only in places where visitors congregate—malls and hotels—that alcohol is allowed.

I've never come across fresh pita like this in Hawaii. Sadly, the ones we get are already stale. They're light and puffy when fresh, and deflate when left sitting.

I wasn't complaining. Though the names of dishes are different, food in the region is similar from country to country, and Middle Eastern cuisine has always been one of my favorites, though it's sad to say, coming from Hawaii, I never knew what it was like to enjoy a warm, pillowy fresh pita. More times than not, you have to go to straight to the source.

The hummus, or hommos in their spelling, at Wafi Gourmet had a whipped, light texture and tasted less like chickpeas than we have here. Instead the chickpeas sit inside the bowl of hummus. The cost was $33 dirhams, roughly $10 USD.

I usually love baba ghanouj, so loved the moutabal, essentially baba ghanouj with the addition of tahini. Inside the little well of eggplant were pomegranate seeds. And that's another thing, pomegranate juice in the West is sugar water. In small Dubai cafes, it's made fresh and has a float of fine grains from the seeds. I felt so spoiled because it would be such a luxury here, where there aren't many pomegranates to be found. The seeds are also much sweeter than those in Hawaii.

A mixed grill of tawouk (chicken), beef and lamb, was $88 dirhams, roughly $24 USD.

Kebabs coated with a layer of onions and pistachios, left, and onions and cilantro. Below, the kebab halabi (lamb and pistachios grilled and served, topped with aleppo pepper. Costs $72 dirhams, or about $20 USD.

wafi lamb

Dessert of knafa (also spelled kanafah, kunafeh, kanefeh, kunafah or kunafa, was interesting. Looking at it, we all expected the texture of cake soaked in syrup, but it's a Levantine, or European Middle Easterner, dessert of cheese pastry, and the texture and flavor was like butter mochi!

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