Farm to Fork in Maui
An agritourism restaurant in Maui invites guests to pick the crops that will make up their meal—giving diners a chance to truly experience the farm-to-fork movement.
The farm-to-table revolution is taking fine dining to a new level of excellence—and I recently had the opportunity to experience it, first-hand, in Maui.
In 2000, Louis Coulombe and Stephan Bel-Robert began O’o Farm, a small eight-acre farm, in Kula, Maui’s upcountry. The land at O’o Farm is fertile and overlooks the deep blue waters of the Pacific. In the evenings, the temperatures cool down and the misting rain helps to nurture the organic fruits, vegetables and coffee. This mighty little farm is cared for in the old tradition of crop rotation and organic composting. They even have their own worm condo and the worm castings are used as fertilizer.
Their vision was to supply their own restaurants with the produce they grew. This way they could control what was planted and how it was cultivated.
Executive chef James McDonald oversees the transformation of the fresh ingredients into edible art for all four restaurants. The cuisine is truly a full sensory experience including sight, smell, texture and taste. The pairing of food to beverages is equally as important to the staff, and they are more than happy to assist guests, if asked.
Agriculture tourism is just beginning to take hold and O’o Farms is on the cutting edge. Guests are invited to visit and pick the crops, which are then used to create the freshest—and most beautiful—meals. Guests are also encouraged to bring their own wine and to stay for several hours to enjoy the concept of freshness, farm to fork.
Two nights after visiting the farm, I hit I’o Restaurant, located beachside in Lahaina. I think Chef McDonald arranged for an exceptional sunset for my visit but was too modest to say so.
As the sun set, the music from the Feast at Lele, the restaurant’s own version of a luau, began. In some strange way, I felt that I was actually part of some ancient luau.
I started with a fresh strawberry balsamic martini; the strawberries, from the farm, were muddled and the balsamic vinegar was aged (and, I might add, a perfect touch). For an appetizer, I had salmon wontons with a lime ginger reduction. Then, for the main course I was steered to the I’o Trio: seared mahi mahi with lobster coconut curry sauce over a mushroom asparagus risotto (from the farm), a grilled petit filet mignon (from Hawaii), grilled Madras curry and porcini mushroom, and New Zealand lamb chops with a pineapple demi-glaze.
Just when I thought I couldn’t eat any more, I was told that I absolutely needed to try the passion fruit sorbet, which is made in-house. And, of course, the passion fruit is from the farm. So, I womaned up and had some, and, well, it was amazing—not a bad decision!
O’o Farms offer luncheon tours several days a week. I’o and Pacific’o require reservations during peak periods, as well as the Feast at Lele. If you’re looking for something less formal, try their deli at Aina Gourmet Market—and pick up some coffee. It’s a little pricey, but worth every penny.