Photo by Kirsten Whatley
Photo by Kevin Brock
On July 14 in Maui, take part in a culinary event that reflects the authentic Hana region, from mountains to sea.
In the Hana backcountry, Native Hawaiian chefs, hunters, and fishermen collaborate each year to create the islands’ most authentic family dinner.
“You’ve got to come here with an open mind,” says Isaac Bancaco, award-winning executive chef at the Andaz Maui resort. He could be describing the fiercely independent, remote Hana region on the east side of Maui—a place that resists outside influence and interpretation by living its lineage as a stronghold of Native Hawaiian culture. But Bancaco has just emerged from a weekend of going holoholo (afield) with three generations of subsistence fishermen and hunters at a rare culinary collaboration. Called Hana Ku, it culminates in a public feast this July 14.
Isaac Bancaco is one of a handful of innovative young chefs who’ve been invited into the Hana community to experience indigenous place-based practices over a series of private weekend gatherings. Hosted by Native Hawaiian–run nonprofit Ala Kukui, each weekend features a selected ‘ohana (family), who take the young chefs into the wilderness to track wild pua‘a (pig) or butcher pipi (cow) or to throw nets for reef fish and wrangle he‘e (octopus) from their rock crevice homes. In turn, the chefs bring these providers into the kitchen and transform their collective catch into dishes such as marinated beef heart on pohole fern salad, Japanese-style risotto with fresh lobster sauce, and buttery Hawaiian-Portuguese he‘e stew, true to the islands’ multicultural roots.
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“When we go to Hana, we’re in the families’ ahupua‘a [mountain-to-ocean region],” says Bancaco. “I follow behind and observe, so I can learn how these ways are passed from generation to generation—how they throw their nets, even how they tie their knots. It’s historical and extremely powerful.”
Local hunters, fishers, and gatherers in the Lind, Park, and Akoi families, featured in the recent collaborations, excel in the subsistence skills that put food on the tables of their extended family networks. And while other indigenous practitioners often struggle to keep younger generations engaged in the “old ways,” Hana youth are passionate about carrying on this ancestral knowledge because it ensures they can provide for their kupuna (elders) and their own young families.
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