Food grown close to where it is consumed? What a novel idea. The fact that Hawaii imports more than 85 percent of its food should be alarming, especially in the face of environmental and economic peril. But look around and you’ll find most people don’t seem to care a whole lot. That’s probably because it’s still more convenient to buy deep-fried clusters of macaroni and cheese than it is to purchase a meal made primarily with local ingredients, but that’ll likely change as demand shifts.
Though it’s barely into its third month of operation, Market Fresh Bistro in Makawao is at the forefront of the move toward eating local.
Eighty to 90 percent of the ingredients the restaurant uses in its eclectic dishes are grown in the Hawaiian Isles; a rare thing, given the stats. But when you see what’s on the menu, Maui’s and Hawaii’s potential for being self-sustaining—and vibrantly so—become apparent.
“Our inspiration for Market Fresh Bistro is the bountiful and diverse produce that Maui has to offer,” says restaurant partner Olivia Coletti.
The list of locally grown ingredients, many of them organic, is nearly inexhaustible. Baby fennel, carrots, micro herbs and pummelo come from Aina Lani Farm. Strawberries and rainbow chard come from Coca Farm. Green beans and daikon radish come from Hale Akua Farm. Eggplant and kalo come from Kupa‘a Farm. Kapalua Farm furnishes Market Fresh with leeks and cherry tomatoes. They get their oyster mushrooms from Makawao Mushroom. Their coffee? Kaanapali.
As for meat, they get their beef and lamb from Maui Cattle Company and Haleakala Farm, respectively.
Coletti says that they even grow many of their ingredients in their own garden, including avocadoes, lettuce greens and pohole ferns, and they get citrus from their neighbors.
The impact of using local ingredients goes beyond promoting individual health and environmental sustainability.
“It is also inspiring to be part of the solution to today’s economic problems by supporting our local farmers, fishermen and ranchers instead of complaining all the time about how everything is going down the drain,” Coletti says.
Coletti and Chef Justin Pardo, her brother, grew up in New York City, in a neighborhood that abounded with fresh produce and meat markets. “Our bistro is somewhat of an extension of our family’s kitchen,” Coletti says.
Working as a chef at numerous New York restaurants over the past two decades—including Restaurant Danielle, Verbena and Union Square Café—Pardo often had the responsibility of heading down to the farmer’s market to pick up whatever he’d be preparing that day. Much of what he got was grown Upstate.
Given the diversity of available locally cultivated ingredients on Maui, it’s easy to see how a chef of Pardo’s caliber can get so creative. He can put together a complete meal for diners of every dietary stripe, vegan or omnivore.
The vegan meal on a recent venture consisted of Haiku rainbow tomato salad (first course); pesto-marinated white beans, Rosa Bianca eggplant and rainbow chard (second course); and kalo-crusted tofu over Aina Lani root vegetables (main course). It made for a colorful, tasty, robust and most satisfactory meal, especially when the warm, fresh focaccia bread is factored in.
The omnivorous counterpart to the main course included a healthy portion of braised Maui Cattle Company short ribs with Maui onion jam, braised knob carrots, a white bean ragout and sautéed rainbow chard. For non-vegans, the first course was served with an herb goat cheese fritter.
Although they don’t yet have a license to serve liquor, owner and wine specialist David Magenheim encourages patrons to bring a bottle of wine—a fine cab is preferred—to accompany Pardo’s elegant creations, as a glass or two of a velvety red adds an element of ambrosia to the already sweet dining experience.
They may find inspiration from far away places like New York and Europe, but the proprietors of Market Fresh Bistro seem to have a knack for bringing out the best of what grows on Maui. MTW