It’s a Monday morning and Iʻm up early and out the door on a mission to Evonuk farms. Iʻve been buying their herbs at the grocery store for years, but admittedly I don’t know much about the farm.
The weather is exceptional, bright and sunny at first, and then a few grey clouds come over with a light drizzle just when I think Iʻm going to melt. I am standing in a field with basil for as far as the eye can see, and it smells wonderful. Iʻve been invited by the farmers and husband and wife team Walter Evonuk and Terry Chang, and Tommy Bahama’s executive chef Jason La Motte, who utilizes their products at the restaurant.
“We like giving tours because it allows us to get a different perspective on the farm and see it through other people’s eyes,” says Evonuk. “We can’t even smell the herbs any more. A lot of times we don’t appreciate this view.”
They have some basil for me to munch on. The basil tastes delicious, so bright and flavorful right from the source.
“Usually we have basil in the ground for about nine months or so, and then we plant something else,” says Evonuk. “We want to keep rotating different crops because if you have one crop in the ground for too long it is pulling all the same nutrients out, and certain diseases can be a problem, like basil has nematodes and those affect roots. So you want to rotate other plants in so those problems don’t accumulate.”
The basil doesn’t like wet weather,” adds Chang. “In the springtime we got a lot of rain, and it killed all of our basil. So right now it is really happy. Basil loves the heat and loves the dryness. So it looks good.”
They brief me on the history of the farm, which was started by Evonukʻs father Ed some 50 years ago.
“My parents came to Maui around 1965 as teachers at Lahainaluna,” says Evonuk. “They were farming there, living on campus in the portables. It was in my dad’s blood; his father was a farmer, his grandfather was a farmer. Then he decided he would rather be farming than teaching. In 1975 he bought these four acres of ranchland and stopped teaching, and started clearing the kiawe by hand.”
Evonuk and Chang tell me they came in 2007 to help with the family farm and haven’t looked back. Evonuk Farm has evolved to its 40-plus acres today, where they grow produce for many local chefs, restaurants, and markets. Executive chef La Motte leads the Maui Tommy Bahama Restaurants and has put together a special farm to table menu working with Evonuk Farms.
“I am an Amherst NY native but New Orleans-reared,” says La Motte. “I have lived between Oʻahu and Maui now on and off for the better part of the last seven years. I graduated from Paul Smith College for the Culinary Arts and I worked my way up in the culinary world, with a career built at a variety of restaurants in New Orleans with John Besh and then four years in Europe. In 2009, while working as the chef de cuisine of Gordon Ramsay’s Prague outpost, Maze, my staff and I were awarded a Michelin star.”
Tommy Bahama has 17 restaurants worldwide, but their focus is island-inspired cuisine so it makes sense we have their brand on Maui. I ask La Motte what drives his farm to table menu.
“As our menu evolves every few months we look at how we can incorporate more and more local products into our main menu; we reprint menus as needed, to make sure we are supporting the local farmers,” says La Motte. “We are a destination restaurant. Our core menu is fantastic, and so is our service. Our fresh sheet really shows off our talents as a team. I would say the movement towards local has always been a challenge to supply; that’s why it’s so important to be fluid with the specials, to make sure you can keep it local.”
Later that week I headed to their Wailea location with the family to scope out their fresh sheet. The restaurant is located at the Shops and Wailea, and they validate parking. It’s very family friendly and I saw lots of families dining together that evening. With plenty of fresh dishes to choose from, the menu has great appeal. I also felt portion sizes were generous for Wailea dining, a great value here.
My husband had the herb crusted sous vide pork tenderloin which he claimed was one of his all time favorite meals. The pork was perfectly cooked, and so tender and juicy. This dish is served with Hokkaido scallops, braised chard, kale that had been crisped up, and a pomegranate bacon jus. Saffron risotto rounds it out. He pretty much won with that dish. Chef tells me it actually started with the rainbow chard and kale.
“I found out years ago that sous vide is one of the only ways to get pork tenderloin where I wanted it to be,” says La Motte. “Scallops and pork are a classic combination, we just worked with it until it made sense to us. The greens from the farm inspired the dish. I saw those and knew we had to make something special with them. My chef team and I worked on that dish for a few weeks, and had a few different versions of it. We felt this was a well balanced approach to a cut of pork that is notorious for being over cooked. The components all came from one version or another.”
I ordered the whole fried snapper served with stir fried vegetables and shrimp. It was a beautiful adventurous dish that could have easily fed two people. The tender snapper was incredible, and every bite had perfectly crisp seasoned veggies.
“Fried whole fish is something fish lovers like but are cautious about ordering. When they get it, they wonder where it’s been all their life. We just spun it to make sense to us.”
Tommy Bahama’s is open for lunch from 11am and starts seating dinner starting at 5pm. They have a happy hour from 2 to 5pm daily, and live music from 5:30 to 9:30 every evening. They are known for mai tais, pineapple creme brulee, and their mac nut crusted mahi mahi, but you have to try their Evonuk farms special menu – it doesn’t disappoint. When your meal starts on a sunny green slope of Haleakala, it doesn’t get much better than that.
The Shops at Wailea
3750 Wailea Alanui Dr, Kihei, HI 96753
Open 11am-10pm daily
Happy Hour: 2-5 PM daily
Live Music: Daily 5:30-9:30 PM
sample fresh sheet menu:
EVONUK FARMS-FARM TO TABLE FRESH SHEET
ROASTED YELLOW AND RED CHIOGGIA BEET SALAD
Lavender Goat Cheese, Arugula, Candied Macadamia Nuts,
Citrus Tarragon Vinaigrette
STEAMED CHILEAN BLUE MUSSELS
Coconut-Curry Broth, Lemon Grass. Thai Basil,
Roasted Tomatoes, Grilled Ciabatta
CRISPY FRIED WHOLE TAI SNAPPER
Shrimp, Collard Greens, Garlic Chives, Sesame and Ginger
HERB CRUSTED SOUS VIDE PORK TENDERLOIN
Hokkaido Scallops, Saffron Risotto, Braised Rainbow Chard, Crispy Kale, Pomegranate Bacon Jus
STICKY TOFFEE APPLE BANANA BREAD PUDDING
Crème Anglaise, Macadamia Nut Brittle, Vanilla Bean Ice Cream