Maui may be changing fast, but our plantation culture’s wonderful melting pot of foods will remain with us for many years to come. Our network of local mom and pop restaurants, chefs, food trucks, bakeries and farmer’s markets has formed a tight knit community that keeps us all connected as the island grows. To celebrate all this, we asked tastemakers from all over Maui to talk about their favorite comfort foods and how they would increase food production on Maui. Enjoy!
Chef Sheldon Simeon, Top Chef Finalist, Restaurateur
Chef Jeffrey Valdez
Sous Chef Nolan Gonzales
For me, it’s gotta be fried spam. I like it with kimchee on cold rice. With leftovers, mom’s food. When I am done working, I head straight home to eat mom’s food. Afterwork you just search for what’s in the fridge, and it’s so satisfying. (Jeffrey Valdez)
My mom makes these scrambled eggs in the morning. It has tomato, onion and patis. You saute the tomato first, and it’s all watery and then you put the egg in. It almost curdles in the scramble. Then you cook it well done and fold it into rice. Maybe add some Vienna sausage. (Nolan Gonzales)
For me, especially because I have been travelling lately, first thing I eat when I get home is poke. And rice! It has to be white rice, usually sitting on the countertop. Cold rice. Not hot, just room temp, so I can get big ole chunks, local boy style. Then super cold, regular poke, either shoyu or or limu Hawaiian. That’s mine, fresh ahi. I get it here at Tin Roof or sometimes Tamura’s.
For local comfort food, you can come to Tin Roof. That’s why we opened. It was pretty selfish. It was for local food. A lot of things that we want to grind are on the menu. It’s local comfort food. There are not a lot of places that have the creativity that we do. We constantly talk about food in here. That’s all we are doing. Whether we’re here working on dishes are we’re just chatting casually after work. We’re always doing outside gigs and events so it forces Jeffrey and Nolan to come up with new dishes and ideas. It’s just so cool that we have a spot that we get to do that in.
To really get into that mindset of using local all the way through we are always trying new things. One of our cooks makes all of our kimchee. When it’s over, fermented, then we use it as an ingredient or a seasoning. We have been using Valley Isle Kombucha as a replacement for vinegar. I go to the farmers market every weekend, too–the Upcountry Farmers Market on Saturdays. You will see me walking around there. (Sheldon Simeon)
Amy Kojima, Baker
Kojima’s Sushi & Japanese Cuisine
My favorite comfort food is Katsu Don from Kojima’s. For me, comforting foods are warm, filling and savory. When you get to the bottom of the bowl, you feel like somebody just gave you a big warm hug. Food and comfort are synonymous with my dad. When I was growing up, if I needed my dad I’d have to go to his restaurant to find him. He’s a man of few words, especially English, so he’d feed me and I would feel better. Believe it or not, chefs have the worst diets because they cook for everybody else and they don’t have time to cook for themselves. So now I cook for my father and he cooks for me. I think that’s why I enjoy baking so much. People really find comfort in homemade desserts. Watching somebody smile while eating one of my desserts is so gratifying. It makes me understand why my father is so passionate about cooking for people.
From my raw food days, I sort of trained my kids to point out local fruit trees while we are driving–especially the exotic ones like dragon fruit. I’m always searching for lilikoi for my lilikoi cheesecake that I make for Kojima’s. So, I have my kids on high alert for lilikoi vines. It’s a fun game and hopefully will become a fond memory for them. We also have a garden at home and their school has always implemented gardening into the curriculum. I see a lot of fruits just going to waste on the trees around town. I want to just jump the fence and pick them all but I restrain myself. In addition to producing more local produce, I think we should develop a better network to harvest the neighborhood trees so they don’t go to waste. It’s difficult for a family-run restaurant to source a majority of their food locally if they have to call multiple vendors everyday; the avocado guy and the lilikoi lady and the mixed greens farmer and then run the risk that they don’t have any or sold them all to the bigger restaurants and hotels. We’re so grateful when our customers drop off fruits from their backyards. Maybe we can get kids to help pick neighborhood trees and drop them at their local restaurants and grocers to help raise money for their school?
Allyson Mattox, Director of Marketing
Lahaina Grill’s Osso Buco by Chef Arnie is the ultimate comfort food! Comfort food is whatever takes you back to a happy memory–dining with family, friends, maybe what your mom would prepare for you when you were needing a pick-me-up. Chef Arnie’s homemade meatballs of all-natural veal, pork and Angus beef, ricotta, parmigiano-reggiano, mascarpone, ballerine pasta and fresh tomato-basil sauce bring our guests back for comfort.
I like to shop as locally as possible at Mana Foods, and upcountry farmers market. I think we need to support the small to mid-size local farmers who live here and work to create amazing crops that the restaurants and the at home cook can consume. We need to work as a community to support this effort and our government should work to make it easier for the small organic farmer to make a living (tax credits, etc). Our team in the kitchen at Lahaina Grill always attempts to source as much as possible from our local farms, waters–the quality of the food when it is freshest and has not traveled a long distance is simply superior–there are many items that are not available so growth in this area would be great.
Megan Kanekoa, Owner
Wailuku Coffee Co.
I make Grilled Cheese and Tomato soup at home when I need comfort food. Here at Wailuku Coffee Co., we serve the most comforting breakfast of scrambled eggs and bacon, and really great coffee.
Wailuku Coffee Co. sources as much locally grown produce as possible. Shop local, eat local. The best way to increase our local food production would be new economic incentives for small scale farmers. If we had more local produce to choose from, we’d serve 100 percent local.
Chef Bev Gannon, Owner and chef
Hali‘imaile General Store, Gannons, A Pacific View Restaurant, Celebrations Catering and Event Planning
My go-to comfort food is fried chicken and we serve it at both of my restaurants at lunch. I also have to have it when I’m at Bubba’s in Dallas and Bakesale Betty’s in Oakland. Food makes me happy at all times. Comfort food comes in the picture when I need to feel warm and fuzzy on the inside. Flavors that hit the comfort zone of your palate and brain. For me, it’s usually something I don’t eat often because it also involves high calorie count! At Gannon’s and Hali‘imaile General Store, the Reuben Sandwiches, Macaroni and Cheese, Cornbread Stuffing, Street Corn, BBQ Ribs, Bread Pudding all fall into that comfort zone.
The best way to connect with locally produced food is to go to your local farmers markets. Mana Foods and Whole Foods also do a great job of offering local. The best way to increase our local food production would be to give the farmers great incentives to farm, including tax breaks, water and electric cost breaks. Make it easy for them to build dwellings to house helpers. We are really lucky to have many small farmers that supply us with our needs.
Javier Barberi, Owner
Down the Hatch
The Shrimp Po Boy from Down the Hatch is comfort food to me. It reminds me of my father. We took a trip to Louisiana when we didn’t have much money and were traveling across the country together. There’s nostalgia there, I always loved that trip, and I guess comfort food reminds me of my home, my family and simpler times. Comfort food represents a culture, or a place. It could be a fruit, veggie, or protein from that area, or if the food is homemade with love and care. At Down the Hatch, we provide Southern/Aloha-inspired food that really has that comfort feel: Lava Lava Shrimp, Chicken and Waffles, the DTH fish and Fries and, of course, the Shrimp Po Boys, to name a few. We want to connect people to their local sourced foods in a way that is approachable.
Educating people about the benefits of buying locally is important, too. It adds more jobs, keeps income on the island, the food quality is better, it’s organic and sustainable and it helps build community relationships. I connect to local food by seeking it out and trying new things. I especially love trying dishes that have been brought back from the plantation days. It’s like driving a ‘69 corvette that has been restored to perfection. To increase our local food production, we have to use less land for residential purposes, and make certain parcels of land for agricultural use only. Working with farmers to make sure their work is profitable, while educating people on the subject. We at Down the Hatch try to buy as much locally sourced product as we can. Buying bread from home made bakeries, fish from Lahaina Harbor, fruits and vegetables from farms Upcountry. We purchase Valley Isle Kombucha, beer from Maui Brewing Co. and Kohola Brewery and we buy Ocean Vodka. This list goes on.
Bret Pafford, Executive Chef
Gannon’s in Wailea
For comfort, I make Italian at home. I like full flavored pasta with a nice garlic taste. I enjoy having garlic cheese bread as a pleasurable crunchy side, along with a huge glass of red wine. It just brings back childhood memories. We serve cheeseburgers, a meatloaf sandwich, Loco Moco and tater tots which are all great comfort food on our menu. Our approach of cuisine is contemporary spins of old school classic dishes with the highest quality of locally sourced ingredients.
We should increase local agriculture–it will then drive down the cost by increasing the supply. Also, use locally produced feed for livestock. “Eat where the locals eat”–that’s what drove us to have the best happy hour in town. We offer with the most variety and hopefully touch on everyone’s comfort food by using our kitchen team here at Gannon’s as the source of our inspiration and to represent what they feel as comfort.
Alex Caskey, Owner/Operator
At Maui Tropsicles, it’s got to be the Dirty Chai Tropsicle. We rotate our menu based on what’s available in season. For the Dirty Chai we use a very specific age of young coconut to make a coconut cream, and combine it with chai spice blend and Maui espresso for a perfectly balanced tropsicle. When food tastes amazing but also balances indulgence with making your body feel good, it’s a comfort food for me.
To increase our local food production, I believe we have to use our unused land. Eventually, if I had enough time, I’d like to start a business where people pledge unused yards to food production. Grow food, not lawns! Upcountry Farmers Market is the best farmers market, of course, but I rarely make it up there. I go to Laniupoko every week for eggs and taro.
Chef Tylun Pang, Executive Chef
My favorite comfort food is a good wonton mein with chewy noodles, tasty wonton dumplings and homemade soup broth. On Maui, Sam Sato is about as good as it gets. For me, a comfort food is one that connects me to my family and makes me feel good: it’s heart and soul food that brings me to my fondest memories growing up. At Ko, we serve a steamed fish with ginger, Chinese sausage, baby bok choy, shiitake mushrooms, scallions, soy sauce and hot sizzling oil. It was my dad’s recipe, and a comfort food for sure.
I believe that in Hawaii our culture keeps us connected to local food and the people that live here. That relationship naturally fosters a responsibility to community and buying local. If we keep buying local, and let the growers know that there is a demand for good, fresh food, we show support and help increase our local food production.
Our key to success at Ko has been our commitment to serving fresh and local ingredients since we opened our doors five years ago. My favorite farmers market is Kula Country Farms. You can always find some fresh edible treasure to bring home with you. Chauncy Monden and his family do a great job up there, not only running a business but taking care of the local community.
Jennifer Evetushick, Executive Sous Chef
Relish Oceanside/ Relish Burger Bistro
Saimin is my favorite comfort food, and we make it here for family meals. It’s a big pot that usually sits on a flat top and simmers for a few hours while we put together our favorite garnishes. It’s the smell of nostalgia–the heat, how filling it is–that makes it comfort food. It reminds me of childhood. At Relish Oceanside/Relish Burger Bistro, we offer comfort foods like Loco Moco, Belgian Waffles and Lobster Chowder.
I connect to local food by fishing local waters and visiting local farms. We like to feature a handful of local well-farmed favorites to showcase a bit of what we can do. That way farmers are able to sustain our demands. My favorite farmers market is the Maui Swap Meet.
Michele and Qiana Di Bari, Chef/ Owner
Sale Pepe Pizzeria e Cucina
Pizza is my favorite comfort food, from Sale Pepe Pizzeria e Cucina. It evokes memories of the love that goes into preparation and its simplicity. Sharing food is an exercise in intimacy, a give and take between the preparer and the served. We make housemade fresh pasta, lasagna, meatballs, pizzas and tiramisu, all of which are comfort foods.
Farmer’s markets are a great way to connect to local foods and support local farms. As well, it gives you a sense of what seasonal products are available. At Sale Pepe, we built a concept around seasonality. The menu changes frequently and there are always exciting daily specials, allowing us the flexibility to use seasonal produce as inspiration on a sometimes daily basis. My favorite farmers market is the Napili Farmers market.
Marc McDowell, Executive Chef
Hali‘imaile General Store
For comfort food, I make a Katsu Curry using S&B Golden Curry sauce mix. But if I’m out, I go to Restaurant Matsu. Comfort food is food that you always have an appetite for, even when you’re not feeling well. It connects with you, right in the stomach. At Hali‘imaile General Store, we offer a delightful curry made with coconut milk, lemongrass and red curry pesto, with or without seafood. It’s different from the Katsu but nevertheless a winning comfort food.
We’re proud of the fact that we buy from many local farmers or fisherman who stop by our restaurant after a big catch or harvest. They offer us the pick of the crop. We also work with Malama Farms, Haleakala Ranch, Surfing Goat Dairy, Maui Winery and certainly the Organic Kumu Farms and Oprah’s Farm. If we want to increase local food production, we have to increase the demand by buying local products. We love our farmers, ranchers and fisherman so it’s a pleasure to use their products in our daily cuisine. My favorite farmers market is the Kumu Farms Pavilion and also the Maui Swap Meet.
Chef Brian Murphy and Chef Tanya Doyle
Auntie’s Kitchen – The Westin Ka’anapali Ocean Resort Villas
For me [Brian Murphy], my favorite comfort food is Chicken Katsu Don from Honokowai Okazuya Deli. And for me [Tanya Doyle], my favorite comfort food is dad’s homemade recipe for Squid Luau.
Comfort food connects you with memories and brings up feelings. It’s something special that food can touch all your senses and provide happiness you can’t find anywhere else. We’re very lucky on Maui to have such great local products easily available. We love the fact that we can walk into a drug store and walk out with Maui Cattle Beef, it’s a unique experience. Still, we’d love to see a rise in small farms that grow a diversity of products. It could be aquaponics, organic, biodynamic–whatever it takes to make the island more sustainable. At our restaurant, we have a lot of great people delivering what they are passionate about, and it really shows. Our favorite farmer’s market is the Kula Farmers Market. It always has fun things to play with.
Jonathan Cruthers, Co-Owner
808 on Main
I cook a Pasta Bolognese at home for comfort food. When I’m feeling lazy, I’ll get it from Fabiani’s in Kihei or from Matteo’s in Wailea. I think it’s the memories you have of eating it that makes it comfort food. Or who has made it for you. Sometimes it’s the special dish your grandmother would make for you, or maybe the first meal you cooked/shared with your spouse, or maybe the dish you would make for special occasions growing up. I think most times comfort food is unpretentious, no frills. We prepare a daily changing soup and sandwich special that is quintessential comfort food. When Chef Jim makes his grandmother’s recipe tomato basil soup with rustic grilled cheese–oh my God–it’s the epitome of comfort food.
To increase our local food production, we have to create demand from the customers. Tell your favorite supermarkets and favorite restaurants that they must have local! My favorite farmers market is the Upcountry Farmers Market.
Tori Renschen, Manager
There are so many comfort foods, but I’d have to say I love a good cheeseburger deluxe and saimin combo. Nothing gives me the warm fuzzies quite like that pair put together. I also love a good pho and kimchee soup on a cold, rainy evening. There are plenty of good spots for saimin and local style burgers but I love going to Sheiks. The broth is simply delicious and always hits the spot.
A comfort food hits that nostalgia immediately. It reminds you of the smell growing up of rice cooking in the kitchen. Warm meat barbecuing on the grill. It reminds you of home, just like the way grandma cooked it. I think it’s the kind of feeling of sopping up every last bit on the plate with a warm biscuit. I enjoy a wonderful meal with great conversation or reading the daily news. This makes me feel extremely content.
On our menu, I think everything is comforting. People love our tempura and our teriyaki sauce in particular. These are definitely comforting for a lot of our regulars. I’d also say our chicken tofu probably reminds a lot of people of the way their grandma used to make it in the kitchen.
My favorite farmers market is Kaahumanu Mall. Pick up a few Kula onions or some Roma tomatoes. Maybe even backyard avo.
Jordan Slone, Executive Chef
Kolea Pasifik Rim Kitchen
My favorite comfort food is the Mi Quang (Vietnamese turmeric noodles): sliced shrimp cake, shrimp, pork ribs, sliced pork meatloaf, sliced pork, ground pork, ground shrimp topped with peanuts, sesame rice cracker with turmeric rice noodles in pork broth, from Ha VL Restaurant in Portland. Comfort food should be exciting! If you do it right, comfort happens after you eat. It connects you with memories and the people at the table. At our restaurant we offer comfort food in the form of Bak Kut Teh.
To connect to local food, seek out small and uninviting looking places, they usually have the best food! Step outside your comfort zone and make food a learning experience. Go to a farmers market, practice cooking new ingredients and have fun!
We need more support from local government. Give incentives to local producers and agriculture, not big business. At Kolea, we purchase every possible item we can locally. We are working towards developing long standing relationships with local producers and farmers, using our purchasing power for progressive change. My favorite farmers market is the Wednesday Kula Farmers Market.
Paul Kemp, General Manager
Cool Cat Café
Our cheeseburgers are my favorite comfort food. It’s food that reminds me of good times, and connects me to my childhood. We serve too many comfort foods to list! Cool Cat has so many burgers there is one for everybody. Burgers on sourdough, some with barbecue sauce and onion rings, veggie burgers, whole wheat buns and even a different burger of the month every 30 days.
TJ’s Warehouse Outlet
My personal favorite comfort food is Nishime. It is a traditional Japanese dish of stewed vegetables with either chicken or pork. For special occasions, I make it from scratch, otherwise we serve it at TJ’s, Monday through Saturday, at our okazuya.
Food and comfort are synonymous and share a strong positive correlation. It brings strong emotions of nostalgia and reminds me of my upbringing. Whenever I eat Nishime, I am reminded of that joyous warmth of family, friends and food.
To connect to local food, start small and go from there. Use locally sourced food domestically and commercially. We use locally sourced foods at home and try to incorporate that into what we do at TJ’s.
David Viviano, Executive Chef
Cane & Canoe, Montage Kapalua Bay
I know it’s cliché because I’m Italian, but my favorite comfort food is pasta–hands down! Any proud Italian makes their own pasta. I adore making gnocchi with my wife and two and half year-old son. When we choose to dine out, Sale Pepe fills our cravings.
To me, comfort food is often nostalgic. Growing up in the Midwest, a hearty bowl of pasta on a cold winter day was always satisfying. My fondest memories are cooking with my family. Making pasta from scratch and crafting sauce that simmered all day long. We would talk, laugh and drink. It was a festive day culminated with an incredible meal with my loved ones. For dinner at the restaurant, our crispy suckling pig with Maui onion ravioli and lobster mac featuring handmade gnocchi are an upscale version of local comfort food.
I’m a farmer’s market fanatic. Usually, wherever we travel, I at least make one stop to a local market. I love connecting with the farmers and seeing the bounty of the region. It gives me a tremendous snapshot of the local culture. One way to increase our local food production is to get the community more involved in supporting the local farmer. More demand with them in turn increases supply–it’s basic economics. It’s local, the quality is better and often the price is competitive. It’s essential that we become less reliant on the mainland for resources we can grow locally on the island.
Chris Lederer, Executive Sous Chef at Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa
Black Rock Kitchen
I’m a big fan of slow cooked one-pot meals. Something like a nice pot roast or braised short rib with pan gravy over rice and roasted vegetables. The dishes that my mom makes remind me of my childhood and are some of my favorite things to eat. They bring back good memories of growing up on Oahu. My mom’s cooking inspired me to want to know more about food and flavors, and definitely contributed to the chef I am today.
On our new Black Rock Kitchen menu, which launched in December, some of the dishes I would label as “comfort food” are the Korean-style braised short ribs and the Kauai Prawns with Surfing Goat Dairy cheese polenta, roasted Brussel sprouts and pancetta. On the dessert side, my signature poi beignets at Black Rock Kitchen are definitely a favorite. It’s my twist on a light and sweet traditional New Orleans doughnut.
We’re lucky on Hawaii to have access to a variety of fresh locally sourced products. People are more familiar with things like Maui onion or Maui Gold pineapple, but in utilizing things like local dragon fruit, honey, cheese, taro, as well as local livestock like lamb from Ulupalakua and Maui Venison helps people to realize the bounty of ingredients that we have here that they may have not known about before.
Saronjini Harris (Jini), Owner/ Chef
For comfort food, I make my own rice and dal. It’s easy on digestion with natural flavors and vitamins/minerals. On our menu we have comfort food in the form of vegan and vegetarian food, along with seafood and meat dishes. Fresh cut salads, sauces, hot and cold beverages. We also make appetizers and desserts. Our veggie samosas are the talk of the town.
We try our best to serve fresh and healthy food to our customers, some trade their homegrown products with our food that they love. It’s important to buy from local farms, markets and encourage customers to bring home grown crops to sell or trade. Encourage backyard gardening, school programs for kids so they can learn to grow at an early age. As well as converting lawns into gardens, having seed exchange programs. We need more barter and trade to give incentives to current farmers to grow organic and avoid pesticides and GMO cropping.
Our food has all natural goodness. We refrain from MSG, GMO, cheap oils, etc. We use pure cane sugar and Hawaiian sea salt and olive/canola oils. Turmeric, ginger, garlic, cloves, cumin, mustard, coriander, pepper, cinnamon, cardamon and curry leaves are our main ingredients, all of which have a lot of health benefits. We are a small family run business but we do not compromise our health with unhealthy products. We make frequent visits to Pukalani Farmers Market, Lipoa Farmers Market, Maui Swap Meet and Local Farmers Market in Kahului.
Chef Daniel Bader
Ruth’s Chris Steak House
I love to cook my own grilled pizza at home, it’s my favorite comfort food. What makes a food comforting is the wonderful flavors and the heartiness of the meal–the sense of enjoyment I get when preparing and enjoying a meal, and the sense of contentment when the meal is complete. On our menu we have delicious steaks, seafood gumbo and lobster mac ‘n cheese, to name a few comfort dishes.
I connect to local food by searching for fresh flavorful ingredients. We need to educate our kama‘aina and visitors alike about our island-sourced products. We serve fresh island fish selections at our restaurants, and locally sourced products to add an island flair to our menu. My favorite farmers market is the Ka‘ahumanu Shopping Center.
Chef Geno Sarmiento
My favorite comfort food is the Braised Short Ribs we make at Son’z Steakhouse. Great food satisfies your cravings and makes you appreciate the time someone took to make it. Comfort food is different for a lot of people because it’s nostalgic. Good food can bring and connect people together, like when you’re sharing it with family, old friends and new. On our menu we serve comfort food such as Pappardelle Veneciana, Spaghetti and Kobe Meatballs, Mac n’ Cheese Carbonara, Linguica Sausage & White Bean Cassoulet and more.
We connect to local food by cultivating and maintaining relationships. I’m good friends with a lot of local farmers that supply our produce. Visiting farmers markets is also a great way to meet them and talk to them. We need to support the farmers/ranchers/fishermen and purveyors by using what’s seasonally available and designing menus around that idea. At our restaurant I work with what is avaliable as much as I can. I also create special event menus, such as our “Off da Vine” wine dinners, which are based on seasonal products so we can share with our guests the freshest that Maui has to offer.
Chef Kyle Kawakami, Owner
Maui Fresh Streatery Food Truck
One of my favorite comfort foods is a Filipino dish called Balatong. It’s a stew of mung beans, bitter melon, bitter melon leaves and chicharrones. I either cook it myself or go to Bistro Manila Maui which serves some of the best Filipino food on the island. Comfort food often has a connection to a memory, allowing you to relive or experience an event from the past. Because of our ever-changing menu, we always have some sort of comfort food on the menu, depending on the cuisine of the week.
We need to have our local government support start up farmers and make it easier for them to get up and running.The concept of Maui Fresh Streatery is an ever changing and evolving menu that is able to adapt to the growing seasons of farmers and fisherman. By having this flexibility, I’m able to utilize the freshest local products available in the height of their freshness. My favorite farmers market is the Upcountry Farmers Market on Saturdays.
Reed Robertson, General Manager
I’m a sucker for a good burger–it’s always my go-to if I don’t know what I want to eat. Besides Shearwater in Kihei, I will drive to Lahaina just to get a burger at Cool Cat. What makes food comforting is remembering the experience of the first time you at something great with friends and family, and reconnecting to that feeling every time you eat it. I connect with comfort food at Shearwater Tavern, whether it be the burgers, short ribs, wings or sashimi. But really food and comfort always come together, for me, at home or at a friend’s house.
When talking about local food production it’s all about making it worth it for our local farmers. Buy the stuff most people don’t want and turn it into something amazing. At Shearwater, we try to bring in as many local products as possible from Kohola Brewery beers to Kumu Farms papayas and Kula Dave’s salsa.
Geoff Bogorad, Executive Sous Chef
Hyatt Regency Maui Resort & Spa
My favorite comfort food is definitely Cioppino. I love the flavors of roasted tomato and fennel and all of the different seafood that goes with it, especially the lobster and crab. This is a dish I would normally eat at my family’s Sicilian Christmas Eve, but otherwise I have had a lot of great variations in San Francisco where the dish originated. The most comforting elements of food for me are warmth and the smell. I love when a dish can evoke a memory of a loved one or special place. We serve a wide range of food that I would consider comforting here, from French fries and traditional poke to more composed dishes like the Seafood Udon we serve in Japengo. Comfort food is very personal, so we try to offer a wide range of dishes to satisfy as many people as possible.
Ben Diamond, Executive Chef
The Wooden Crate at Lumeria Maui
My favorite comfort food is Garlic and Thyme Braised chicken with cauliflower potato (crushed with butter and herbs) and green beans with thyme and capers. I either make it at home, or at work when we make it for nightly dinner menu. Comfort food is a satisfying meal for the body and soul. The ingredients are local and chosen with care and the meal satiates and fills me up without being excessive. On our menu we have comfort food in the form of our lunchtime burgers and the nightly three-course pre-set dinners.
I connect to local food by visiting farmers markets to see what is in season and plentiful. When shopping for food in general, ask about local sourced ingredients and seek out establishments that specialize in supporting local. Customers can drive the market by purchasing and supporting establishments that support local farms.
Bread pudding is my favorite comfort food. It’s a marriage of two of my favorite foods. I order it anywhere I find it, but my favorite is homemade, following Grandma’s recipe. Creamy food is comfort food for me. I’m a pushover for creamy sauces, soups and warm deserts. It connects me to time at home cooking for family and friends. Most of my comfort foods take a long time to make.
I’ve been very fortunate to get to know many farmers, especially those Upcountry through work and community activities. Knowing where my food is coming from or who has worked hard to grow it is the best. We’re lucky to still have many small farms and ranches on Maui, I purposefully buy local whenever possible. Understanding and accepting that farming is a business, not just a lifestyle, is the best way to increase our local production. Farmers and ranchers need to be able to make a living for themselves, their families and employees. We need to do whatever is possible to keep farming costs down and as individuals be willing to pay a bit more for locally grown and manufactured foods, because of how it benefits our community overall. We have chosen to grow grapes in Ulupalakua and produce wines from Maui Gold pineapples, even though many times it seemed like the most difficult choice to make. We give a great deal of importance to the raw ingredients and knowing where it came from and who grew it. My favorite farmers market is Kula Country Farms.
Garrett W. Marrero, Beer Guy
Maui Brewing Co.
For comfort food, I’m eating French fries with spicy ketchup and good, fresh street tacos. Aside from our spot, I’m really digging the pub chips at The Dirty Monkey. You just know it’s comfort food when you eat it. It may remind you of home, a distant memory, bringing smiles to your day, or it could be simply that you’re mildly hungover from too much time at the local brewery. I love food, I love beer, I crossfit, so I can eat and drink. I find a lot of comfort in these things. On our menu, our comfort food is burgers and fries.
We source as much of our supplies locally from farmers and vendors. All vegetables, greens, and even meat is all sourced locally. We want to create more farming initiatives and focus on promoting local family farms. Knowing who grows your food develops a much deeper relationship, and you will most often find fresher products with less processing. We make a commitment to celebrating local farmers and the food they provide. We won’t serve anything we don’t 100 percent love.
Neil Coshever, Manager
Upcountry Farmers Market
The Upcountry Farmers Market’s mangoes are my favorite comfort food. It makes you think only of it, and you feel gratitude. We offer fresh local grown veggies and fruits, as well as creative preparations.
Support the farmers by attending local grown farmers markets! More attendance at the markets will create supply and demand. If the demand is there the production will follow. Our market serves Maui’s local grown produce.
(Photo of Executive Chef Kaipo Nakata by Sean Hower)
Kawika Momoa, Sous Chef
Sansei Seafood Restaurant Kapalua
Being born and raised in Hawaii, my favorite comfort food is a homemade hamburger steak. For me, it’s a dish that takes me back to when I was younger, a dish that my family always prepared. On our menu my favorite comfort foods are the Maui Style Teriyaki Beef & Miso-Yaki Chicken, local style.
For me, I was raised here, so being connected to local food is in my blood. It was in the way I was raised. My best advice for someone who is not from here is to connect to the culture. That will give you a better understanding of the importance of growing food locally and supporting local businesses. Sansei Kapalua tries to support other local business, farms and people by using the products created here in Hawaii. Honokowai Farmers Market always has what I need.
Jannelle Fukuoka, Baker, Owner
Mike’s Mini Mart, Maui Manjookies
My favorite comfort food is noodles–udon, saimin, dry mein, fried rice, miso-soup or any Japanese food. Comfort food is a dish that I can purchase or make easily with pre-mixed ingredients that my grandma would make for me growing up. If I can’t make it, then I look for a place where the price is affordable with a cozy laid back environment and food that tastes like what my grandma would make for me. I go back to mom and pop shops, Matsu, Isana, Takamiya, Sam Sato’s, Ichiban-Ya Wailuku, and Pukalani Superette. There are a few businesses that are still operating from when I grew up. A lot of stores and restaurants have closed, so I try to support what we have left.
When you look at the dish and your taste buds are salivating, then you take your first bite and are smiling afterwards, that’s comfort food. Food has always been a way of gathering family and friends together. Everyone would bring a dish “potluck style” and it was fun to share recipes of your raved dish. Every person has a special dish that they make. I feel that Hawaii is a melting pot and we have such a diverse influence of food from all ethnicities.
My favorite farmers markets are Rowena’s Produce and Kahului Shopping Center in town. When I go Upcountry, I go to Pukalani.
April Talia Leslie, Manager
Cow Pig Bun
Cow Pig Bun’s Mac n’ Cheese is my favorite comfort food. I think comfort food needs to heartwarming and stomach-satisfying. It’s that feeling of a soul being soothed. I would say most of our food could be considered comfort food, but the ones that come to mind are the Chili Mac, Mac n’ Cheese and our burgers.
We’re so fortunate to live in a place where we have such a large variety of local farms. If we want to increase our local food production, grow your own! Or if you don’t have time or resources, visit farmer’s markets. We serve local products as much as possible at Cow Pig Bun. We also use local ingredients in our cocktails. I use nasturtiums from my home garden in “The Drunken Blossom.” We grow many of our own herbs in our little garden at CPB. You can’t beat being able to pick fresh mint, Rosemary and Basil per order. My favorite farmers markets are Upcountry, Maui Nui and Kula Country Farms.
Renae Robertson, General Manager
Charley’s Restaurant & Saloon
My go to comfort food is Charley’s Chili, topped with jalapenos, cheddar cheese and onions, or Charley’s signature lasagna. It warms and fills you, giving you a satisfaction in eating. Charley’s makes everything in house and uses local ingredients in several of our dishes.
I try to buy local, fresh, organic food whenever possible. Our dollars dictate the market. If we want more, locally grown foods, we have to support that market. I think healing the land from poor growth and pesticide practice will open up more organic, sustainable farming and food sources. My favorite farmers market is the farmer’s market on Lower Honoapi‘ilani Rd.
Chelsee Anderson, Sous Chef De Cuisine
Taverna Urban Drinks Italian Eats
Right now I’m currently cooking my comfort food, and it’s Italian. It’s the food I ate the most growing up. Also, beets, but beets only became a comfort food once I started cooking. It’s food that is good for the soul, food that brings your family and friends together. I believe Italian cuisine is a comfort food for a lot of people. When we opened Taverna we wanted a place with food that people were familiar with. They know what they’re ordering and that’s what they’re going to get.
We live on the island so the food just simply tastes better. Chef and I work with local farmers on a daily basis. We support them and they support us. Farmers Market Maui is the farmer’s market I have been to the most lately.
Ed & Kathy O’Malley, Owners
Being born and raised in New York City, it made sense that my comfort foods come from the menu of a New York-style Deli. We serve Gluten-free and nitrate-free, Boar’s Head meats and cheeses that can be sliced by the pound or panini-pressed as a sandwich. One favorite is the Kuau Reuben, piled with hot pastrami and melted Swiss, then topped with sauerkraut and Thousand Island. Put that on freshly-baked local organic tye and “fah-get-about-it!”
Kuau Store has relationships with local farmers, and purchases organic produce whenever possible. We feel that a well-managed family farm values and clean soil and water, will tend toward organic or organically-managed practices. Our strategy is to carry in our store that which we know and love ourselves. That diversity connects us to all of our customers, no matter where they are in their life’s journey.
Jeremy Solyn, Chef/Sommelier
My favorite comfort food is a box of Kraft mac and cheese–nothing beats that powder with lotsa butter and milk. Comfort food connects to your heart, soul, mind and body. I wouldn’t exactly say we serve comfort food, but we hope our food is comforting.
Almost 100 percent of our vegetable products are local or organic. People can help by buying local and knowing your farmers. I have a favorite farmer, his name is Mike McCoy at Aina Lani Farms in Kula. Great farmer and even better dude!
Sha Anan Fader, Owner/ Chef
Niu Food Co.
Anything potato related, like wedges or fries, are my favorite comfort foods. When Dazoo in Paia was open, they served home fries with gochujang sauce. A friend introduced me and I was secretly obsessed for months. I’ve tried to find a comparable wedge ever since. I’ve heard Nuka in Haiku has delicious fries and my girlfriend keeps talking about Monkey Pod’s truffle oil fries. Comfort food satiates familiarity. It’s full enjoyment and contentment. The way it can leave you in an almost sedated blissful state. At this point in my life, I’d have to say food that hits that content, enjoyment button, without consequence connects with me. In the spirit of good-for-you indulgence, on our menu we’d say the Cultured Coconut Cheesecake is comfort food; a truly beneficial dessert with zero compromise to flavor.
I have to admit to being personally blown away at how far some of the markets have come on the island in such a short time. So many folks with stories as interesting as their products. It’s a great way to get a feel for the evolving collective emphasis on producers and consumers on the island. Support local farmers, request organic and locally sourced produce at grocery stores and restaurants. In today’s environment, businesses have to listen. You as the consumer have the power, speak up with your dollar. Upcountry Farmers Market is my favorite farmers market, primarily because of its emphasis on organic products.
Harpreet Purewal, Owner/ Chef
Satrang Food Truck
Our food truck’s Masala Dosa with raita and sambhar is my favorite comfort food. It has a warmth and ability to bring back memories of eating at home with the family. Comfort food provides an escape from the day to day routine, to just enjoy a moment of pure contentment and sustenance. I come from a family of five and am the second oldest. I always cooked for my younger siblings after school when my mother had to work and I also learned how to make popular Indian dishes at the restaurant owned by my family in California. Whenever I get homesick, enjoying a real fresh Indian meal always makes me feel like my mother is close.
We use Evonuk Farms, Kula Produce and also Kupa‘a Farms. We are also blessed with generous customers who bring us fresh curry leaves, moringa leaves, a variety of peppers, fresh lemons, apple, bananas and lilikois. We need to stop importing foods that can be locally grown here! Maui is blessed with amazing growing conditions, why not use that to everyone’s advantage? Upcountry Farmers Market is my favorite market. Not only does it have a great selection of vendor and items to purchase but it’s also the market where I first started selling Indian dishes. It will always have a soft spot in my heart.
Chef Alvin Savella
The Banyan Tree, Ritz Carlton Kapalua
My favorite comfort food would have to be poke. I can eat raw fish everyday. I usually make my own, but when I don’t I’d say Tamura is my stop. For me, what makes food comforting is the childhood memories. I grew up in a home where we never really ate out. We ate as a family and everyone in the house contributed to the dinner table. Thinking back to my childhood the wonderful scents that came out of our kitchen is something I will never forget. On our menu we have my version of poke for comfort food. It consists of fresh ahi, tempura nibs, Maui onions, togarashi aioli and coconut cilantro foam.
I feel the best way to increase our local food production is to support our local farmers and fisherman. If we can help them grow their businesses, it will only help us become a better, more sustainable Hawaii. To this day about 80 percent of Hawaii’s produce still gets brought in from different parts of the world. Trying to source things locally first only helps the economy and helps the people of Hawaii.
Ellie Salazar, Owner
Sweet Hawaiian rolls with lilikoi butter are my favorite comfort food. I make them using sweet rolls from Hawaiian King and lilikoi butter from Tutu’s Pantry. Comfort food connects me with my family and my roots, the memories that come from just smelling it, remind me of home family and friends.
People can connect to local food by shopping in small local markets and stores. They can support farmers by buying produce from farmer’s markets or getting fish from small local vendors, like South Maui Fish co. Also by buying jams, spices, seasoning and sauces from Tutu’s Pantry! We need to support each other. At Tutu’s, we are a retailer that sells only Made In Hawaii food products. I have an obligation not only to my customers to provide excellent goods and services, but with the community and my employees, too. We show visitors foods that they have never tried before, and it’s our responsibility to market these products so they producers can continue to support their companies and families. My favorite farmers market is the Upcountry market in Pukalani, though I normally shop at Kumu Farms.
Koa Taylor, Chef
Jaws Country Store
My grandma makes a chicken matzo ball soup–that’s my favorite comfort food. Comfort food is beyond taste, it’s about how the food makes you feel. It’s about bringing the history, traditions, and love into the food you create; When someone puts the love into the food, that brings the comfort. On our menu, everything is a created dish. I put a lot of love in the food.
The best way to connect to local food is to go out into nature and see what is around, see what grows, see and feel what season it is. Go to your local farmers markets and talk with the farmers. Build relationships with the farmers and backyard growers, the fisherman, the hunters. Keep spreading the awareness of how much better locally grown food is for everyone. Plant your own back yard garden, big or small. It will help you feel the love of growing your own food. At Jaws, we do our best to source the freshest local ingredients from our Maui farmers. We use what we can grow on our property because we know the importance it holds in the community. I love the Kula Farmers Market but I also love to see what I can buy out our back door from neighborhood small farmers and green thumbs.