Maui’s Culinary Scene Catches Fire

Not many states north of the border can seamlessly conquer authentically explosive barbeque; that mouthwatering type culpable for midsummer night cravings. So, for an island that relies on importing around 90 percent of what it eats–physically, and culturally disconnected from mainland style–you can say that bringing barbeque to Hawaii may be venturing into uncharted waters.

Yet, for Maui’s Grand Wailea, these are waters the resort wasn’t afraid to enter as they envisioned their first Fire It Up! event. The Waldorf Astoria-owned property turned to some of the industry’s premier pitmasters and chefs to spark one of the most epic summer barbeques that the island has seen, and ultimately revealed the island’s best kept secret; an insider’s culinary scene that is only getting hotter.



Burgers? Make that a towered truffle burger prepared by Fleur’s Chef Hubert Keller. Slow roast? How about a 16-hour whole-roasted hog by third generation pitmaster Sam Jones. And ribs? No, make that pork belly prepared with charred octopus by former Top Chef contestant John Tesar.

The Grand Wailea embraced the opportunity to put Maui on the foodie map by bringing together these chefs, along with seven others, to curate a mastered menu of designer barbeque as an increasing trend among travelers continues to reflect itineraries that seek seats at the world’s hottest restaurants, or a taste of local culture through festivals and ingredient-sourcing.



Although the resort realized that “foodie” and Maui aren’t typically uttered in the same sentence, yet alone the same conversation, the Grand Wailea didn’t have to look far, with one of the hottest locale’s on the island run by former Top Chef contestant, Sheldon Simeon.

The native Hawaiian first sparked the island’s culinary scene during his time at Mala Wailea and MiGRANT, before heading his own, family-run restaurant, Tin Roof. With Simeon’s roots planted deep in developing creatively local dishes, from poke bowls to garlic noodles and Mochiko chicken, he is considered as one of the original pioneers to shift Maui’s culinary landscape–and was ultimately the piece of the puzzle that brought together the celebrity chef line up for a night of live-fire at the Grand Wailea.



The 11 chefs created classics (yet very unclassic for Maui), like oysters Rockefeller from Mike Lofaro, Chef de Cuisine of the Grand Wailea’s Humuhumunukunukuapua’a and wild boar chili from Executive Chef Ryan Urig; to extravagantly unique, with Bill Durney‘s Vietnamese chicken wings and pastrami bacon. Simeon stole the seafood dish with whole fish cooked in Ti leaf over lava rocks and chef Justin Brunson tackled wood grilled Colorado lamb.

Regardless of your foodie status, as long as you brought your stomach and a somewhat practiced palette, this event set the bar high for all future island barbeques, including the second annual Fire It Up! already set for next year. (Yes, it was that hot they’ve already set next year’s date for July 7!)



As Maui continues to emerge as a culinary destination, the resort has until next year to see if Fire It Up! will become among one of the festivals that have travelers curating their itinerary for–and with the collaboration of local and mainland talent, it sure seems like it will.


Photography by Amber Caires, Amber Vision Photography