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Celebrity chef cooking competitions are ALL the rage these days, and that was no exception at the 7th annual “Mangoes at the Moana” held Saturday at the Moana Surfrider Hotel in Waikiki.
The event’s main attraction was the “Mango Throwdown,” a friendly cooking competition between eight local celebrity chefs. Their mission? Prepare creative dishes featuring mango as the main ingredient. For four hours, each chef cooked and prepared their dishes in tents under the hot, Waikiki sun while diners canvassed each table, choosing which plates tempted their palates.
Anyone who purchased food “scripts” ($6.00 a piece) could vote for which chef made the best dish, and this year’s winner’s circle was a veritable “who’s who” of the local celebrity chef circuit.
The People’s Choice winner was James Aptakin from MAC 24/7. Second place went to Shaymus Alwin of Azure, and Critic’s Choice Winner and 3rd place for People’s Choice was Lee Ann Wong of Koko Head Cafe.
Wong created a sumptuos Niihau Lamb and Mango Dumpling and had this to say about her creation, “We took Niihau lamb necks, and we actually braised them in mango juice, local lemongrass, spices, chilies. We took the meat, mixed it with diced makaha mangoes, a little dried mango, and then we made a curry-spiced samosa dough. It’s gonna be served over lime yogurt with a mango gastrique and a green mango salad.”
Other chefs at the event were Heather Bryan (Top of Waikiki), Ron de Guzman (Stage Restaurant), Darren Demaya (Kai Market) Hiroyuki Mimura (Taormina Sicilian), and Ronni Nasuti (Tiki’s Bar and Grill).
How does a mango festival attract such incredible celebrity talent? Wong says she and the other chefs come because of the quality of the mangoes they can find here. Wong says, “I love this event just because the Best Mango Contest, you’re really trying these varieties that the trees have been in families for generations…the first time you taste two different types of mangoes and you see the variety and the aroma and taste and texture, it’s really amazing.”
And, Wong adds, many visitors come to the event to taste fresh mangoes for the first time.
“Most mangoes that you get on the mainland have been picked too early, they’ve been gassed, and they’ve been basically shipped for shelf-life versus something that’s ripe and falls right off the tree, ready to eat.”
Which means that many visitors to Hawaii may eat their first, ripe, local mango at “Mangoes at the Moana.” But, chances are, it won’t be their last.