Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Kupu Maui - Alfresco Dining at Kupa'a Farms

Alfresco dining on Maui. What could be better?  

A beautiful landscape, locally grown food lovingly prepared, friendly people to meet. 

These are hallmarks of a Kupu Maui pop up dinner. 

Meeting and greeting at a Kupu Maui dinner.

Like a sand mandala that is labored over for hours, and then brushed away, Kupu Maui is a transcendent, fleeting experience. It will not last, and it will not be repeated. 

Each outdoor dinner is unique, featuring an artisan menu just for that occasion.

Kupu Maui staff hard at work behind the scenes.
Home grown bounty including Kupa'a Farms house coffee.

At the October pop up dinner at Kupa’a Farms, I felt like I had stepped into one of those glossy magazine layouts showcasing a special dinner party or food event, a la Martha Stewart or O Magazine. 

There was a long table, decked in a white table cloth, along a tall bamboo hedge. It was a very picturesque setting. 

I could imagine a future magazine write-up about the gathering and the history behind it, then pages full of sumptuous food photos, and people laughing, and another page for recipes to try at home. 

Roasted vegetables and quinoa on a bamboo leaf plate.
So I wouldn’t be surprised if some magazine did showcase Kupu Maui, along with a page full of recipes. Kupu Maui dinners keep evolving! By the way, if anyone wants a Kupu Maui recipe, just ask. 

After parking, we were greeted by the staff of Kupu Maui, then gathered to walk down a dusty road to the coffee bean orchard for the farm tour.

Marilyn Jansen Lopez of Maui Country Farm Tours
 at the start of the Kupa'a Farms tour. 
Gerry Ross shared his knowledge of coffee growing and talked about nitrogen fixing trees, like glyricidia, the importance of mulching to keep the dust levels down, tips on dealing with fruit eating birds, and showed off his chicken tractor, a PVC pipe and bird netting enclosure that’s movable. 

The PVC pipe and bird netting chicken tractor at Kupa'a Farms.

The chickens can scratch the dirt, pick out bugs, and fertilize the soil. He also talked about his dragon fruit or pitaya plants

Managed by Gerry and his wife Janet Simpson, Kupa’a Farms has diversified agriculture, including garden veggies and fruit trees. 

Young dragon fruit, related to the night blooming cereus.
I was fascinated with the farm tour, since Gerry had spoken the previous month about managing weeds organically at the Maui Farmers Union meeting. So I took a lot of video, mostly of the farm tour.

All of the food was provided by the farm or locally, except for the flour, quinoa, oil, pepper and Beekman's Cajeta Goat Milk Caramel. More on that later.  

After having pizza baked on site by Pierre and Annabelle and Kupa’a Farms own coffee, we sat down at the table. It was open seating.

Pierre prepping a pizza to bake in his outdoor portable oven. 

Dining waste was minimized. 
Instead of ceramic or paper plates, we were greeted by a wide piece of bamboo sheath, like a wide leaf. It was a natural disposable plate that could be put in the compost pile. The cup was made of corn fibers and was also compostable.  People brought their own beer or wine.  Even the dessert was served in the skin or shell of the lilikoi (passionfruit).

We enjoyed using the assorted spreads and jarred items with both the French bread and the lamb. A big hit was a dab of Cajeta Goat Milk Caramel alongside the lamb.

I was curious as to whether the food was cooked on site, but realized there was too much work involved for that. The lamb was a labor intensive process. 

After first writing this post, I found out that the lamb was born and raised in Waihe'e, slaughtered at Decoite, the only federally approved slaughter house in Maui County. Then the lamb was allowed to cure in the kitchen of Merriman's Kapalua under daily supervision. The lamb needed to rest for several weeks before being cooked by a Kupu Maui chef at Maui Executive Catering. Then just before dinner, the lamb was gently reheated - and then was quickly devoured.

Lamb, served as "steaks" or as patties.
The dessert was made ahead of time, and chilled. The quinoa and vegetables were also prepared by Dania Katz at an offsite, commercial kitchen.

The three word inspiration for that month's Kupu Maui menu:

  1. Kohana - Naked, bare. The food will be seasoned lightly, not overly dressed. Simple. Clean and exposed.
  2. Pono - Do the right thing. Think about giving back. Supporting this farm and all that it takes to feed a community.
  3. Akepa - Take only what you need, leave the rest. Then use it all. No waste.
Chilled, lilikoi cream dessert served in the shell. 

The menu:
  • Pizza – prosciutto, cheese and basil - by Pierre and Annabelle of Pulehu Pizza
  • Green salads & Roasted vegetable quinoa by Kupu Maui
  • There were two types of salads. One was both sweet and savory, with pomegranate seeds and unexpected bits of cheese.
  • French Bread & Naked Cow Dairy butter
  • Assortment of mustards, mint jelly and preserved items by Maui Preserved and others
  • Dessert cookies

Shortbread style dessert cookies being served on a ti leaf.
(a Hawaiian plant not for tea drinking)

Were there any downsides to Kupu Maui?

  • Well, as a former vegetarian, I didn't notice a vegetarian entree. However there was plenty of salad, bread, quinoa and roasted vegetables.  The lamb steaks or loins went away pretty quickly, but there were still lamb patties, and we kind of prodded Marilyn’s husband into eating the last bit of lamb at our end of the table. I've now found out that Kupu Maui does offer vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options.  I didn't see alternative options mentioned on the website back in October, but they are happy to accommodate. Just ask. 
  • Also, it’s a deliberately social event. An exceptionally shy person might be overwhelmed by meeting new people or asking for more bread. Our section of the tabled inhaled the French bread and we kept needing more.

Delectable prosciutto, basil and cheese pizza

  • The dinner was not inexpensive but I think for the uniqueness of the experience, that $65 per person was reasonable (and included a farm tour). For me, it was a bit of a splurge.  DH needed more convincing, but he can’t help it, he’s just naturally pake (cheap). The price of a Kupu Maui ticket can range from $45- $60 or more depending on the cost of the ingredients and labor involved.
  • Lastly, it’s not a quick one or two hour dinner. It involves a good portion of the day trekking to the location, if it’s not nearby, going on a tour of the property, and then sitting down to a French style dinner, with plenty of time between each course. Our gathering started at 3 pm and we ate at 4 pm or 4:30 pm while there was still plenty of daylight. I had to tie up my husband and drag him away from his motorcycle project. He really enjoyed the lamb.

Farm fresh feast at Kupa'a Farms in Kula. 
Since I'm always fascinated by who shows up at various events on island, I noticed that most of the people I talked to were Maui residents but not what I consider "locals," meaning born and raised here. It may vary with different Kupu Maui dinners. But the October pop up dinner had a different mix of people than say, at a Hale Nanea event

The art of Kupu Maui encourages us to eat, share and honor locally grown food. Since first starting in April 2012, their outdoor pop up dinners continue to be held once a month, except for November and December, at a surprise location. Tickets sell out fast! Check the Kupu Maui twitter feed to find out the location around the 6th or 7th of each month. 


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