Hawaii’s chefs are feeding folks affected by the deadly Maui wildfires.
Under the umbrella of Chef Hui, a project of Chef Mark “Gooch” Noguchi’s Pili Group, local cooks and food service providers from across Hawaii are making meals free-of-charge for the Maui community.
One of volunteer chefs is Hilo-born James Beard nominee Sheldon Simeon of Tiffany’s Maui and Tin Roof — both Central Maui establishments he owns with his wife, Janice — a two-time “Top Chef” finalist.
“I’m just a small piece in this amazing, beautiful machine that is making food day in and day out. It’s a tragedy, what just happened. But this shows what our community is all about,” Simeon told the Tribune-Herald.
Others include chefs Perry Bateman of Mama’s Fish House in Paia, Ravi Kapur of the Liholiho Yacht Club in San Francisco and Bruce Bloomberg of New York’s Blue Ribbon Brasserie.
Also cooking are a couple of celebrity chefs whose Lahaina restaurants were destroyed — Lee Ann Wong of Papa‘aina at the Pioneer Inn and Isaac Bancaco of Pacific’o on the Beach.
Many involved in the effort aren’t famous, but are dedicated and skilled cooks.
“We’ve got Mexican brothers who had a food truck in Lahaina that burned down,” Simeon said. “They were in the shelter for a few days, and then they came to the kitchen to help prep — because they were sitting in the shelter, and they had nothing else.”
The Chef Hui Maui Food Hub is distributing the meals to communities islandwide in partnership with the Salvation Army, the Red Cross, World Central Kitchen and Common Ground Collective.
“It’s amazing work,” Simeon said. “We’ve got all these amazing cooks from all around the island. We just went up to 11,000 meals. …. And I think it’s going to keep on climbing, to tell you the truth.
“There’s more work, and we’ll keep on going.”
In addition to the shelters and War Memorial Complex, there are community hubs set up islandwide so the meals can find their way to people who haven’t lost their homes, but have no way to cook.
“The neighborhood up on Lahainaluna Road, those houses are still intact,” Simeon said. “They’ve been living off the grid, no electricity, just off generators. They’ve been building their own little hubs in their own community, and we’ve been going over there, dropping off food. With the help of World Central Kitchen, we’ve been mobile, going through neighborhoods and knocking on people’s doors and bringing food for aunty and uncle who can’t cook and who can’t go out of their house and come to the food hub. So, we’re boots on the ground, really getting out there and trying to feed everyone who needs a nourishing meal.”
The Big Island Chef Coalition, five top West Hawaii culinarians, has devised a way to prep and send ingredients to Maui for the Chef Hui to finish and distribute.
The five are: Dan Robayo, chef de cuisine of Beach Restaurant at Kohanaiki Club; Junior Ulep, chef de cuisine of Meridia at the Westin Hapuna Beach Resort; Peter Abarcar Jr., executive chef at the Mauna Kea and Westin Hapuna Beach resorts; George Gomes, executive chef at Hokuli‘a; and Vitaly Paley, a James Beard award winner and culinary ambassador at Blue Ocean Manaculture.
“We have a lot of resources in the community, and we can pull in a lot of helping hands to join in,” Robayo said. “We can see Maui, so we want to be able to help. But they have such an outpouring over there in the community that we don’t want to get in the way. So, we want to be able to help alleviate the stress on them by helping to prep ingredients, components of meals to be able to send over to them.
“We’ve got the Palamanui kitchen over here. Chef Paul Heerlein there graciously extended it to us two days a week, all the way to the end of the semester. So we’re doing this for the long haul, through December for right now. We’re going to start cooking immediately. We’re setting up the shipping directly with the Chef Hui foundation and Gooch and his wife, Amanda. That’s our game plan.”
“I own my own business, too, Pa‘ina Pantry,” he continued. “And I’ve got an entire staff there of cooks who are volunteering to do everything from vacuum sealing, to portioning, to stirring the soups, breaking down kabocha. We’ve been getting some major food donations from Adaptations, the Hawaii Ulu Cooperative. Adaptations gave us 400 pounds of kabocha and about 1,000 pounds of produce.”
Robayo said the food, once prepped, will be frozen, taken to the Kona airport in refrigerated trucks provided by Blue Ocean Manaculture, and flown to the Maui chefs.
“We’ll get it over there to them, and they can thaw it, cook it however they need to, re-heat it,” he said. “We’re going to be providing components to the meals, so they’re going to be handling the plating. We’re providing the assistance of handling some of the prep for them, because it is so overwhelming.
“I’ve never seen devastation like this, and I’ve done volunteer work with hurricanes. This is something I can’t fathom.”
“Please continue prayers for Lahaina town,” Simeon said. “All the information of how people can help us is on our Chef Hui website. If you want to help with feeding the people on Maui — you literally want to support what we’re doing in feeding people and getting the meals to people — go to ChefHui.com.
“Know that the chefs are cooking with love, cooking with aloha, and trying to feed as many mouths as we can.”
Email John Burnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.