RECIPE COURTESY OF CHEF LEE ANDERSON IMAGE BY BARRY FRANKEL PHOTOGRAPHY
6 – 6oz pieces of fresh fish
3 garlic cloves
1 red onion, roughly chopped
1” piece of fresh galangal, peeled and roughly chopped
2 lemongrass stalks, trimmed and finely sliced
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon brown sugar
2 cups fresh coconut milk
4 kaffir lime leaves
2 Hawaiian chilies, crushed
1 lime, juiced
Place garlic, red onion, galangal, lemongrass, fish sauce, and brown sugar in a blender and process until finely blended. Add coconut milk and blend until combined.
Transfer coconut mixture to a heavy sauce pan. Crush kaffir lime leaves in your hand to release oils and add them to the coconut milk mixture. Heat to a gentle simmer and cook for 10 minutes allowing the flavors to infuse and the sauce to reduce slightly. Add lime juice. Strain and simmer before adding the fish. Gently poach fish for 4-5 minutes.
Check for taste and add salt, pepper and lime juice as desired.
WRITTEN BY SHANNON WIANECKI IMAGES BY BARRY FRANKEL PHOTOGRAPHY
PARTY PROFESSIONAL GROWN IN LOVE
WRITTEN BY SHANNON WIANECKI
IMAGES BY BARRY FRANKEL PHOTOGRAPHY
ON A BEACH ON MAUI, CHEF LEE ANDERSON’S BUSINESS IS BLOOMING
“There are events and there are events,” says Lee Anderson. The chef-turned-entrepreneur clearly specializes in the latter. When we meet at her opulent beachfront catering venue on Maui, she wears candy pink lipstick and a matching pareau. Pink is her signature color; Anderson regularly works in hot pink chef’s coat, and in 2018 for her fiftieth birthday she threw herself a party awash in pink French tulips, toile, and paths carpeted in 60,000 pink rose petals. That was most definitely an event.
Anderson moved to Hawai‘i in 2004 with a vision. She wanted to create a top-class catering company. She came from Charleston, South Carolina, where she had worked in restaurants since age seventeen. “After so many years cooking, I wanted to learn about the front of the house,” she says. For on-the-job training, she took a hostess position at Spago in the Four Seasons Resort Maui. Her boss recognized her talents and promptly promoted her to banquet manager. During her time at Spago, Anderson catered to the resort’s celebrity clientele, ensuring their rehearsal dinners and anniversary parties were both flawless and memorable.
In 2007 she launched Aloha Events, a small offsite catering company. Traveling from party to party, she got to know Maui’s booming wedding and event industry firsthand. She saw that what the island really needed was a one-stop shop for celebrations—an en vogue venue with a kitchen and coordinators included. So she leased a parcel of North Kīhei real estate from her father and began drafting plans.
“I LOVE THE WHOLE IDEA OF THE PARTY, THE CELEBRATION,” ANDERSON SAYS. “THERE’S NOTHING LIKE THE STRESS OF MAKING IT PERFECT—THAT’S WHAT MOTIVATES ME.”
DON’T JUST DREAM IT — BUILD IT
Anderson worked with local architect George Rixey to design a space that functioned like a banquet facility but felt like a home. The result is a palatial two-story house shaped like a Hawaiian hale (house) with a pitched roof and huge open interior. Unique columns inside and out are shaped like poi pounders—painted jet black and textured like lava rock.
Rixey and Anderson outfitted the house with every necessity for throwing epic parties: an extra-long commercial kitchen, custom bar, roomy dance floor, separate bride and groom quarters, and nautilus-shaped staircase that practically begs for a bridal train. The biggest draw, naturally, is the wide lawn that empties onto the beach. Sweeping her hand towards the panoramic view of the sparkling Pacific, Anderson says, “I tell everyone: ‘you’re sitting in my life’s dream.’”
Sugar Beach Events—a full-service catering venue—opened for business in July of 2013. Anderson’s assessment of the industry need was accurate; within three years she had made enough to purchase the property outright. The business has logged twenty-five percent annual growth over the past five years. It’s now a multimillion-dollar operation that employs sixty full and part-time employees and supports a wide range of community fundraisers. Anderson hosts wedding industry professionals at Sugar Beach for an annual holiday party, in addition to multiple year-round benefits in support of student filmmakers, people living with disabilities, and other local causes.
This summer she’ll participate in “The Longest Day,” a global effort to cure Alzheimer’s disease.
While Anderson feeds her soul by giving back to the community, she satisfies her creative impulses with an ever-evolving inventory of décor. Her storage closet resembles a theater prop room, with opulent fabrics, various types of risers, and accent pieces designed to dazzle. She proudly shows off one of her most notable pieces—a European bicycle cart, which she climbs onto and effortlessly pedals around the dance floor. Dutch vendors traditionally used large pedal-powered contraptions like this to sell cheese or bread. Here on Maui, this one serves as the Sugar Beach Events mobile barista bar. The antique accoutrement gives Anderson’s events a contemporary chic feel.
Keeping ahead of the trends in entertaining is no easy feat. Anderson regularly invests in new servingware: Nick and Nora glasses for celebratory toasts, mini wooden cutting boards for cheese platters, and cigar boxes for smoked appetizers. To accommodate it all, she first filled her ample closets, then an outdoor hutch, and finally rented space next door in a neighbor’s garage. The extra effort and expense is worth it when she sees her guests’ delighted response. “Vintage tumblers are what’s hot right now,” she says. “Those glasses from the 1970s with Smurfs and other cartoon characters…It’s all about nostalgia.”
Anderson keeps her skill set as sharp as her kitchen knives. She belongs to the International Caterers Association and routinely attends culinary conferences. She seeks out opportunities to work with celebrity chefs and encourages her employees to do the same. “My role is to share and teach and help people be successful,” she says. Three of her chefs have won scholarships to study in New Orleans. As a member of Les Dames d’Escoffier, a philanthropic culinary organization led by women, she helps cultivate emerging cuisines and chefs worldwide.
When Anderson travels—which is often—she takes cooking classes wherever she lands. “I try to learn what’s local in each place,” she says. This year alone she will visit New Orleans, Nashville, Salt Lake City, Portland, Portugal, and Morocco. Back at home, she develops new recipes based on her excursions and incorporates the stories behind each one. Inspired by a milk-poached pork dish, she created a coconut-milk-poached fish entrée that suits Hawai‘i’s tropical atmosphere.
SHARE THE LOVE
Like most savvy business owners, Anderson credits much of her success to her exceptional staff. She slowly built up her team from ten to sixty. “It takes a lot to find the right people,” she says. “We’re like a family here.” It’s true. That eye-catching lipstick she’s wearing? It’s a gift from employee who knows her taste well. The pareau is another gift. Upstairs, in the groom’s quarters, three party planners laugh and work side by side, piecing together the elements of someone’s big day.
Sugar Beach Events hosts well over two hundred events per year. Despite the heavy traffic, Anderson strives to give each special occasion a personal and intimate feel. “Our clients mean something to us,” she says. “This building is filled with the love and emotion from every event that has happened here. I think people feel that when they walk in the door. It seeps in.”
Using Sugar Beach as a springboard, Anderson aims not only to fulfill her guests’ desires, but also those of the community at large. Maui residents can attend on site cooking classes and movie nights under the stars. “I try to anticipate what the island is going to need,” says Anderson. Next on her to-do list: establishing a mid-tier catering company for local customers. Maui Ohana Catering will offer affordable, more casual menu selections for residents and business professionals. She also plans to offer a stand-alone barista service for clients who want fancy coffee drinks on demand.
“Anything that keeps me in the party business,” she says, flashing a bright smile. “I really love what I do.” [eHI]
RECIPE COURTESY OF CARL ANDERSON IMAGES BY BARRY FRANKEL PHOTOGRAPHY
¾ ounce Smith & Cross Navy-Strength Jamaican Rum ¼ ounce Campari ½ ounce fresh lime juice ¾ ounce passionfruit simple syrup (1:1) ¾ ounce simple syrup Pinch of salt 2 ounces Maui Brewing Company Blood Orange IPA METHOD: Combine all ingredients except IPA in a mixing tin with ice. Shake to combine and chill. Strain into a coupe glass. Top with IPA. Garnish with lei flower and mint sprig.
RECIPE COURTESY OF CHEF LEE ANDERSON IMAGES BY BARRY FRANKEL PHOTOGRAPHY
INGREDIENTS: Scattered arugula leaves – Kumu Farms 1 radish, thinly sliced (mandolin preferred) – Kumu Farms 4 strawberries, quartered 12 blueberries, halved 1 red beet, roasted and cut into wedges – Aina Lani Farms 1 yellow beet, roasted and cut into wedges – Aina Lani Farms ½ cup goat cheese, placed in a piping bag or zip lock bag – Surfing Goat Dairy Micro greens – Fresh Island Herbs Blood orange olive oil, to taste Kosher salt and pepper
METHOD: Wash the beets, coat with olive oil and kosher salt, and wrap in foil. Place beets in a 350-degree oven for 40 minutes to an hour, depending on the size of the beets. Roast until they can be easily pierced with a toothpick or skewer. Allow the beets to cool and then cut into quarters and set aside. When you are ready to plate the salad, rub the beets with the blood orange olive oil.
The idea of this salad is to present it in a new, fresh way. Think beyond the traditional salad and look at the plate as a canvas upon which to create your own work of art. Place 4 or 5 wedges of beets around the plate in a haphazard pattern. Sprinkle the beets with a little salt and pepper. Now place the radish slices, strawberry quarters, and blueberry halves in the same random way. Using a piping bag, pipe 5 or 6 bean-size peaks of goat cheese around the plate. Top those peaks with micro greens and then add arugula leaves to fill in any of the empty spaces.
Now, you are your own artist. If you’re having a party, your guests will be wowed by this salad.
WRITTEN BY REBECCA REMILLARD PHOTOGRAPHY COURTESY OF KAUAI FOOD FOREST GROUP
IN THE BEGINNING, we were hunters, gatherers, and scavengers. It worked well enough that we kept at it for 200,000 years. Then came the era of agriculture. Humans started extensively planting food in the ground only around 7,000 years ago. And perhaps we have now entered a different epoch entirely, one where only a few farm while most get their food from a grocery store.
It is easy to forget that we live on a tiny chain of islands in the middle of the Pacific with the great abundance of perishables in our local Costcos, Safeways and Foodlands. Our fruit bowls overflow with apples from Chile, grapes from Mexico, bananas from Costa Rica. It is haunting to consider what would happen if the Matson ships stopped sailing. How many of us really know how to till the soil at a subsistence level?
A WALK THROUGH THE FOREST
Just past a row of red ti plants, on a road right off Kuhio Highway in Kilauea, grows the Kaua`i Food Forest. Paul Massey and his dog Sage, both undeniably high-spirited, meet me at the entrance and immediately he is concerned about my legs. I have grown gardens, little herb boxes and potted tomatoes, but, like most of us, I have never worked in or even walked through a food forest. I have naively forgotten about the natural occurrence of mosquitos attracted to the moist soil and worn shorts and Locals. Paul lends me a pair of beige work pants and we’re off, Sage leading our pack.
The Food Forest is not manicured rows of spinach and kale, restrained patches of zucchini and trimmed cucumber plants, nor does it strive to be. At first glance it is a plot of tropical woodland, disorderly with random growth. Then Paul, who plays the role of Food Forest Manager, begins to explain the intentionality of each of the two hundred edible and medicinal plant species that grow in the forest.
“We’ve created plant guilds that serve a common purpose,” he says (plant guild: think symbiotic relationship), gesturing to three plants which are huge components of the forest. Various colors of Coleus, Sissoo spinach which can act like a living mulch under fruit trees, and comfrey, improving the soil by cycling nutrients and keeping weeds out of beds. “This is a prime example of an agricultural system known as multistory agroforestry: a combination of plants that occupy different positions in the vertical space, from tall canopy trees, understory trees beneath them, shrubs, vines, ground covers, and root crops. Each one of these vertical layers produces a valuable part of the total production of the system, which includes food we eat, soil building organic matter, and habitat for the micro and macro-organisms that really make the ecosystem resilient to the extremes of climate change, like the floods Kaua`i experienced last year, and sustainable in the long term.”
If it wasn’t already clear, Paul knows what he’s talking about. A certified arborist and resident of Kaua`i for the last 20 years, he has studied at the National Tropical Botanical Garden on island and the Royal Botanic Garden, Kew in the U.K. He is also the host of In The Garden On The Farm, a weekly radio show (Wednesdays, noon-1pm) on KKCR where he is able to both share and learn.
We walk past a black pepper plant, a pink powder puff, mountain apple, blackberry jam fruit, wing beans, lima beans and a tropical yam growing underground. We stop before an Egyptian Pea tree, growing double overhead and flowering yellow.
“This is called chop-and-drop,” Paul says, using a machete to cut off low branches of the tree then placing them at the base of a neighbor plant and stepping on them. “The leaf becomes bug food, bug poop becomes plant food, plant food becomes food.” It is living mulch, one plant feeding another.
A four-year-old cacao tree grows nearby. Paul cuts off a pod and splits it, offering me half. We eat the pulp off the seeds then spit them out wherever — they just might grow. “Cultivating the forest is about compromise,” he says, “When we choose to plant many plants close, for example, it’s an exchange. Protection from strong wind is perhaps more important than full sun.” There are nitrogen fixing trees growing, some plants that supply shade and cool the ground, others that crowd out weeds, more still cycle out nutrients from the soil, a few prevent erosion, and of course there are those that provide food. Suddenly the food forest no longer appears to be growing in chaos but in deliberate harmony.
This is not just farming, it is permaculture, a sustainable agriculture. The idea is to cultivate the land with all people, including future people, in mind. Paul emphasizes that this is a long-term project, investing energy into the plot for long-term abundance. He believes it is one of the most rewarding aspects of the food forest, the years of commitment it requires. Several of the trees he has planted will take a decade or more to bear fruit. This is a patient person’s game.
Before this specific land had ever been tilled, it was almost certainly the innards of a dense forest. And because Polynesian settlers tended to subsist along the coast and lowlands until the point of resource diminishment, the uplands may not have been touched for a great deal of time. In 1863, the land was sold to Charles Titcomb by Kamehameha IV and it grew sugarcane from 1880 to 1971 then guava from 1977-2006. The parcel was then purchased by Bill and Joan Porter and cleared, then rested as two acres of mowed grass for five years. Now christened Wai Koa, the land became the site of the Kalihiwai Community Garden in 2009, when the future food forests’ nonprofit Regenerations first got involved to assist in the design.
“The garden design, which initially included both vegetable plots and a mixed fruit and bamboo orchard, was conceived at a two-week permaculture design course that I helped to produce. A local nonprofit, Mālama Kaua`i, had secured the lease for the land where the garden and the forest were eventually developed,” says Paul, “The idea of larger scale plantings never left my mind and I continued advocating for its creation throughout the community.” After years and a series of community discussions, a large-scale planting was at last achieved in December 2012 and the food forest was born.
It is a fact that the Hawaiian islands are overly dependent on food imports. It is a service to the community to provide a venue where people can find inspiration and education on how to establish and maintain a food producing system of their own, increasing their food security. For this reason, the food forest always has been and forever will be entwined in the community of Kilauea, of Kaua`i, and of Hawai`i. It intends to serve as an educational demo site where visitors can become proficient in subtropical agroforestry techniques through hands-on experience and even take home cuttings or seeds to start their own baby food forest.
“[THE FOOD FOREST] IS A LIVING, BREATHING ORGANISM”
“It is a living, breathing organism that demonstrates our evolving techniques arrived at through experimentation and a keen observation of the interrelationships of the plants and soil,” Paul says. “The food forest is also a living seed bank, generating an ever-increasing diversity and quantity of planting material for establishing these elegant food and soil building systems in backyards and farms around the island.”
GET YOUR HANDS DIRTY
While visitors can explore the food forest any day of the year, weekly workdays are held every Saturday from 9am-5pm where all are welcome to cultivate the land, get their hands dirty and learn through experience. Green thumbs and novices alike can interact with the food forest, and, “both figuratively and literally, enjoy the fruits of our efforts,” Paul says referring to the weekly group meal, made with food harvested from the forest. Possible menu items include: wild chicken stew, giant yams, curried coconut soup, and almost certainly pickled vegetables.
At this point, the forest represents thousands of people’s work. Passionate community members and volunteers, the nonprofits of Regenerations, Mālama Kaua`i and Sanctuary of LUBOF, Paul and his right hand men from the beginning, Marshall Paul and Rob Cruz, and all of those who have donated seeds and cuttings; it takes a village to grow a forest.
On our way back to where we began, Paul hands me a rollinia fruit, a relative of the soursop. It is pale yellow and delicate, bruising easily. He tells me it is ready, to eat it soon. We stop briefly so he can pick himself some edible hibiscus, or lau pele; this will be Paul’s dinner tonight, he will steam them. He plucks the leaves tenderly, like this plant is an old friend. After so much time and energy spent in the food forest, perhaps it is. “I’m in love with this place and what it keeps revealing to us,” he says. [eHI]
WRITTEN BY SUSAN TETON IMAGE BY ALLYSON TAYS We invite a community member to Talk Story and share a personal experience related to our issue theme.
A group of four women spark change within themselves and the community for lasting shift in our food system. Have you ever noticed an unmet need in your community, and asked yourself, “Why doesn’t somebody do something about that?” This is what happened to me and three of my colleagues/friends a few years ago as we gazed at the Central Valley of Maui, now fallow after Alexander and Baldwin (A&B) stopped mono-cropping sugarcane. Two of my friends, Kutira Decosterd and Sandra Hay, had just seen Oprah give her “Live Your Best Life” talk at the Maui Arts and Cultural Center. During her speech, Oprah mentioned that all of us here on Maui were obviously living our best lives. “Really?” they thought. The beautiful environment and tropical weather may create an image of paradise, but underneath the rainbow we still have our share of problems.
Hawaii imports approximately 85-90% of our food, which makes us particularly vulnerable to natural disasters and global events that disrupt shipping and other transportations of food. Many in Hawaii suffer from illnesses such as diabetes after adopting a “Western, fast-food” diet. While the tourism industry thrives, we wrestle with issues of homelessness and lack affordable housing for the people who live, work, and raise their families here. And don’t forget the climate change threatening our coastline at an alarming rate.
OUR “AHA” MOMENT
When Kutira and Sandra walked away from Oprah they had an “aha” moment. Around that same time another friend, Charlotte O’Brien, and I were having similar conversations. We all knew a lot about agriculture and the methods, policies and infrastructure that supports it. We understood that cultural practices of long ago had sustained populations larger than ours is now. We saw that a marriage of new regenerative farming methods with ancient cultural practices could hold the key to a healthy food future.
During a get-together one evening, we decided to write Oprah a letter asking if she would join us in our cause to inspire regenerative agriculture practices and grow food for local consumption in Maui’s Central Valley. Food grown in vibrant, chemical-free soil brimming with healthy microbes contains vital nutrients and minerals that we need to grow strong and healthy bodies. Microbial rich soil is also one of the foremost ways to achieve carbon sequestration, which reduces carbon emissions. We wanted to live our best life, and we thought food could be at the center of making that happen.
THERE IS SO MUCH MORE
By growing our food locally we can grow our economy. According to State statistics: for every 10% of food grown locally, $313 million is infused into our State economy. Growing food within the State enables the expenditures on food to remain in the local economy. We can feed the people and the economy at the same time!
Regenerative farming practices will protect our water, reefs and air quality instead of poisoning them with toxic chemicals. Many new jobs could be created and our tourism and economy could thrive. This may seem idealistic, but statistics show that new, regenerative methods are proving to increase yield, boost nutrition, and sequester carbon, all while growing a healthy bottom line.
Our letter to Oprah was never sent. We decided we had to be the ones to take action. I am not sure what we were thinking, never dreaming we would get as far as we have. But, much like a farmer when he gazes upon an empty landscape, our vision was birthed that day.
We called our new company “Aina First.” A love of the land is at the core of the Hawaiian culture – when we honor the land that feeds us then we honor all life, and we all win. Our motivation and guidance created our tagline: Driven by Urgency, Guided by Nature, and Supported by Community. These three guiding principles keep our mission in focus.
IMUA: MOVING FORWARD
Together we stumbled through the dynamics of starting a business. We gathered experts from across the State and abroad and began negotiating with A&B to purchase the land. We reached out to the community, creating a coalition for local food production for the Central Valley. Our farm plan took shape and a Pro forma was created. Then on December 28, 2018 we learned that someone else – Mahi Pono, a division of Trinitas – had purchased the land.
Perhaps this is the best thing that could have happened. We are now moving forward in hopes of leasing a large piece of the land, and our community outreach continues to inspire new ideas as we proceed with our educational series around the benefits of regenerative agriculture. We started with a vision to grow food for Hawaii and growing takes patience. There is a momentum that is flourishing here and with nourishment we will continue to grow our dream. IMUA!
Susan Teton Campbell, author of Eating As A Spiritual Practice, The Healthy School Lunch Action Guide, and the Chef Teton Essential Cuisine DVD Series, resides on Maui. Susan is an active educator and community organizer for healthy food and regenerative farming practices. She teaches cooking, and coaches for health and longevity.
RECIPE COURTESY OF CHEF HILARY BARSBY IMAGES BY BARRY FRANKEL PHOTOGRAPHY
This salad gets rave reviews at the retreats I cook for a few times a year. The dressing doesn’t have garlic, as I have several clients with sensitivities. Add a clove to the dressing if you wish.
1 bag Kumu Farms mixed greens
1 heart of palm
3 medium-sized roasted Chioggia beets
1/2 cup toasted macadamia nuts
1 bag sunflower sprouts
> Wash and spin salad greens.
> Shave heart of palm, and set aside.
> Dice or slice avocado into strips.
> Peel and cube beets, and roast in 375-degree oven with avocado oil, salt and thyme for 20 minutes or until tender.
> Place raw macadamia nuts on sheet tray. Bake in 350-degree oven until toasted, 5-7 minutes.
DRESSING INGREDIENTS (makes 1 pint):
1 preserved Meyer lemon, rinse well before making dressing
½ cup fresh tarragon, stripped from thick stem
2 tablespoons local honey
1 1/2 cups Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Sea salt and black pepper to taste
> Place all ingredients into a high-speed blender (such as a Vitamix or Blendtech), and blend for 15 seconds or until smooth.<span class=”Apple-converted-space”> </span>
> Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Thin the dressing with a splash of water if it is too thick.
> Place greens into salad bowl with some of the beets, heart of palm and sprouts.
> Toss with 3 tablespoons of dressing to start and add more to your liking.
> Place onto plates and garnish with additional ingredients.
>Grind fresh sea salt and black pepper over the top.
Chef Hilary is a Maui Culinary Academy graduate, with a secondary degree in plant-based cuisine. She has been a private chef on Maui for the last 2.5 years serving private clients and retreats island wide. Her main passion is healthy food preparation and helping clients with food allergies and restrictions.
Featured Farms: Kumu Farms, Ono Farms and Kahanu Aina Greens
> Using the thin slice on a mandolin, slice the daikon length-wise. With a knife, cut the daikon pieces length-wise again to make “noodles.”
> Grate the carrot.
> Chop the basil.
> Place all ingredients in a large bowl.
1/3 cup creamy peanut butter, almond butter or sunflower butter
2 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons maple syrup, agave, or honey
½ a lime (about 2 tablespoons lime juice)
1 teaspoon chili powder
½ a jalapeño
2 tablespoons shredded ginger
2 tablespoons water
> Blend all ingredients together in a blender.
> Pour the dressing over the “noodles.”
Roasted peanuts or almonds
> Divide the “noodles” into 4 separate bowls.
> Top with roasted peanuts, fresh cilantro, and bean sprouts.
> Add chopped jalapeño or green onions if desired.
What to do with the ends of the carrots, herb stems, and ginger peels? Instead of putting them straight into the compost, store them in a container in the freezer. When the container is full, boil the scraps for half an hour in a soup pot, strain, and you’ve got a unique, homemade vegetable stock!
Emily is a private chef on Kauai. She has cooked her way through our National Parks as a backcountry chef, studied in France, and was head pastry chef at a large vegan and gluten-free restaurant in Wyoming. To book a personalized dinner with Emily, please contact her through www.chefemilybucks.com.
Featured Farms: Moloa’a Organica’a, Glory Farm with Hannah
WRITTEN BY LINDSEY KESEL IMAGES COURTESY OF FORK & SALAD
The trio behind Three’s Bar & Grill and Fork & Salad in Maui grew their passion project into a booming enterprise against all odds. Through it all, they’ve learned that cultivating a business founded in friendship means never giving up.
After their lives intersected in the kitchen of Longhi’s Wailea, a popular Italian seafood restaurant in Kihei, Maui, Travis Morrin, Cody Christopher and Jaron Blosser became thick-as-thieves surf buddies with another serious hobby in common — a deep-seated love of cooking. During “board meetings” in the water, they often daydreamed about what a future fixated on food might look like. They itched to create something that would let them surf and cook as much as they wanted, and in 2009, the friends decided to go all in on building their dream business with a commitment to not only make great food, but also to do right by their customers and collaborators.
A SHORT TRIP FROM CATERERS TO RESTAURATEURS
Before they could talk themselves out of it, the foodie friends powered forward with Three’s Catering — the name, a nod to the idea that each partner brings unique strengths to the table that perfectly complement the whole. Three’s offered Maui clients an eclectic combination of cooking styles — Hawaiian, Southwestern and Pacific Rim — and service was just as essential as fresh ingredients and inventive dishes. Their new venture garnered such positive response that after just a few months of catering events, in 2010 the budding entrepreneurs were able to rent a brick-and-mortar space at Kalama Village in Kihei for their first restaurant, Three’s Bar & Grill.
THE LUCKY BREAK THAT LED TO A BIG BOOM
In 2013, Travis, Cody and Jaron’s little catering experiment hit a big break when they won the bid to cater all of the Pacific Whale Foundation’s snorkel charters, a gig that would help keep them afloat through all the challenges that lie ahead. Then the friends took a gamble and introduced one of the first-ever food trucks on Maui — before it became a hot trend — and were stoked to see how much people loved casual, cost-effective food truck weddings. With some stability, the guys felt confident enough to move forward with a fun new concept they’d been tossing around — a farm-to-table, fast-casual restaurant they called Fork & Salad that would make eating healthy and eating local convenient and affordable. In July of 2016, Fork & Salad debuted in Kihei touting over 50 local ingredients and won the “Friend of Agriculture” award given by the Maui County Farm Bureau. Shortly after, Three’s Bar & Grill was featured in an episode of Food Network’s hit show “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives.” In June of 2018, they opened a second Fork & Salad location in Kahului, Maui.
In all likelihood, the eager chefs’ headfirst dive into restaurant ownership should have been nothing more than a flash in the pan, especially since none of the three had any real business experience. (Deciding to break into the food industry during the worst part of the recession didn’t help, either.) But something about their formula worked. Building three successful local eateries from the ground up and growing a handful of staff to a team of over 100 wasn’t easy, but the co-owners put everything they had into the business with no shortage of elbow grease and grit.
“Being naive was the best thing we had on our side,” says 39-year-old Cody. “If we’d started out with smart business sense and looked at all the numbers, that would have talked us out of it quicker than anything. We necessarily didn’t care; we just wanted to open a restaurant with our best friends.”
Growing up in Beaumont, Texas, Cody’s family was big into barbecue, and he was constantly immersed in the Cajun and Creole styles of cooking. He recalls the particular night his infatuation with the world of food began, around age 10:
“My Uncle Chip was getting married and the reception was held at this fine-dining French restaurant in Houston. It was a 15-course meal and the chef came out and introduced himself, then brought me back into the kitchen and let me ask questions. Those swinging doors, the yelling, the fast pace of it all, and the smells
of all the different spices — I knew right then I wanted to be a part of it.”
After graduating from the culinary program at the Art Institute of Houston, Cody worked at a two Michelin Star restaurant in Oslo, Norway, then spent time in California surfing and learning from experienced culinary experts to become what he calls “a well-rounded chef” — as adept at baking as he is at grilling.
The first three years of running a restaurant were an uphill battle, Cody says, but he and his cohorts were able to weather the obstacles largely because they were all willing to do whatever needed to be done. “You’ve got to wear a lot of hats, and the cooking is the easy part…” he says. “If it meant washing dishes, if it meant climbing under our building and fixing a busted pipe because we couldn’t afford a plumber, we just did it.” With help from countless YouTube videos, Cody’s been able handle a lot of building, carpentry and welding for their spaces.
In year two of being open, Three’s Bar & Grill succumbed to a kitchen fire that forced them to shut down for 41 days. “At 6 am that day I got a call from the chef and I knew the whole kitchen must be on fire. There was no time to panic; it was step one — the Pacific Whale boats are going out this morning we need to make sure that those are stocked, and step two — we need a place to cook tomorrow morning. So I’m making calls to use our neighbor’s kitchen, Jaron’s talking to the general contractor about the rebuild, and Travis is making sure the catering keeps rolling.” When a crooked accountant made off with $30,000 of their hard-earned profits later that year, no one would have blamed them for throwing in the towel. But the partners used the adversity as fuel to hustle even harder. “If anything, the fire and the theft were wake up calls that it was time to stop ‘winging it’ and get serious,” says Cody. “From then on we were focused on knowing our business inside and out.”
A native of Maui, 31-year-old Travis Morrin was always around the hospitality industry, since his dad held the general manager position at a local hotel. He has fond memories of watching a French cooking show with his mom almost every afternoon and remembers how therapeutic it felt to watch people work with their hands as they transformed ingredients from one state to another. “It’s really an art form in a sense; you have to balance a lot of elements: texture, flavor, appearance, the whole nine yards,” he says.
At 20 years old, Travis attended the culinary arts program at the University of Hawaii Maui College, and he was still in school when the opportunity came to open up Three’s Bar & Grill. “I actually don’t remember a lot of it because it was so difficult,” he says. “We were making like $300 every two weeks and a lot of people thought we were crazy.”
Their scheme worked, Travis believes, because of how well each partner complements the other two. “It’s easy to knock down one person, but it’s a little harder to knock down three,” he says. “Jaron is very good with numbers and he brings us down to earth in terms of what we can actually do and how we can be smart about it. I’m the creative, entrepreneurial guy and Cody is an incredible chef and a tremendous builder.” Always one to pitch new concepts for expansion, Travis says they’ve always stuck to the law of “majority rules” when deciding what direction to move in next, making sure to put the partnership first.
Once a week, Travis holds meetings with the upper management teams, providing an open floor to discuss ideas and issues and check in on the numbers. “The regular face-to-face interaction really helped turn our business around because we were finally setting some short-term goals to pair with our long-term vision,” he says. “They continually inch us forward and keep us growing in a healthy, sustainable direction.”
THE NUMBERS GUY
Growing up in Durango, Colorado, Jaron Blosser’s family sushi outings every Friday night were his first taste of how food could command an audience. “I would order a simple roll — just rice, nori and crab — and I would be hooked because of the flavors and presentation. We would go to Benihana and I remember wanting to be one of those chefs doing all the tricks.”
Right out of high school, Jaron attended Scottsdale Culinary Institute, then earned his chops as a cook under accomplished chefs in Durango, Seattle, and Olympia, Washington, in the niches of Japanese, Pacific Rim and French cuisine. As far as what makes a great meal, he answers: “You need good ingredients and a balance of flavors, textures and temperatures, but what truly makes a difference is passion in the process and in the details. Some of my favorite dishes had very few ingredients, but it was the character of who prepared it, or the way it was served, that made it meaningful for me.”
“YOU’VE GOT TO WEAR A LOT OF HATS, AND THE COOKING IS THE EASY PART… IF IT MEANT WASHING DISHES, IF IT MEANT CLIMBING UNDER OUR BUILDING AND FIXING A BUSTED PIPE BECAUSE WE COULDN’T AFFORD A PLUMBER, WE JUST DID IT.” – THREE’S CO-OWNER CODY CHRISTOPHER
Ever the pragmatist, Jaron says the most stressful part of running a restaurant is the less glamorous stuff — like negotiating the lease with the landlord, talking job scope with the contractor and collaborating with the architect. “The entire future of the restaurant depends on the proper execution of these things, and if we make a mistake, there’s no going back,” he says.
These days, 37-year-old Jaron supervises much of the business’s financial aspects and building projects, or as he sees it, “I mainly solve problems all day as needed!” His biggest takeaway from years of putting out a steady stream of fires? “Just because something appears to be bad, it might end up being a really valuable lesson,” he says.
SPREADING THE NICHE OF ALOHA
Now that they’ve made a big splash in the Maui market, the brain trust behind Three’s is expanding to the mainland to show people “the niche of aloha” with a third Fork & Salad opening in Orange County, California, this spring. The guys have also partnered with FranSmart, a powerhouse in franchise development, to expand their brand even farther across the country and even the world. At the end of the day, their biggest motivator for continued growth is not money, or even love of food, but rather a sense of duty to their extended ohana:
“I’m sure that there are better restaurants out there, but this is our little slice of what we’ve carved out in this world,” says Cody. “We have the responsibility to make sure that our people have a place to come and work so they can take care of their own families. And as long as we do the right thing by our team and our customers and give back to the community, we’ll keep moving forward.”