Tag: Hawai’i

Foraging Hawai’i With Sunny Savage

Story by Kristen Hettermann

Photography by Sue Hudelson

“Food is such a great way to bring people together… we gather, we share, we commune.”

Sunny Savage can walk anywhere in nature, look at the natural plants, and create a meal. She calls herself a forager.

Sunny’s world is nothing short of a brilliant energy, nourishment and creative abundance. It’s hard not to be captivated by Sunny’s gorgeousness, as she gushes about the healing properties of the weeds growing in her garden. “Did you know elderflower plant and berries shorten the average viral infection from 7 days to 3-4 days?”

It’s easy to latch on to Sunny’s captivation with the huge diversity in plants and the many cultures, textures and flavors to be explored. Committing one hour a day to food harvesting and processing, her daily foraging is a practice of humility, gratitude and sharing. “The plants and I share the earth…its atmosphere and its water,” she say. “We share a moment in time together while I’m out there foraging. I sing them a song and they dance in the breeze. I think positive thoughts while harvesting and they nourish me.”

Sunny feels that every moment as a forager is an opportunity to think about the broader implications of our relationships with our plant friends and how best to peacefully coexist. She has dedicated her life to campaigning on behalf of wild greens and their bounty of micronutrients, phytonutrients, and fiber.

Coming from a “back to the land” family in Northern Minnesota, this visionary didn’t take long to hit the road. At the age of 18, she landed a job running a kitchen at McMurdo Station in frosty Antarctica. Years later, she found herself in Africa working with the Pygme Folks through a USDA Grant to introduce wild foods in gardening projects. By the time she was 30, Sunny had ventured to every major continent and held a resumé that boasted a Bachelor of Science Degree in Dietetics and a Master’s Degree in Nutrition Education, with a focus on the antioxidant properties of wild greens.

“I grew up close to nature—with a respect for nature. Some of my fondest childhood memories include tapping maple trees and harvesting wild berries,” says Sunny. “I received inspiration from my mom, who taught us a lot about medicinal plants, about making tinctures and salves that cured all of our ills. I knew from an early age that going to nature was the answer for optimal health.”

While she was filming her TV series Hot on the Trail with Sunny Savage in 2008, Sunny traveled by RV and motorcycle through 17 states visiting state parks and wildlife refuges. The show currently airs in the U.S. and can be found in markets in Eastern Europe. “My goal has always been to educate as many as I can about wild foods and to share my passion. There is incredible fun in getting outside and recognizing how to eat these gifts that are just waiting to be unwrapped!” Sunny’s Hot on the Trail tour took her to Maui and Kaua‘i, where three episodes were filmed. She rented a room for her project base in Maui, where she fell in love with her landlord, Ryan Savage. Their love affair took her around the world on yet another adventure.

“It was my husband’s lifelong dream to sail around the world,” says Sunny. The couple made plans to go on a sailing adventure like none other, exposing Sunny’s first son, Saelyn, to the world at large. Leaving Maui in August of 2010, Sunny and Ryan picked up their sailboat in Florida and circumnavigated around the Caribbean. Starting in St. Lucia, they sailed through the Caribbean chain to northern South America, Colombia and the Caribbean side of Panama, then back up to Florida via Honduras and Mexico. “I am a forager at heart, so I was always looking for new and old plants to play with,” says Sunny. “I was able to learn about many new plants, as well as share my own knowledge with hundreds of others.”

Some highlights? Teaching the Kuna that cattails were edible. Preparing several wild food dishes while presenting at the University for Peace in Costa Rica. Sharing knowledge with rastas in Dominica. Tending a permaculture farm gone wild. “I nibbled my way through many countries…tasting their wild side.”

Foraging Hawaii at www.ediblehi.com

Back on Maui, Sunny and Ryan decided to have a child, and a short year after the return from their adventure, little Zeb was born. In describing the honor in motherhood, Sunny’s face melts as she talks about her service to her newborn son. “He smiles and it melts my heart. Nourishing myself is nourishing him.”

Sunny is adamant about raising her little one with wild foods. Babies can start with poi and stewed wild greens. Kiawe flour and edible flowers are wonderful additions for growing keiki, and Jamaican vervain flowers (Stachytarpheta jamaicensis) are great little flowers for children to utilize. “Our children learn through example,” says Sunny. “Eating a bio-diverse diet, full of different colors, smells, flavors and textures, sets the nutritional foundation of a healthy life.” And the uses of wild foods don’t stop at eating. Baby Zeb is often dressed in handmade bamboo onesies with wild nettle and milkweed fibers dyed with wild coyote brush.

Sharing is a major theme at the Savage home, as Sunny, her family and their Woofers all work the land daily. Her terraced, permaculture-style garden going far into a gulch has over 30 weeds and plants harvested weekly for food. “Nature is so abundant that I oftentimes find myself with more than my family and I need. Our property has 11 people living on it, so sharing the abundance feels good and is integral to community building.”

Foraging Hawaii at www.ediblehi.com

So what’s up next? Sunny is releasing Wild Food Plants of Hawaii, a self-publishing effort covering several wild food plants of the Hawaiian Islands, as well as her personal manifesto on the importance of eating wild foods in the face of punctuated global change. Once the book is finished, Sunny is moving toward editing an inspirational film about her family’s trip through the Caribbean. In addition, she is excited to find new combinations of plants for her medicinal clothing line, and will continue teaching and strategizing about the use of wild foods here on Maui and for our global family.

“I relate to aloha. I feel it. I live it. I teach it to my children. Love of my fellow brothers and sisters, love of the ‘āina, and love of the Ha‘ikū mist that blesses us and brings rainbows.”

To buy Sunny’s upcoming book: wildfoodplants.com

For more information on Sunny Savage: sunnysavage.com



Local Food Finding It’s Way To Resort Menus

Story by Melissa Chang

Think of locavore dining and often smaller, independent restaurants come to mind. This is especially true in Hawai’i, although as resources grow, an increasing number of the Islands’ large resorts are able to bring local foods to the table.

While the chef-farmer collaborative is now a common practice, this has not traditionally been the case for hotel chefs. Their food and beverage operations are usually cost-conscious (generally at the expense of providing high-cost food for their guests.) Since Hawai‘i-grown produce tends to fetch a premium, sourcing local has not been a popular practice for large resorts.

Even with the added heft of a resort’s buying power, overall demand for Hawai‘i products is not enough to bring prices down. Charging astronomical prices for everything on the menu would put a resort restaurant at risk of being priced out of the dining market. For hotel chefs, then, sourcing locally becomes a delicate balance between providing great, local food and being fiscally responsible.

But the rewards, as some proactive chefs are finding, are very gratifying.

“We try every way we can to get as much local goods into our properties and on to our guest’s plates,” said Starwood Hotels & Resorts chef de cuisine William Chen (of Beachhouse at the Moana). “Our guests love hearing about how the tomatoes they are enjoying are from over the mountain, or how the beautiful fish and meats are locally sourced. It gives them a much deeper connection to Hawai‘i and the cultures here.”

With this in mind, resort chefs must go far beyond being great cooks; they must also be savvy businessmen. It’s long been said that doing business in Hawai‘i isn’t completely about what you know, but who you know. The chefs we talked to said they have spent years cultivating relationships with local farmers to get the best prices and to work out the most efficient ways to get seasonal products to the table.

“When dealing directly with specific farmers, we started the process slowly, at a smaller scale and looked at it with a completely different approach,” Grand Wailea executive chef Eric Faivre tells us. “Instead of dictating what we needed, first I asked the farmers to let us know what we could get from them. This helped build trust and more face to face contact between us. Then we started placing standing orders for other, larger departments like banquets.”

Allen Hess, executive chef of Canoe House at the Mauna Lani Bay Hotel & Resort, adds that dealing directly with farmers helps to get better prices, too.
Hess believes the direct contact translates to a higher quality product because he’s able to monitor it himself.  “If the quality is good and you pay the farmer what he wants, you will always receive good product,” Hess explained. “Most hotels run a relatively low food cost so there is always room for them to pay a little more for exceptional quality.”

Supply & Demand

Tidepools hamachi watermelon
Limited land is a challenge for island farmers to yield the quantities needed to keep prices down, let alone simply getting enough products for the resort.
Consider this: even on the tiny island of Kaua‘i, the Grand Hyatt Poipu alone has 602 guest rooms, six restaurants and six lounges that all serve food. They bring in at least 288 pounds of fresh island seafood every day, which comes to 52 tons of seafood a year. Diners at the resort consume 629 pineapples and 850 papaya each week. That’s more than 32,000 pineapples and 44,000 papaya each year. How can supply meet demand?

“Infrastructure and distribution on Kaua‘i is still the greatest challenge for me and the resort,” Grand Hyatt Poipu Executive Chef Matt Smith said. “Produce is a great example. I know there are farmers here on Kaua‘i, but it isn’t always easy to obtain their product on a regular basis in the quantities we would like.”

Smith sees the challenge of island inventory as an opportunity to showcase products from around the State, using long-standing relationships with Surfing Goat Dairy, Ali‘i Kula Lavender, Kaua‘i Fresh Farms, Hamakua Mushrooms and the many specialty farms in Kula. (He developed relationships with Maui farmers when he was the executive chef at Hyatt Regency Maui.) “The inventory purveyors carry here is very limited. In order to get anything different, it’s always a special order. There are so many incredible artisan producers and specialty farms across Hawai’i. getting the goods here is difficult.”

Faivre, although on a larger island, agreed: “The main challenges are still the variety of options available on Maui, but we are working together to increase communication between all parties. We want to make sure the farmers know to keep growing what we’ll always need, but also what we need sometimes…and what we may need one day.”

Chef Matt Smith Photo Courtesy of Grand Hyatt Poipu
Chef Matt Smith
Photo Courtesy of Grand Hyatt Poipu

Grown here, not flown here

In the name of freshness, even in the digital age, customers are becoming more understanding of discrepancies in listed online menus and actual daily menus. Faivre said that the Grand Wailea simply uses broad verbiage on their menus that allows them to switch vegetables or fruits according what is available each week at the farm. He’s found that diners are open to eating more common local vegetables instead of fancier ones grown on the mainland. “So far, its been terrific and I haven’t encountered a client refusing a great seasonal, freshly harvested local vegetable, instead of something else barged in from 5,000 miles away.”

Chen added that frequent communication helps the farmers understand the resort’s weekly consumption; in turn they’re able to give the chefs advance notice when an item may need to be swapped or isn’t available.

The chefs have also been instrumental in introducing local products that have previously been deemed unfavorable. “When I started at Canoe House I said that we would be putting grass-fed beef on the menu, but no one wanted it,” recalled Hess. “The response was, ‘we know our customers, and they don’t want it.’ I brought it in anyway, did a taste test, then brought in the rancher, and explained the health benefits of grass-fed beef. We also showed sample menus from high-end mainland restaurants that have Hawai‘i beef on their menus.

“It  took a few months, but they understood. Now they go to a table with knowledge and confidence that we serve a superior product,” said Hess.
Chen is also pleased to see more Hawai‘i grass-fed beef on his menu. “We strive to have as much on our menus that is locally sourced as possible. We have had great success highlighting a new beef program from Hawaiian Ranchers located on Hawai’i Island. Normally a grass-fed product isn’t very well received with people who aren’t familiar with the taste profile, but we have had amazing responses.”

The chefs all try to form strategic partnerships with local farmers. Once a week, for example, Faivre and his team go to Kumu Farms to visit Grant Schule and Manu Vinciguerra to discuss the specific harvests, projects coming up, brainstorm on what’s next from on menu creations, ideas, promotional opportunities and more. He found that these visits energize his team and builds camaraderie between the farmers and chefs.
“It’s great to see their ‘work space’ and get a feel for what the farmers do on a day-to-day basis,” Chen said. “Not only are we putting faces to the farms but also getting a better understanding of their passions and stories. This allows us to bring that passion back to our venues and menus.”
Faivre sums it up nicely: “We have to make sure this farm-to-table awareness is a permanent reality rather than just a trend.”

Allen Hess
Chef Allen Hess of Canoe House Photo courtesy of Canoe House at Mauna Lani Bay Hotel & Resort