Ai means food and pono means good, goodness, benefit (and about a hundred other similar things) in Hawaiian so you get the general drift of the ‘Aipono Dinners that are sponsored by Maui No Ka ‘Oi Magazine to benefit the Maui Culinary Academy. The students work in the kitchen with local chefs to produce wonderful menus, using as many local ingredients as possible, and the wine distributors arrange for sponsor wineries to work with the chef and sommelier to pare wines to the food. It’s always fun and benefits a good cause so we try to go to them when we can.
Recently we went with good friends to the ‘Aipono Dinner at Spago where Executive Chef Cameron Lewark, his staff, and the students created a lovely spring feast. The photos were taken with my camera phone so…you know…as the night got darker, the photos got harder to capture. Plus, wine was involved…
To begin, we were served a light and bright salad of Big Island Maine Lobster. The salad included fuji apples, cucumbers, avocado, green papaya, jiicama and a tangy Asian dressing.
Chef and company followed that with broiled miso marinated walu, also known as Hawaiian butterfish or escolar. The fish was served with marinated cucumber salad, avocado, green onion and sesame aioli.
Our third course was a rich red wine risotto with sweet baby shrimp and parmigiano-reggiano. I wasn’t sure how the red wine, shrimp and risotto would go together, but no worries, it was amazing!
Next came grilled chinois style lamb chops served with Hunan sweet and sour eggplant, sweet peas, and chili-mint vinaigrette. It was served very rare as you can see which was fine for most but I asked for a medium preparation which was perfect for me.
And, if that wasn’t enough, the evening was capped off with a dessert of dark chocolate beignet and malted milk chocolate semifreddo.
At the conclusion of the evening, Chef and the students came out and spoke about their experience working together. It was great to see the students and hear about what they had been doing in the kitchen while we were all out front enjoying the fruits of their labor.
We went home with a nice full tummy and a good feeling about supporting the local culinary academy. Do you have any opportunities to support local culinary education like this in your area?