By Sofia Wilt
Imagine a kind of food paradise : more delicious and varied food than you could possibly consume, all exceptional quality and hand-made by skilled chefs, served in a gorgeous tiki-torch lit tropical sunset venue by the ocean. Your olfactory senses are overloaded with the smell of grilled, smoked, frying and braised meats wafting in the air, the sheer abundance and beautiful presentation is dizzying. You’re full but continue to sport eat, it’s too good not too! Such was my experience of the 20th annual Taste of the Range, the Big Island’s annual food festival featuring pasture raised beef, pig, goat, mutton, lamb and wild boar all from our island held at the Hilton Waikoloa. Frankly I can’t imagine missing another year, ever.
There were well over 30 food stations and many celebrated chefs and restaurants participating with several hundred attendees. Chefs were not given the choice of what meat they got to work with, it was assigned to them, having them call upon both flexibility and creativity to properly honor their ingredient. It would take entirely too long to mention every dish created but some memorable ones include the Oxtail Soup from 12th Ave Grill, Lamb Confit with Pickled Chili Peppers & Lemon Marmalade from Three Fat Pigs, Beef Heart Tacos from Town Restaurant, Grilled Lemongrass Flank Steak with Pickled Veggies and Chili Pepper Aioli from West Hawaii Culinary School, Classic Chili with Cornbread from Merriman’s, Sauerbraten on a Pretzel by Tropics Ale House, Flap Meat Tamales with Heirloom Tomatoes & Dragon Fruit Relish from Tommy Bahama’s, Pork Sliders from Village Burger, and of course the curious and crowd drawing Rocky Mountain Oysters by Blue Dragon Restaurant. Apologies to the presenters I didn’t mention, trust me though, everything was delicious.
Not everything was meat-centric, there were many different farms and food producers sharing their goods as well. Big Island Booch and Cultured Cafe of Hilo, featuring their Kombucha and other ferments, Papa’a Palaoa Bakery also from Hilo shared some of their finest baked goods, Buddha’s Cup Kona Coffee, Big Island Bees Honey, Hawaii Green Earth : Bokashi Education, PunaChicks free range chicken, and many more were there to talk story and represent the rest of the fantastic agricultural bounty we have on our island.
Aside from the fun and good eats an event like this offers, there’s another angle that I certainly hope people recognize. Hawaii relies far too heavily on imported food, roughly 85% of what people eat here is brought in by barge or plane, adding an exorbitant carbon footprint to every bite you eat. This event showcases the largess we have available locally and encourages island residents to become familiar with and favor local food purveyors. Your local farmers and ranchers are true unsung heros, they tend the land and keep us nourished and healthy. Moreover, holistic land management which involves pasture raising animals is one of the most effective ways to sequester carbon and ultimately reduce climate change. It’s a win-win for everyone. Bravo to everyone who raised the animals, grew the vegetables, cooked the food and did the logistics for this incredible event. Again, I won’t miss another year!
(Sofia has lived on the Big Island for over 20 years, having started out working as a park ranger at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. She then worked for the County of Hawaii as a 911 dispatcher before pursuing a degree from the Natural Gourmet Institute in NYC. Sofia has worked as a personal chef for more than 12 years and is basically a food/health/nutrition geek playing in her kitchen finding new yummy ways to stay healthy and well nourished.)