A Maui chef has come up with an innovative approach to ridding Hawaii of invasive plants: He wants you to eat them. Travelers can have an authentic and innovative dish at the Grand Wailea resort made from some of the state’s peskiest invaders.
Mike Lofaro, executive sous chef at the Grand Wailea, put fruit from the biggest culprits — kiawe, a member of the mesquite family, and the waiawi, or strawberry guava — on the menu.
“Will we ever get on top of it? Probably not,” Lofaro said. “But we might help it out a little bit.”
Kiawe and waiawi trees were introduced to fragile island habitats in the mid-1800s. They have since flourished, overtaking and choking out native trees such as koa and sandalwood.
Lofaro is beginning to use kiawe pods and waiawi fruit in various dishes.You can find his experiments at the resort’s Humuhumunukunukuapuaa restaurant, named for the state fish known as “reef triggerfish” in English.
The chef created a paté from kiawe flour, which he makes by drying and then milling the tree’s pods. He serves this atop a waiawe gel. Kiawe, like the mesquite family it comes from, also is perfect for smoking meats, Lofaro said.
“What you end up with is this completely vegan, diabetic-friendly, gluten-free, smoked honey-like flour,” he said. “It’s naturally sweet and makes amazing ice creams, waffles, Bellinis, pastas and gnocchi. You can use it as a starter for sourdough, and it’ll ferment.”
The menus at the resort’s various restaurants don’t explain the invasives on the menu, but the wait staff does. “It is a talking point for servers,” Lofaro said. “They talk about the ingredients and the history behind it.”
State officials currently manage three plots of land on Maui on which they have been successful in eradicating the invasive species. But getting a handle on the problem throughout Hawaii is a much bigger challenge.
In the meantime, Lofaro hopes to help create “a shift in thinking” once diners are educated about the innovative dishes.
“It might give a chance for a koa tree to get strong enough that it won’t get choked out by a kiawe tree,” he said.
The red fruit of the waiawi is about the size of a large gumball. Lofaro used it to create a consommé that he topped with white bread croutons.
“It’s almost like a rhubarb meets strawberry meets guava kind of flavor,” Lofaro said. “It goes well with certain kinds of carpaccio or crudo.”