Who has not heard of the Maui Onion--the sweet, succulent, flavorful foodie favorite the world over?
To make sure you never forget the homegrown Maui veggie each year, West Maui chefs, restaurants and resorts gathered for the Maui Onion Challenge cooking competition, which was a prelude to the final round at the Maui Onion Festival scheduled for Saturday, May 4, at Whalers Village in Ka'anapali.
The fest is free and open to the public. The "Challenge," however, was by invitation only. The seven chefs who entered each created an original onion-inspired menu item.
Chef Marc Urquidi of Roy’s Kā‘anapali created the winning dish at the Maui Onion Challenge.
Photo: Steve Brinkman
The event, held on Friday, April 19, was hosted by the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort & Spa's oceanfront 'Umalu restaurant.
It generated a media buzz complete with a bevy of reporters and food writers as judges, plus a video crew from an O'ahu TV station. Also on hand were house photographers, tweeters, bloggers and hotel PR types from various properties, with their bosses standing ever-so-discreetly on the side lines.
The seven chefs and their servers were assisted by a supporting cast of hundreds back in the kitchens, as they competed for the honor of creating the outstanding Maui onion dish of the 2013.
This Maui Weekly writer was one of those reporter types invited to judge this tasting.
Chef Marc Urquidi, 35, a sous chef at Roy's Ka'anapali, easily won the first round and is a favorite to win the second round, too. What's not to like about his reinvention of chopped liver and schmaltz accompanied by sweet onion marmalade and spicy pickled onion relish? The liver pate had a silken texture and just the thinnest veneer of fat on the top (actually a duck gelee). It was the schmeer of the gods.
Only someone who is not Jewish and didn't grow up eating chopped liver on rye would ever think to use a cross between a chewy macaroon and a slightly underdone meringue (made with almond flour and caramelized onion) for the "bread." However non-traditional those semi-crackers might have been, the Maui Weekly did indeed eat all four that came with our portion--and ate the last one off our neighbor's plate, too. Chewy, very chewy.
Urquidi had created chopped chicken liver for royalty, but somehow it retained the cultural overtones of a more humble ancestry. It only needs clever packaging and a kosher stamp to go on to greater glory in the deli cases of America. This new combo is destined to be a star in towns where the chosen people and their friends like to treat themselves to the better things of life. His combo is delicious, portable and adapts to a picnic or a banquet. It's an edible hit and a conversation starter to boot.
Urquidi is an O'ahu native of Basque descent. He's been with Roy's Restaurants in Hawai' for three years and has just finished his first full year on Maui cooking at Roy's in Ka'anapali.
The talented sous chef said he worked with his executive chef, Joey Macadangdang, to come up with his winning four-part combo.
Urquidi said Roy's plans to serve the creation on its appetizer menu through May 4, and anticipates that a serving for two will be priced at about $14. If the dish proves popular he thought it might be added to the regular menu.
What a coincidence that this inherently commercial quartet of spread, jelly, relish and cracker should appear just moments before the Food Innovation Center is launching at University of Hawai'i Maui College and on the look out for value-added products. This creation will certainly come to their attention--that is, if somebody with deeper pockets and quicker capitalistic instincts doesn't find him first.
Joining Chef Urquidi at the Maui Onion Festival are the three other finalists:
Chef Greg Grohowski, executive chef of the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort & Spa, is one of the four finalists for his Maui Onion Menage a Trois--Pickled Maui Onion Risotto, Lavender Seasoned Tenderloin and Crisp Sriracha Maui Onions.
Chef Wesley Holder of Pulehu, an Italian Grill at The Westin Ka'anapali Ocean Resort Villas will compete with his Maui Onion and Liver Tart, Caramelized Maui Onions, Foie Gras Mousse and Port Gelee on a bed of crispy Maui onions and green onions.
Jennifer Evetushick, chef de cuisine at Tropica Restaurant & Bar at The Westin Maui Resort & Spa, created Maui Onion Gnocchi with Crispy Salt and Pepper Pork Belly.
Get in on the onion action early on Friday, May 3, when Hula Grill Ka'anapali kicks off its fifth annual Maui Onion Beer Dinner. Hula Grill partner Peter Merriman will have his culinary team--Chris Schobel, Bobby Masters and Ryan Luckey--pair four courses of delectable onion creations with specialty beers by Maui Brewing Company.
The next day, Whalers Village will host the free onion fest and the competition finals.