Throughout Hawaii, Peter Merriman is a bit of cult figure, reining as the master chef at the forefront of the recent Hawaiian culinary revolution. The leader in Hawaii’s local food movement, and one of the 12 founding chefs of Hawaii regional cuisine, Merriman has quite a fitting moniker, being affectionately referred to as the Aloha State’s vanguard “locavore.”
Merriman is the Hawaiian “food whisperer.” The Los Angeles Times affectionately dubbed the benevolent chef extraordinaire, the “Pied Piper of Hawaii Regional Cuisine.” At Merriman’s eateries, “sustainability” in the name of the game… Over 30 years ago, Merriman, a Pittsburgh transplant, realized that meals are most flavorful when food travels the least amount of distance. Peter Merriman is the outspoken leader on the importance of protecting and guiding Hawaii’s farmers, ranchers, and fishermen towards food produced on a smaller scale with minimal impact on the environment.
“I opened my restaurants to showcase my experiences in Hawaii. These islands are so much more than simply gorgeous beaches,” said Merriman. “There’s a deeper culture and society to be explored. The farmers, the ranchers, connect us with food.”
Merriman bridges the gap from farm to table adding, “My heroes have always been farmers, and I want to pay tribute to them as I do to all of the people and cuisine of Hawaii.” While Merriman has eateries in Poipu, Kaui, and Waimea on the Big Island, it would be on a warm December evening on the island of Maui that I would acquaint myself with the vibrant Kapalua venue with ocean views of Kapalua Bay, Lanai, and Molokai. Being informed of the possibility to catch a burnt orange, eye-popping sunset would be an extra treat at Merriman’s Kapalua.
Immediately, I know that I’m in for a treat of Chef Merriman’s cherished culinary Hawaiian fusion. For starters, the Ahi Ginger Poke is medley of crushed avocado, Kahuku Sea Asparagus, Ogo, Maui Onion, and for good measure Molokai Sweet Potato Chips, which allow you to scoop up the delicious combo, which provides for a tortilla like encounter. Continuing down the Merriman’s seafood or Moana (Ocean) inspired menu the tempting Mahi-Mahi smothered in a Macadamia Nut crust and served with spicy garlic broccoli in a roasted mushroom sake reduction touches the palate well.
As dapper servers scurried by with appetizing plates both from land and sea, I contemplated ordering the lamb from local Kahua Ranch, but one rarely goes wrong with classic American splurge of surf-n-turf. The USDA Prime Grade Ribeye is a well-proportioned cut of meat cooked to perfection and comes paired with garlic whip potatoes, Hamakua and Crimini Mushrooms, local Hirabara Farm Swiss Chard, and crunchy Macadamia Nut Pesto. The flavors create a union that mixes well together. Versus boiling or steaming, the half butter poached lobster is succulent, juicy and pure bliss. The meat is sweet and tender and easily is removed from the tail.
If you fancy a sweet tooth, sticking to Merriman’s mantra of blending products from the lay of the land, the decadent bread pudding made with fresh Maui Gold Pineapple, Toasted Macadamia Nuts, with rum butter sauce and vanilla ice cream with lovely crunchy bites at the ends. The tempting Portuguese confection and Hawaiian favorite of Malasadas made with white chocolate, filled with mokka coffee and generously doused in chocolate is an out of this world sugar rush experience.
Not exactly what one visions when considering fine island dining, Merriman’s menu casts a broader net in sustainability and comes complete with an extensive wine list of over 500+ labels from around the world. Whether you dine at the casual bar area while chatting with fellow patrons over cocktails or eating in the dining room, Merriman’s will flatter any gourmet palate and wake up your taste buds.
Contentment and happiness are how I describe my visit to the casual yet elegant Merriman’s in Kapalua. Featuring excellence in sourcing, preparation, and presentation of foods from local farmers and the freshest fruits of the sea. The perfectly plated regional cuisine is showcasing the local flavors of the Hawaiian Islands. An unforgettable culinary adventure led by the extraordinary Peter Merriman, Hawaii’s chief gourmand of locally sourced, farm to table mouthwatering, perfectly paired delectable dishes that leave you as warm inside as the temperature is outside.
Peter Merriman along with his knowledgeable and courteous front line servers and sommeliers does not just serve farm to table comfort meals; he connects the dots from sustainable farmers, ranchers, and fishermen to the casual diner and to the culinary aficionado.