Plantation inspired Kō is the newly opened signature restaurant on the Fairmont Kea Lani property in Maui (see my write-up on The Fairmont). Ko was recently opened after nearly nine months and an over $5.1 million rebuild budget.
Kō which translates to sugarcane in Hawaiian, showcases the diverse culinary history of the sugarcane plantation era, serving Hawaiian, Chinese, Filipino, Portuguese, Korean, and Japanese menu items. Led by Executive Chef, Tylun Pang, the menu features historical island family recipes that have been passed down for generations.
Pang is well known nationwide, yet the twist around Ko comes from a conversation the team had when they thought about what to cook in the newly designed restaurant prior to the renovation. Pang looked around his kitchen and asked his team what they wanted to cook. The previous restaurant was Italian and yet the majority of the chefs at the time and still today, are from neighboring Pacific islands and Hawaii itself.
He says of his staff, “they’re some of my best teachers; they often share recipes, techniques and cooking styles which are passed down from their families and therefore true to their own cultural roots.”
For example, the Kare-Kare, a traditional Filipino Oxtail Stew served in savory Peanut Sauce, has been in local Chef Aris Aurelio’s family for years, but now graces the menu at Kō.
Like so many places in Hawaii, they are committed to farm-to-table and organic ingredients served from the land. “A Hawai΄i kitchen represents the ethnic composition of the island,” says Chef Pang.
Local, Local, Local:
For the Ko team, Maui fishermen aren’t considered vendors, but rather as partners who share the respect for the ocean as a vital, self-sustaining resource. The 10-15 fishermen that catch for Kō support a sustainable fishery, while at the same time providing some of the most delectable fish foundanywhere in the world. The slope of Haleakalā offers the ideal climate for growing everything from sweet Maui onions to strawberries. On the east side of Maui, farmers grow fern shoots, baby heirloom tomatoes and Tahitian limes.
And at sea level, in the dessert-like areas, mangos, papayas, bananas and avocados are in abundance. The cattle they raise upcountry is grass-fed and completely hormone, stimulant, and steroid free.
They source from over 16 island farmers for the restaurant and over 85% of all produce served every night is from Maui, Moloka΄i, Hawai’i and Oahu. Many farmers are old friends, allowing them the best access to fresh produce the islands have to offer. I had an opportunity to meet the chef during my over-the-top (it kept coming) lunch; he’s clearly passionate about his art.
Their classic bread platter is creatively displayed and comes with delicious sauces, an edamame hummus and rice crackers. It’s so beautiful, you don’t really want to dive in, right? But dive in you must and while you’re at it, order one of their cocktails. I recommend: Ko Plantation, which includes Sammy’s Beach Bar Rum, ginger, fresh pineapple, cilantro, lime and pure sugar cane. Also amazing is their Liikoi margarita, combining liikoi, lime and cointreau as well as their Pomegranate Cucumber Mojito (served with mint, Bacardi light rum, lime juice, pomegranate and club soda).
They also have sake on the menu — Ty Ku Silver, Junmai, Ty Ku Black Junmai Ginjo, Ty Ku White Junmai Daiginjo and Takuri Ty Ku Silver. A lot of their drinks are influenced by the islands and what the tropics have to offer locally, such as pineapple, Liikoi, sugar cane and rum. If you want to go for something more traditional, you can always order a beer (they even have local choices – Bikini Blonde Lager from the Maui Brewing Company), or something sweeter like a Sapphire Kawili (Bombay Sapphire, served with sage, blueberries, honey and lemon), something I could have appreciated more in my earlier twenties.
Favorites on the menu include the Lumpia Filipino spring rolls, which is a family recipe of one of the chefs and the Black and Blue Ahi. The spring rolls are served with green papaya achara and spicy dipping sauce, and you can get it with pork and shrimp or chicken and mushroom.
The black and blue ahi (yum) is seared with a volcano spice — cucumber, tomato and maui onion. OR, you can’t go wrong with the Oishi Sushi with spicy tuna and tempura, the Miso Glazed Tiger Prawns with saba noodles or the Mauka Harvest, which comes with (get ready for this combo) pohole fern shoots, heart of palm, kula baby lettuce, macadamia nuts and passion fruit vinaigrette.
If you’re like me, you have to order at least one salad. In addition to the exquisite Mauka Harvest, they have a chicken salad, a chilled tofu salad with sea asparagus and toasted sesame seeds or a seared ahi served with baby greens, daikon, carrots, kaiware sprouts (fresh fresh fresh), ogo and orange wasabi vinaigrette.
Don’t get me started on the desserts!!
The service really deserves 5 stars. I came back on another night when I wasn’t officially ‘hosted’ and sat at the bar….ordered a Chardonnay and a salad. The service was equally amazing, so hats off to the bar and restaurant staff, the servers, the restaurant manager and marketing team for a memorable experience.
Below is a shot from the restaurant facing out towards the pool area and ocean and one viewing it with the ocean to your back.
Another great restaurant on Hawaii’s Big Island that thinks locally and organically is Manu Lani Beach Club’s Napua, which is worth a try if you plan to go to more than one island. For more posts on Hawaii, check out this section. To experience nature, botanical gardens and rainforest by segway, check out this post. For more on Hawaii and food/wine only, go here. For Hawaii and lodging, here. For more on Hawaii and arts, go here.