Dispatches from Paradise

Bringing it to the table, literally

Why you should come do a farm tour with me.

We had a nice little break in the action for the 7 months of COVID lockdown. The beaches were vacant, the turtles were, well, doing what the turtles do, regardless of whether there are lines of tourists watching them flop awkwardly onto the beach. The sun still set, the tide still rose and we enjoyed some solace. However, now that Maui is open for business- those of us who serve the tourist population are ready to get back to work!

During my downtime, I got to do some thinking about how best to expand the experiential element of what I literally and figuratively, bring to the table. My passion was ignited as a chef when I was able to really connect to the source of my provisions. Whether it was harvesting wild mushrooms in the soggy Maine woods or hauling up myriad crustaceans out of the cold depths of the North Atlantic, moving to Maui has certainly expanded my mind in the realm of food sourcing. I desire to share this with my clients.

I had the very amazing fortune of landing our first rental on an organic farm that was in the process of being expanded. My landlady, a passionate foodie herself and I became fast friends and she was very instrumental in letting me practice and hone my craft as a culinary artist and forager with her as a captive audience and critic. I am forever grateful to her. The farm now is fully developed and bursting forth in abundance. I LOVE to tour the farm with any willing participants. It’s one of the loveliest views on Maui; bicoastal, expansive views of Ka’holawe, Molokini and the West Maui Mountains. Plus- its literally the best place to take family pics with plenty of tropical flora as well as a mini olive grove. I supply the machete, baskets and little to-go boxes as you will probably want to harvest your own goodies ( poha berries, surinam cherries, guavas, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, pineapple guava blossoms, blueberries, figs etc.) and we can look forward to utilizing some of your farm haul in your special dinner later that evening. Tours are 250.00 per family. Add a professional photographer for another 200.00 and document your farm tour with some amazing shots for that perfect Christmas card! Picnic lunch? Contact me for pricing on the full package with photos, tour, guided foraging and lunch. This is a private farm, which means, we will be the ONLY people there! Here’s what people are saying about their farm tour:

Says Stephanie S. from San Diego, “My favorite memory of my trip to Maui, so much in fact, that we came back to do another tour the following year! ” Kara B. From Atlanta, “An absolute must, Maja is such a great hostess, so knowledgeable and we learned so much! .” Deshawn and Kareen from Long Beach, “Our kids were so excited to run around pick, learn and see a totally different part of Maui from the tropical postcards. This place IS a postcard!”

I think it’s important to see how we “bring it to the table” both literally and figuratively.

Peyton from Scotts Valley, Ca making friends with the locals.

Harvesting organic coffee cherries in Keokea, Maui

Ohana means family

The Hawaiian word for family is ‘ohana. In our close knit community on the north shore of Maui, ohana is our village. We swap kids, we ship off our own, we carpool, we break bread, there may even be an occasional last minute dance party. We are there for each other and we are blessed by our ohana on Maui. I have had the great honor of working for many multi-generational family groups that venture to Maui, rent a large estate to house everyone and hire me to provide the food. My husband and I both come from large families- he being the oldest of 7 children and myself, sharing the middle child role with my identical twin sister with an older brother and younger sister, totaling 4 which in this day and age is considered a large family. I just love the dynamics: cousins, grandparents, spouses, etc. Its fun to see how everyone fits in the mix. Maui is the perfect place to provide ample activities for every member of family, for action sports extremists to world class spas and safe adventuring for all ages. Hiring a chef gives the guests the opportunity to just kick back and enjoy without the fuss of making dinner reservations, corralling small wandering children and, if you like to enjoy some libations – no worries because you can stay right where you are!

I consider the opportunity to serve and connect with a visiting family a great honor.

my ohana- from left to right, husband of 19 years, Peter, Anja age 18, Makai ( son) age 10 and Nora, age 15

Hurricane Lane, a glass of vino and some ruminations..

The Subjective nature of food and other cheffly ruminations….

Meanwhile, while Hurricane  Lane is huffing and puffing his way through the Hawaiian Island chain,  I’m having a glass of wine and writing a blog…

Culinary art is the ultimate art medium- to be experienced and appreciated  by ALL the senses, also having the innate ability to hinder or heal a body on a molecular level.  What a gift to create in the medium of food and to have such an amazing array of ingredients with which to do it!

With the ability to hinder or heal your body~ culinary art’s medium  ( food)  has the ability to do what no other art form can. 

I joke that the only time I call myself a “chef” is when I’m wearing that fancy coat that has my name and company logo on it.  Does this legitimize my cheffiness?  What is it to be a chef?  I prefer to name myself as a culinary artist.  How can one claim this?  Like art, culinary art is so subjective.  I believe that the title of “chef”, incorporates the business aspect of the culinary art form of putting food together,   The  sourcing, pricing, working with a budget, the nuts and volts and not creative part is what the term “chef” begs for me specifically.  Unfortunately,  this is the ickiest part of my job and I am ashamed to admit,  I have a bookkeeper and an accountant who I am quite happy to pay so they can deal with that mundane side of  cheffy life.  I mean, as long as I am getting paid, do I really give a crap what my food cost is?( For the record,  I charge per person, not food cost,  unless a very specific job order.  Generally- I absorb food costs into my overall cost. ( glad I clarified that !) 

– masago, and tobiko- worthy every dime for that briny pop of umami in these lovely pupus 

I mean, is a $7.00 dragon fruit and a $5.00 tray of masago gonna kill my profit margin? …. the pop of these ingredients add value!..

On another subject, everyone’s palette is different, what tastes amazing to one person might be repugnating to another.. Then there’s that whole involuntary dietary restriction trend too-  like building a house with an unlimited budget- I’m not terribly impressed when people can pool any number of resources to outsource the project to the very best architects, designers, finish carpenters and landscape architects.  Along those lines, now produce for me a dish using a restricted budget, (like here’s $10.00- go find some cool stuff and make us an epic dessert- better yet- here’s nature- go forage for it all- oh yeah,  and keep it clean – No soy, animal products, dairy or gluten. ) 

Another rumination about chef life ( and when I say chef life,  I mean cooking as a means of making a living- people give you money to create menus, procure ingredients and create a meal)   I had an hour long “menu consultation” today with a client who happens also to be a foodie who has run the gamut of many diets , currently a vegan herself, but the rest of the party just gluten free.  I’m pretty sure when I have a menu consult with someone they get off the phone going,  “wow,  that girl is really excited about food!.”  I do get all excited, jotting down notes frenetically, asking funny little questions like,  “how do you feel about mushrooms, ummm,  and when you say peppers,  do you mean like sweet roasted smoky peppers or a shishito, and what about spice? And whats your feeling about searing mushrooms in rendered animal fat with fresh herbs?”   In an hour’s time,  we created a gorgeous party menu with like 12 courses for each of the nights that I will be coming to create culinary art.  She knows she’s in good hands and I am excited to have a captive audience to present my creations to.  On another occasion,  I was hired for a 10 day stint to cook for a celebrity family ( who’s name  I cannot disclose) and came in, guns blazing,  setting up my beautiful vases of fresh kitchen herbs, arranging all my lovely artisan provisions in the fridge only to find out that they were TOTAL non foodies and really just wanted to hunker down and enjoy an estate with some food made that wasn’t made by them and didn’t want t ask too much of their traveling staff, so they hired me. 🙂

I may or may not have been paid a shamefully large sum of money to make cream cheese and tomato bagels for breakfast and a hot dog and cheeseburger lunch- more than once. Hey, my daily rate is my daily rate.

When I first arrived, I sat down to do a little mini consult with the said celeb-  when asking what kind of lunches they prefer, the answer was “ you know that cheese with the holes in it.”  I politely nodded, jotting down- internally begging,  Swiss? Lorraine? Havarti? but realized I was dealing with someone who didn’t really do food and I was most probably annoying as hell with all my enthusiasm and grand inquisition of the foodie nature. End note-  we finally did make culinary magic together,  it did take a few days of gentle questions and some experimental dishes that were well received and  they asked for an encore of those said dishes  People like what they like.

Me, center. How I feel when i get to talk food with a client.

Next up-  ( I have to ration my blog ideas so I don’t condense them all into one blog) is the level of vulnerability you put on yourself when you say you are a “chef.”  ( case in point,  I bring something thats not my total “ A game” salad to a pot luck ( literally just threw it together) and I see a friend who knows my vocation there,  they ask, “ Oh!  what did you bring?  I gotta try your food! “  Lesson learned-  Always bring your A GAME-  your family will have mercy on you but for your friends and associates  – your neck is constantly on the chopping block!   

Huliau Food And Film Fundraiser another smashing success!

On July 28th,  myself and 9 other Maui based chefs presented their 50% Maui sourced small plates for the annual Huliau Foundation fundraiser to support youth film programs  that bring environmental awareness.  Among this years line up included chefs from area restaurants including Fleetwood’s on front street,  the Andaz’s flagship restaurant, Ka’ana Kitchen,  Hana Ranch, Sugar Beach events  and  The Culinary program at UHMaui.  While keeping with my plant based theme, 

my dish featured a mock poke made with a variety of roasted beets, burdock root, heirloom carrots, locally made kimchee topped with an avocado wasabi mousse and drizzle of housemade black garlic aioli ( vegan) topped with sesame seed and watercress.

 Its a tall order to take on a fully plant based plate and needless to say,  I had a lot of moving parts to my plate so I had two very capable assistants join me as we scooped, moussed, drizzled and sprinkled our way through 240 small plates- may guests returning for seconds and thirds.   The foundation had their biggest turn out ever and broke fundraising records for this years programming.

Mushroom hunting in the Maine woods

Maine Foraging -Our annual trip to the motherland always yields some epic culinary finds! 

Dormant half of the year,  when the Maine forest comes back to life, all living things have twice the zeal to compensate for the dormancy.  Life bursts forth out of the forest floor, especially after a good dose of moisture.  Our annual trip to the motherland always yields some epic foraging adventures.

My parents introduced us to forest foraging at a young age.  Amateur mycologists,  they loved to take us out on epic hikes, baskets and field knives in hand, our eyes were trained to identify edible growth in the forest floor, and to remember where the spores yielded choice pickings the following year.   

Although drudgery for a young child, as an adult, I now realize what a gift my parents gave us in our little forays into the deep Maine woods.

  Here are some of our finds and a brief little snapshot of each of our forest finds;

Chanterelles-  the choicest mushroom- apricot scented and mango in color, these gorgeous culinary treats are as good as gold and make beautiful delicate sauces, sauté up perfectly to be served as an accompaniment to a cut of meat, or added to a frittata or omelette.    Truly culinary bling- and sell at select grocers for as much as 40.00/ pound.

Oyster Mushrooms –  Although many evil doppelgängers exist for this,  when you find the right one and can VERY positively identify it,  you have a lovely meal awaiting you.  Best sliced in half, lengthwise and marinated with little tamari/ garlic/ fresh pepper and fresh herbs,  these are grillable, delectable delights.  Abundant and farmed on Big Island of Hawaii at the Hamakua Mushroom farm,  King Oyster mushrooms, or Ali’i ( Hawaiian for Prince)  mushrooms frequent my grilled vegetable medley. 

Morels-  The elusive Morel is friend to the fire scorched land.  Wherever there was a forest fire, soft pine needles and shade,  check for morels!  Perhaps the most choice mushroom in all the fungi phylum,  if you are lucky enough to find morels, always go back to the same spot to see if they make an encore. 

Porcini or King Bolete-  This is a very dense, very flavorful mushroom and in fact, the favorite snack of slugs so these are most often pitted with bites from visitors.  Popping up out of the earth like little red orbs,  the stem is as thick as the cap the entire mushroom is edible.  When harvesting,  always cut perfectly horizontally to leave the mycelium intact to ensure a return crop .  ( Mycelium is the web like network of essentially mushroom DNA – when you pick at mushroom with its whole stem, you can see the strands –  leave these in the ground to ensure later propagation.) 

Field mushroom –  Pink gilled beauties,  these guy are the cultivated version of what you buy in the supermarket as “button” mushrooms.   They are choice mushrooms but not too exciting because you can find them at your grocery store without the risk of poisoning yourself from misidentification! 

Family Recipes

A bite of nostalgia in every mouthful! 

Whether or not any family recipes actually are worthy of culinary accolades,  family recipes are little bites of nostalgia, all tucked into a fat laden casserole or boozy fruitcake with way too many prunes.   As a budding epicurean at the age of 2, my parents “go to” meal for us was….. breaded pan fried calf brains.  Yes,  calf brains.  When my twin sister and I had developed enough vocabulary to inquire as to what was for dinner,  ( and actually understand the response)  my parents eventually told us, calf brains.  You can imagine the response.   Apparently we had been eating calf brains for our entire early life but for some reason,  we decided it was inhumane and downright disgusting to feast on of the choicest parts of the baby bovine.   All that aside,  there were some stand out, “healthyish” family recipes that are most definitely worth of culinary accolades and seeing that we just celebrated my father’s passing with a grand feast complete with all his favorite go to’s.  ( minus the calf brains! ) it seems fitting to include them in my blog.

Roasted Red Pepper breath bomb

Be sure that every guest at your party partakes of this so no one is left wondering who has the worst garlic breath and do a tooth check as the herbs like to sneak into the receding gums and spaces in people’s teeth.  Breath Bomb = loaded with good garlic 🙂

Served with fresh crusty bread, sliced –

2 pounds red peppers- roasted, skin removed

( brush with oil,  char under broiler until bubbly and skin is visibly charred,  if the kitchen starts smelling like roasted red peppers,  this an indication that they are ready to go- check every 2 min or so. Remove from oven, put into a bowl, cover bowl tightly with plastic wrap- check back after you prepare the other ingredients and the skins should slide right off.  For some reason, this is a very satisfying task ensuring that your charring was perfectly executed) 

2 cans anchovies – minced

10 cloves minced garlic

combination of garden herb bounty:  parsley, marjoram, thyme, basil- all or just one-

1/2 cup really good olive oil

4 TBSP capers 

Combine everything but peppers,  pour over peppers that have been cut into strips, enjoy! 


Papa Hamory’s World Famous Anchovy Pasta

Let’s face it,  anchovies get a bad rap.  One of the first questions I ask any guest who wants a caesar salad,  anchovies or no anchovies? Some people are just downright squeamish at the sight of a hairy little salt bomb on their salad.

Loaded with umami and that certain “je ne sais quoi”, despite the little bones which lend to its slightly “hairy”  texture,  these melt away when crushed up with one anchovies favorite accompaniments- garlic.   This simple pasta dish is made with only 5 ingredients and is one of our family’s absolute favorites.  In fact for my daughter’s 10th birthday,  my daughter’s ultra picky friend ( for whom we had equipped ourselves with some mac n cheese for)  came to party with us and Anja had special ordered her favorite family dish,  Anchovy Pasta.  Little Anna ( Anja’s early childhood bestie) bravely sampled the dish and then even took seconds and thirds.  The parents had to dine on the mac n cheese as we had assumed the kids wouldn’t touch the anchovy pasta.

2 cans anchovies,  drain oil into dish,  keep aside- 

mince anchovies until completely pulverized (a fork and knife work perfectly on a cutting board after oil is completely drained off and reserved)

1 head or 15 good sized garlic cloves – minced (  a small food processor does the job well- not a paste, but diced so keep track of the texture if using machine)

1/4 cup olive oil

4 roma tomatoes,  flesh diced, tomato gel reserved- insides discarded

1/2 cup freshly cut marjoram and/or basil

1 egg,  beaten

1 pound linguine, spaghetti or rigati

cook pasta in salted water,  when cooked to al dente,  drain quickly and add 1 egg, quickly combining hot pasta with an egg to coat pasta.

Heat reserved oil from anchovies, add olive oil and garlic,  cook until fragrant- careful not to burn.  Add anchovy, with the back of a wooden spoon, combine garlic and anchovy.  Lower heat and careful not to put too much heat.  Remove from heat. 

Combine hot egg coated pasta with oil, garlic anchovy mixture.  Add freshly diced tomatoes and fresh herbs.  Garnish with crushed red pepper and freshly grated Parmesan. 

Financiers- a block of culinary bling

This is an excellent recipe if you have an abundance of egg whites on hand and another fritatta or meringue gives you a mal a la tete. (that’s Francais for headache)

Indeed a strange name for a French pastry. One of my favorite however and can be made gluten free so we can manage to eliminate one bit of a naughty from this decadent treat.

 These treats got their name because they were originally baked in a rectangular pan and with all that browned butter, they came out looking like a block of gold- or culinary bling as I might aptly name it. Heres the recipe:
preheat oven to 450.00
melt 2 tbsp of butter- pour or brush into molds, put mold in freezer
melt 3/4 cup of butter- remove from heat to cool down
1 cup ground blanched almonds (just put some almonds in your food processor and keep processing until they are as small as they can be)
5-6 egg whites
1/2 tsp salt
1 2/3 (thats one cup and 2/3 cup) of 10x sugar
1/2 cup gluten free flour substitute (your favorite- white rice flour works, Pamela’s etc..)
pour in cooled butter – mix together to homogenize. Mixture will be quite loose- like very sticky pancake batter. Fill to the top of the molds.
Bake for 7 min @ 450, (at this point you can get creative- throw in a frozen cherry and a couple white chocolate chips, or dark chocolate chips and some sliced almonds- the sides will golden while the middle is still setting up) reduce oven to 400, bake another 7 min. turn oven off, stick a wooden spoon in oven door to crack it open and allow it to cool more rapidly but not suddenly for another 7 minutes. Viola! Use care when removing from the molds. Bon Appetite!
Chef Maja

Super Fudge

Chock full of nutrient dense goodness, you can indulge, fueling your cells and sweet tooth all at the same time!

Combine in a blender or food processor:  

1 cup melted coconut oil,  1/2 cup almond butter (unsalted,  the grindy kind you get straight out of the hopper at your local natural foods store) 1/4 tsp himalayan salt,  1 cup cacao powder (cocoa, cacao whats the diff?- Cocoa has been alkalized – what does that mean? its gone through a chemical process.  Still tastes chocolatey but is stripped of some of the minerals we love to get from raw cacao)  6 medjool dates,  soaked if you have time, 2 TBSP shredded coconut,  1 TBSP Goji berries, 2 TBSP hempseeds 1 TBSP Maca powder.  Buzz this up until its totally homogenized, pour into parchment lined 9×9 pan.  Sprinkle with all your favorite uber foods, some examples: bee pollen, sliced almonds, hemp seeds, shredded coconut, cacao nibs.  You get the idea.  Or- for extra prettiness (but beware of bitter flavor) sprinkle alternately over squares, matcha powder (through a sifter for uniformity) or even cacao powder.   Send to the chiller to set up.  These buggers will melt fast so, make small squares (cuz remember,  they are nutrient and calorie dense), 1.5 x 1.5 inch is recommended and enjoy!  To your health! 

Service- Aloha in action

I feel passionately that when you are endowed with a gift,  it brings you great joy and is energetically edifying to share your gift with others.   When I walk in the door at the end of a long day on site,  my husband is always in awe of how genuinely happy I still am.  Not your typical response from someone who just was on her feet for over 10 hours,  running hither and yon, prepping, grilling, stirring, whipping, serving and assessing all within a tight timeline.

Sharing is caring-  a cooking demo at the Queen Ka’ahumanu center on Maui for Blue Zones Project, Maui.  TV Hostess and former Ms. Hawaii, Malika Dudley is on the mike. 

The anticipation of a beautiful evening shared with friends is something that I feel so privileged to be a part of.

  Many people ask me,  “isn’t it weird to jump into such an intimate situation?, to just walk into someones kitchen, make yourself at home and feed them?”   The answer is yes but for what I am called for,  I also feel equipped for. 

I come from a large family of gregarious characters and I grew up in a bustling restaurant. I know food and I know people.

  There isn’t a situation that I have walked into carting my bins, coolers and my menagerie of staff that we have felt uncomfortable or out of place.  When you show up with the food,  most people are happy and when the scents start wafting out of the kitchen, the wine is uncorked, people relax and  the promise of a good time becomes real.  The people who work with me feel exactly the same.  We love what we do and it shows.

check out my instagram for the recipe! @lilikoicreations

This summer, a fellow lady chef,  Mijin Kang (@ultimateguamie) her chef husband, Tak and I embarked on a cooking program at a local youth center.  I cannot even tell you how much fun it was to see the kids faces light up when we started talking about Culinary.  

Equipped with hairnets ( yes hairnets! ), gloves, knives (yes real knives!) and cutting boards…

The kids are learning how to create in the kitchen and cook real, balanced meals from scratch.  The Kihei Youth Center provides drop in programs every single week day for kids all ages for anyone across the island of Maui.  The director, an amazingly gracious, industrious woman named Lehua finds grants, donations and whatever else is necessary to keep the doors open and the programming intact for these kids, many of whom come from low-income situations and these are the only meals they eat all day.    I feel so blessed to get to be part of these children’s lives.  Teaching my own children how to cook and create fearlessly in the kitchen is one of my greatest memories of parenting as well as a gift that will hopefully be perpetuated onto my grandchildren.    Wow,  that makes me feel old!  Love what you do and share it!

a hui hou~

Chef Maja

Lilikoi Creations- what’s in a name?

I adore Hawaiian words.  With 13 letters total, 5 of which are vowels,  the rest consonants and an ‘okina (‘),  you can bet I was confused when I moved here believing all words sounded like a different hybridization of the last.  I had to see it all written and repeated many times before I would commit it to memory.   Lilikoi is the name for the Hawaiian passion fruit.  These gorgeous golden orbs  drop to the ground just at the peak of ripeness.  Finding a lilikoi when they are in season is like scoring that perfect golden egg in a easter egg hunt.  Filled with the quintessential tropical flavor,  as a chef,  I claim that what a lemon or lime can do, a lilikoi can do even better.  

Lilikoi infused fresh coconut water.

From a culinary standpoint, whatever a lemon or lime can do,  a lilikoi can do even better.

From curds to hollandaise, savory marinades, dressings and most definitely a shrub or fresh element to a cocktail,  lilikoi is a lovely as its name and when they are in season,  you can bet you will taste them infused in myriad forms into my cuisine.  A little aside,  we lived for 6 years in Florida and we had a lilikoi vine that never fruited.  I was perplexed as to what this gorgeous flower was because it never did anything other than produce fantastic blossoms.   If you’ve never seen a lilikoi flower, it is one of the most spectacular and intricate blossoms I have ever seen. How ironic that my Floridian Lilikoi never gave fruit… not its season or mine I suppose as I was raising my two daughters at the time and locked away in baby prison. (loving every minute but definitely not on a career track)

My Floridian lilikoi blossom never gave fruit- not its season or mine,  I suppose. 

My business is a culmination of the fruit of my passions;  an organic convergence of what I am passionate about which yields this fruit ( or in this case,  my career!)  based on all that I am passionate about-  beautiful food, ingredients,  inspired cuisine and healthy lifestyle.   So,  LILIKOI is a passionfruit,  LILIKOI CREATIONS is the business I have built around what is the fruit of my passions.  There,  now you know.  🙂

Lilikoi bounty in a basket by Paia Bay, North shore of Maui

Aloha and be blessed ~

Chef Maja