a profile of Executive Chef Hubert Des Marais IV

Every once in awhile I have the opportunity to meet a chef who is really doing something special, and that happened on my recent visit to the Big Island of Hawaii. In this post I talked about how much we loved staying at the beautiful Fairmont Orchid resort on the Kohala Coast. This man was partially responsible for the deliciously chocolate focus of our visit.

Hubert Des Marais

“Freedom is king,” says Chef Hubert Des Marais IV of his global career

Born in Virginia, and growing up in North Carolina, Des Marais developed an early interest in fine cuisine. He worked in Mexico and studied how to make the perfect molé (savoury chocolate sauce.) He oversaw a group of properties in East Africa and got deeply interested in the world of cocoa there, and when the opportunity arose to relocate to Hawaii, he embraced it. “I really enjoy the flavours of the Banana Belt,” says Des Marais. “Wherever they grow cocoa, there’s always good coffee and tropical fruit.”

So Des Marais made the commitment to work with what was grown locally, and find the best of what Hawaii had to offer. “My biggest challenge here has been our remoteness. It makes it very expensive to import products. When I came here two years ago, the resort was only using 30% local produce. We’re now up to 80%. The Aquaculture Center provides us with our fish, and local farmers and growers provide the rest. The only thing we can’t get locally is chicken, as there is no USDA slaughterhouse for poultry on the Island of Hawaii.”

One of the local specialities who will find featured at the Fairmont Orchid is fish crusted with cocoa nibs. “Hebi (shortbill spearfish) and other stronger fish such as monchong and striped marlin (also called nairagi) pair very well with cocoa,” says Des Marais. “We either coat the fish in cocoa-flavoured sea salt or keep it coarse with crunchy nibs.” Des Marais has 50 cocoa trees of his own growing in his orchards, and is continually experimenting in combining local flavours. “Acidic fruits such as passionfruit go really well in a salsa with pieces of chocolate or cocoa nibs,” he says.  “And I like to blend flavours of coffee and chocolate with meats such as lamb.”

chocolate cocoa pod

The chocolate cocoa pod above shows why the Fairmont Orchid is the perfect place for chocolate connoisseurs! Des Marais and his culinary team–which includes seven sous chefs (one of which is a dedicated pastry chef and chocolatier) and 78 cooks continually stretch the boundaries of their creativity to keep the culinary offerings exotic, enticing, and satisfying. Here’s hoping I’ll have the opportunity to return again soon for more of their cocoa cuisine.

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Chocolatouring on a virtual book tour

I’m thrilled to share news that next week will begin a virtual book tour for Chocolatour.

The exciting thing about being a blogger, and more specifically a travel blogger, is that I’ve met so many amazing bloggers–in person, in online groups, and at various events– who have been supportive of my work in the realm of chocolate travel. I’m forging a new niche here, and it’s exciting to find fellow enthusiasts who will share different aspects of Chocolatour and chocolatouring on their blogs.

chocolatour

virtual book tour for Chocolatour

Let me give you a rundown on the hosts of the virtual book tour, and the dates they’ll be chocolatouring with us.

We start the week off with Agness Walewinder, who will host a guest post from me on her terrific blog at http://etramping.com/best-chocolate-destinations-around-world/ on June 23rd. Stay tuned for my picks of top chocolate travel destinations to visit. Agness is originally from Poland, and has been travelling the world for the past three years with her friend Cez.

On June 24th, Carolyn Hamilton will host Chocolatour for a Q&A on her site http://www.adventuress-travel-magazine.com/Chocolatour.html. Carolyn is an “over 50 Adventuress doing fun things.” Please check out her site and bookmark it to return on June 24th.

On June 25th, I’ll be guest posting on The City Traveler at http://www.thecitytraveler.com/2014/06/choco-tours-five-cities-to-sample/ where I’ll share some excitement for a few of my favourite chocolate-friendly cities. This site is run by JoAnn Greco and a team of talented travel writers.

On June 26th, Suzanne Stavert will host a Q&A on her site for Adventures of Empty Nesters at http://adventuresofemptynesters.com/chocolatour-quest-worlds-best-chocolate. Suzanne and her husband are enjoying life in the “empty nest” stage of life and sharing their adventures on their lively blog.

On June 27th, Suzanne Fluhr of Boomeresque will share her review of Chocolatour with travel loving baby boomers at http://www.boomeresque.com/a-boomeresque-book-review-chocolatour-a-quest-for-the-worlds-best-chocolate-volume-one-by-doreen-pendgracs/. I had the pleasure of meeting Suzanne in Hawaii in February and we are both members of the Boomer Travel Writers group on facebook.

On June 28th, there will be a post on the blog of Jenna Davis at http://giveforgranted.com/2014/06/featured-doreen-pendgracs-book-review-chocolatour/. I have only very recently ‘met’ Jenna online, but love her enthusiasm and dedication to her project. Please check it out and help if you can.

On June 29th, I’ll be hosted by fellow Winnipegger Donna Janke, who lives in Manitoba spring thru fall, and is a snowbird in winter when she heads south to escape our winters. Donna will be posting a Q&A on her blog Destinations, Detours, and Dreams at http://destinationsdetoursdreams.blogspot.com/2014/06/chocolatour-book-tour-exploring-many.html where you’ll learn about some of the chocolate events I have been hosting and attending.

On Monday, June 30th, I’m on Michele Peterson’s site “A Taste for Travel” at http://michelepeterson.com/2830-q-a-with-chocolatour/. Michele and I share a common focus: travelling the world for the sake of great tastes!

And to wrap things up with a salute to the best of Canadian chocolatiers and chocolate makers, on July 1st I’ve got a special Canada Day Salute on Canadian author Sarah Butland’s site at http://sarahbutland.com/blog/2014/06/30/a-canada-day-salute-to-some-of-canadas-finest-chocolate-makers/.

Be sure to stop into each one of the posted hosts where you’ll receive a code to receive a discount on your copy of Chocolatour when you order it via my site at http://chocolatour.net between June 23-July 1st, 2014. A special thanks to D’vorah Lansky for the great information I received in her book, 21 Ways to Launch a Successful Virtual Book Tour.

See you next week on the tour …

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a visit to the Original Hawaiian Chocolate Factory

We had the great pleasure of meeting Pam and Bob Cooper at their cocoa plantation–which also happens to be their chocolate factory! This is the only location in the world I have visited to date, where the cacao/cocoa is grown on the very same piece of land on which the beans are fermented, dried, made into chocolate, packaged and sold all on the same site! And what a site!

original-hawaiian-chocolate-factory

The Original Hawaiian Chocolate Factory is located on leeward slope of Mount Hualalai.

As you pull into the driveway of the Original Hawaiian Chocolate Factory (OHCF), it feels like you are driving into the yard of friends–who just happen to have a beautiful hilltop piece of property with a stunning ocean view! The Coopers left their home in Raleigh, North Carolina, in 1997 and moved to the Big Island near Kona. In 1998, Bob took a chocolate making course at Richardson Researches, Inc. in California, and by September, 2000, made his first batch of chocolate for sale. He now has approximately 1,450 cacao trees on his six-acre farm alongside some macadamia trees.

cocoa-pods-beans

A visit to the Original Hawaiian Chocolate Factory gives you the chance to see cocoa pods, unfermented cocoa beans, and much more.

The OHCF presently makes 10,000 pounds of chocolate per year but has the capacity to make 80,000 pounds if they could get more Hawaiian-grown cocoa. The Coopers currently buy cocoa beans from 27 different growers, but still can’t get nearly enough to make their capacity. They call themselves a ‘self-restraining operation,’ and limit production so that they can maintain their 100% Hawaiian grown branding. OHCF uses organic growing practices and organic fertilizer, but doesn’t have formal organic certification because of the ‘red tape’ it involves.

drying-cocoa-beans

Drying the cocoa beans at OHCF.

On your visit to the Original Hawaiian Chocolate Factory, you’ll learn that the cocoa beans are fermented in mahogany boxes for a week and then dried in the sun for 30 days in order to reduce the moisture content of the beans from their natural state of 22-28% down to just seven percent. The shells of the beans are then removed by winnowing and the cocoa is conched (refined) for just 18 hours—compared to the 80 or more hours I’ve seen done in many European establishments. Yet, the chocolate is heavenly smooth.

cocoa-nibs

The cocoa nibs from the Original Hawaiian Chocolate Factory have an intensely fresh flavour.

I particularly enjoyed the dark Forastero chocolate from OHCF and their fresh cocoa nibs. It was a very sad day for me when I finished the cocoa nibs I’d brought back with me from OHCF. I love the intensity they bring to yogurt mixed with fresh fruit, crunchiness to ice-cream sundaes, and the exotic layering of flavour they add when mixed in with granola.

bob-and-pam-cooper

Bob and Pam Cooper relaxing in their cocoa plantation.

Bob and Pam Cooper are founding members of the Hawaii Chocolate and Cocoa Association (HCCA) and are really committed to seeing the local industry grow. You can take a tour of their operation by getting in touch via their website or reserving by phone at (808) 322-2626. The really cool thing for chocolate travellers is that OHCF uses Fedex to courier orders to customers in the US, so that you don’t have to carry your chocolate orders home with you. Something to remember for your Chocolatour to the island of Hawaii!

Have you tried the chocolate offerings of OHCF? Do you enjoy cocoa nibs as a healthy snack? Have you considered including Hawaii in your chocolate travel plans? Let’s talk about it! And then please join us back here the week of June 16th for our next delicious post.

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Fairmont Orchid is my kind of place

I wasn’t certain whether to stick with more posts about our stay on Oahu or whether to venture over to the Big Island for the next post. My query was answered by news that the Big Island Film Festival is taking place this week at the Fairmont Orchid Resort and I wanted to get this post out incase anyone reading this was toying with the idea of attending the event.

fairmont-orchid

The grounds and gardens at the Fairmont Orchid, Hawaii, are soothing and inspiring.

I happily accepted the invitation to stay at the Fairmont Orchid, Hawaii, in February, as an opportunity to scout out the venue as the host of the Big Island Chocolate Festival which was held May 1-3, 2014. Although I wasn’t able to attend this year’s event, I did meet Hubert Des Marais IV, the Executive Chef at the Fairmont Orchid, and enjoyed several of his creations. I also know this venue can’t help but add to the vibe of any event. It is truly magnificent, in a relaxed and understated kind of way.  We loved everything about it.

fairmont-orchid

It was awesome watching the whales frolicking off our lanai at the Fairmont Orchid.

We could watch the humpback whales breaching from our lanai, or be inspired by the vistas of the mountains or the beauty of the golf course. This resort far exceeded our expectations. Every member of the staff we encountered was friendly and helpful. The cuisine was creative and satisfying. The location ideal, being just 20 miles north of the Kona Airport and an easy drive to the city of Kailua Kona or the rustic solitude of Pololu Valley lookout on the northern tip of the island of Hawaii, one of the most scenic vistas I’ve ever seen. Stay tuned for more on that in a future post.

Want a beach-side massage? You got it. There’s also a sanctuary for the endangered Hawaiian Green Sea Turtle on the beach. Just like us humans, the turtles (called Honu in Hawaiian) like to rest themselves on the beach and soak up the sun. The Fairmont Orchid has plenty for guests to do, but if you just want to chill and enjoy the peaceful serenity, it is there without loud music and noisy activities to spoil the Zen.

fairmont-orchid

The beachfront spa at Fairmont Orchid offers sounds of the sea as the perfect backdrop for your massage.

For us chocolate lovers, there is no better place to be. We were welcomed with an assortment of chocolate covered strawberries hand-dipped in Hawaiian-grown chocolate. Our consolation prize for not being able to attend the Chocolate Festival–which I hear was fantastic this year.

chocolate

I’ve also heard that the 2015 Big Island Chocolate Festival will be held in March rather than May. With any luck … I’ll see you there. Stay tuned for exact dates.

Have you been to the Big Island? Stayed at the Fairmont Orchid? Attended the Big Island Chocolate Festival? Is it on your Bucket List? Please share your thoughts and experiences, and join us back here the week of June 2nd for our next post on the Big Island of Hawaii.

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growing cacao in Hawaii

We’ve explored the island of Oahu and some of the fabulous Hawaiian chocolate produced there in the past few posts. I’d now like to share some of what I learned while visiting cocoa farms and plantations on the island.

cocoa-pods

I’ve never seen such a dense concentration of cocoa pods as I did on the cacao trees of the Waialua Estate on Oahu.

growing cocoa on American soil

Usually, the growing of cacao (cocoa) has been limited to a belt 20 degrees north or south of the equator.  It’s only in the past 10 years or so, that cocoa has been grown in Hawaii in any quantity–which is at 21-22 degrees latitude. You’ll now find about 100 planted acres of cacao growing on the islands of Oahu, the Big Island of Hawaii, and lesser amounts on the islands of Maui and Kauai, with the amount of cacao grown in Hawaii increasing by 25% each year.

In 2013, there were 30,700 pounds of cocoa beans harvested in Hawaii. Of that, 24,500 was grown on Oahu, 5,600 pounds on the Big Island, 580 pounds on Maui, and 100 pounds on Kauai. It’s good to know that production is on the increase, as demand for Hawaiian cocoa far exceeds the amount of beans currently grown.

I had the pleasure of being invited to participate in the 2014 field trip of the Hawaii Chocolate and Cacao Association in February that took me to several of the 16 test sites where cacao is being grown and studied with respect to grafting and fertilization techniques as well as disease control. We also visited the largest private cocoa estate on the island of Oahu. I’ve seen cacao growing in South America and the Caribbean and learned that each growing region has its own unique challenges when it comes to growing cacao. Hawaii is no exception, where the Chinese rose beetle is the main challenge to growers.

cacao-seedling

Cacao seedlings on Oahu are being attacked by Chinese rose beetles.

To combat further devastation to cocoa seedlings from the rose beetles, growers wrap the trunk in a heavy plastic to prohibit the beetles from crunching on the seedlings. As well, they use LED lights to keep the cocoa fields lit during the night. It seems the beetles only come out in the dark, so light is projected onto the young cocoa trees from dusk until dawn, discouraging the damaging vermin from eating the young tender leaves of the seedlings. I’m told that grasshoppers are a challenge on Maui.

caco-seedlngs

Cacao seedlings on the Waialua Estate are wrapped in heavy plastic to protect them from the Chinese rose beetles.

At present, chocolate makers and chocolatiers in Hawaii have to partially rely on imported cocoa to make their chocolates as there just isn’t enough cocoa grown on the islands of Hawaii to meet the demand. And due to higher production costs, the price for cocoa grown on Hawaii is considerably higher than what chocolate companies have to pay for imported beans or couverture. But it appears that is changing, and Waialua Estate (owned by Dole), now has 25 acres of cocoa planted alongside its 200 acres of coffee. They are making some excellent chocolate from those beans — most notably the Waialua Estate 55% semisweet bar adorned with Hawaiian cocoa nibs.

You’ll find that cacao is often grown on the same property as coffee as they require similar growing conditions. No wonder their flavours go so nicely together!

In a future post, I’ll talk more about the Original Hawaiian Chocolate Factory on the Big Island, the only current locale in the Hawaiian Islands where the cocoa is grown on the same site as where the chocolate is made. Their cocoa nibs are absolutely fantastic!

Please join us back here the week of May 19th, when we’ll have our first post on the Big Island of Hawaii.

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Kailua is King of Hawaiian Chocolate

Before we began chocolatouring around Hawaii, I hadn’t previously heard of Kailua–a community located within Honolulu County and just 12 miles northeast of the metropolis of Honolulu city. But the small town of about 38,000 residents is a world away from the hustle and bustle of Honolulu and has a bit of the country feel you’d find in a Midwest town of the same size. What makes Kailua different (besides the beautiful beach) is the chocolate!

Within the course of a few blocks, we visited the three chocolate shops I mentioned in the previous post: Manoa Chocolate Hawaii, Madre Chocolate, and Kokolani Chocolates. Each of these is very different and well worth a look.

Manoa Chocolate

I love Manoa because it is the labour of love of a young couple in love. Hawaiian-born chocolate maker Dylan Butterbaugh and his finance Tamara Armstrong lead the creative team at Manoa. Tamara handles most of the marketing and Dylan is the chief chocolate maker. They make a super cute couple and some incredibly tasty chocolate. My favourite is the Breakfast Bars made of a 60% “dark milk” chocolate and Hawaiian-grown crushed coffee beans. Unfortunately, due to a shortage in local supply and the high price of Hawaiian-grown cocoa (as much as 4x the price of fine cocoa from any other part of the world,) Manoa uses cocoa beans from Costa Rica, Liberia, and Papua New Guinea to make most of their chocolate. I love the crunch of the Breakfast Bar with cocoa nibs and coffee beans to give your day the kickstart it deserves. (Coincidentally, Manoa used Kickstarter crowdfunding to purchase new equipment for its operation in 2012.) You can take a tour of the tiny Manoa “factory” and learn more about their operation while you taste the different products in their lineup.

madre-chocolate

Nat Bletter, co-owner of Madre Chocolate is extremely passionate about chocolate.

Madre Chocolate is similar to Manoa in that they focus on producing excellent chocolate bars from the best quality cocoa beans they can acquire from numerous sources around the world. My favourite Madre creation is the Triple Cacao bar that features chocolate made from cocoa grown in the Dominican Republic along with pieces of cocoa nib, cacao pulp from Brazil, and vanilla bean from Mexico. It’s one of the best bars I’ve ever had, as the tiny chunks of cacao pulp really add a new dimension to the bar. Madre had a super small chocolate workshop in Kailua at time of my visit, but I’m told they’re moving to a larger location in Honolulu’s China Town in May, so do check their website for details before you plan your visit. Also keep your eye open for more Madre chocolate to contain locally grown beans, as they’ve already begun working with beans from Hamakua and Holualoa on the Big Island and Waiahole on Oahu, and hope to continue increasing the Hawaiian component of their chocolate over time.

Kokolani Chocolates

Kokolani Chocolates is another fabulous stop for chocolate lovers visiting Kailua. Chocolatier Virginia Douglas is a Master Chocolatier and graduate of Ecole Chocolat. She uses some chocolate couverture from Valrhona, but specializes in uniquely Hawaiian chocolate creations such as exotic truffles. Some of my favourites from Kokolani include the Blond Chocolate Caramels and the Kokolava made from Waialua Estate Hawaiian dark chocolate, pineapple, macadamia nuts, and coconut. Virginia is a true chocolate artisan with an uncanny ability to blend flavours and design chocolate delicacies that are as beautiful to look at as they are to eat.

You can visit each of these terrific chocolate makers in their shops. I also visited their booths at the Hawaii Chocolate Festival in Honolulu. Detailed profiles of each of these uniquely-Hawaiian chocolate artisans will be contained in Volume II of Chocolatour.

Have you tried any of these chocolate creations? Have you been to Kailua? Please share your thoughts here, and join us back here the week of May 5th for our next new post. And by the way, for any of you lucky to be in Hawaii at the beginning of May, the lovely Fairmont Orchid Hotel near Kona is hosting the Big Island Chocolate Festival May 2-3, 2014. How I’d love to be back at that fabulous hotel for this delectable event . (I’ll be showcasing the Fairmont in a future post.)

 

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in search of Hawaiian chocolate

I went to Hawaii in search of Hawaiian chocolate. I had no idea it would be so difficult to figure out exactly what that is!

Most everyone knows (and has likely tasted) the Chocolate Covered Macadamias made by Hawaiian Host. The traditional chocolate-nut treat has been around since the 1920′s, and Hawaii Host continues to add to its product line including the newly-added chocolate macadamia nut truffles. But for the most part, Hawaiian Host products are chocolate confections and not handcrafted artisanal chocolate.

Hawaiian Host Chocolates

The Waialua Estate Chocolate (owned by the Dole Food Company) is made from cocoa beans grown on the island of Oahu, but the finished chocolate is actually made in California by the Guittard Chocolate company and then packaged and sold as their Hawaiian Chocolate line of premium bars. I know that they do have plans to eventually process the chocolate in Hawaii, but for now, most of the beans are being shipped 2,393 miles from Honolulu to San Francisco and then distributed from there. I’ve also learned that some of Waialua Estate’s beans are sold to Big Island Candies of Hilo and are used to coat their delicious chocolate-covered macadamia nuts, and also to Kokolani Chocolates of Kailua, Oahu, for their all-local Kokolava.

Guittard's Waialua Estate Chocolate

a taste of Hawaiian handcrafted chocolate

The Original Hawaiian Chocolate (OHC) Factory near Kona, Hawaii, was the first company to grow cacao trees and make Hawaiian chocolate from the cocoa produced from them. Every step of the process is done at the same location. It is a small tree to bean to bar chocolate factory run by its owners with a limited amount of help. I’ll talk more about OHC when I post about our time on the Big Island.

Original Hawaiian Chocolate

Madre and Manoa are two excellent chocolate makers on the island of Oahu who would like to be using Hawaiian cocoa beans to make their chocolate, but can’t get enough of it to meet demand. So they use beans from around the world. Manoa’s labelling doesn’t tell you the origin of their 60% chocolate. Madre does give you partial information on the label, but it is confusing. Its delicious award-winning Triple Cacao bar is made from cocoa grown in the Dominican Republic, cacao pulp from Brazil, and Mexican vanilla. It is “made in” Hawaii, but the ingredients are not. Same goes for Kokolani Chocolates, where excellent Hawaiian chocolate novelties are made with French-made couverture and Hawaiian flavour enhancements. (I will cover each of these companies in more detail in the next post.)

Kokolani Chocolates

So there we have three completely different scenarios in which each is being marketed as “Hawaiian handcrafted chocolate”:

1) Pure chocolate that is made from cacao/cocoa grown in Hawaii and is manufactured and processed on the same site as where the trees are grown. You can’t get any more Hawaiian than that, unless the chocolate was being made by Hawaiian-born individuals. It currently is not.

2) Pure chocolate that is made from cocoa grown in Hawaii, but made into chocolate outside the state in a large factory.

3) Pure chocolate that is not made from Hawaiian-grown cocoa, but is handcrafted in Hawaii.  And chocolate creations that may or may not be made from Hawaii-grown cocoa, but are made in Hawaii using  exclusively Hawaii-grown flavour enhancements such as fresh pineapple, macadamia nuts, Hawaiian sea salt, lavender or the like.

Is one any more or less Hawaiian than the other? Before we get too snooty about “origin of chocolate,” we’ve got to think back to European chocolate where the origin of the beans was not the key factor that distinguished one country’s chocolate from the other as most (if not all) were using the same cocoa beans from West Africa. It was the technique and style that differentiated Belgian chocolate from Swiss, French, Dutch chocolate and others.

With consumer tastes changing, and more of us preferring pure single origin chocolate as opposed to highly-processed chocolate made from blended or bulk beans, the world of chocolate is changing, and we now demand to know where the cocoa used to make our chocolate is grown, just as we prefer to know where the grapes in the wine or beans in the coffee we drink are from.

The difference for me, was that I knew I was going to a cacao-growing region when I went to Hawaii. So I assumed that the chocolate I would be eating there was of local origin and it is not. That is expected to change over time, as the Hawaiian cacao industry is new at just 10 years old. But for now, if you go on a chocolate travel excursion to Hawaii, be sure to ask questions, read the label, and consult the next volume of Chocolatour in which Hawaii will be prominently featured.

Please join us back here the week of April 21st, when we’ll take a closer look at the chocolate companies mentioned in this post.

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exploring Oahu

The last couple of posts relayed how fortunate I felt to be back in Hawaii. In this post, I wanted to share some of the things I like about the island of Oahu before I get on to our delicious finds in the realm of chocolate travel.

sunset-beach

Sunset Beach is a favourite of surfers in Hawaii.

Oahu is a very easy island to drive. No crazy roads like the memorable “Road to Hana” over on Maui. The highways are remarkably good, traffic manageable, and scenery breath-taking. The island is the third largest of the Hawaiian Islands with a total land area of about 567 square miles.  It’s approximately 44 miles long and 30 miles across at its widest point, so easy to do a day drive away from the crowds of Waikiki or Honolulu.

Oahu off the beaten path

Most people do come to Oahu for Waikiki Beach, its most popular land mark. Waikiki is situated within the bustling city of Honolulu, the Hawaiian capital. The city and county of Honolulu boast a population of nearly one million residents and 4.5 million tourists each year. That’s a lot of people! But if you want to get away from it all, and see the natural beauty for which Hawaii first became known, head to the island’s North Shore, where waves can reach as high as 40 feet! They weren’t nearly as high as that when we were there on this trip, but I do recall on previous visits where we witnessed surfers enjoying the thrill of riding the big ones.

While we were on the North Shore, we dropped into the charming village of Haleiwa and had lunch at the Beet Box Cafe, a cool little hideaway in the back of Celestial Natural Foods (a health food store) that offers an interesting selection of healthy local options for lunch or a light meal. My choice was the “Beet Goes On” salad adorned with fresh steamed beets, walnuts, kale or spinach, and goat cheese or feta. (I’m sure mine had kale and goat cheese, but I see that the website says spinach and feta, so I imagine they use what they have.)

beet-salad

“The Beet Goes On” salad at the Beet Box Cafe.

We also enjoyed a tour of the Waialua Estate as part of our Chocolatour, but I’ll talk about growing cocoa in the next post. Very near the Waialua Estate you’ll find the Island-X Hawaii, a locally run store filled with Hawaiian specialties such as Waialua coffee and chocolate, and kukui oil (a natural oil that has been used in Hawaii for centuries to heal and nourish stressed and damaged skin.) I also picked up a CD by a local Hawaiian talent and enjoyed some freshly made shave ice flavoured with locally grown passion fruit (known as lilikoi in Hawaii.) I could definitely go on, but I think you get the idea that Oahu is not just about Waikiki and the urban amenities and density of Honolulu.

Have you enjoyed time exploring the island of Oahu? Have you tried surfing the waves on the North Shore or snorkelling at Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve? Have you tried kukui oil on your skin? Please share your thoughts and experiences here, and then join us back here the week of April 7th for our next new post.

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Moana Surfrider: the 1st Lady of Waikiki

Waking up to this delightful view of Waikiki Beach is an obvious reason to enjoy a stay at the historic Moana Surfrider Hotel. But there are many more.

moana-surfrider

Our room was technically called a “city view” but we were thrilled with being able to see the beach from our lanai in the Tower Wing of the Moana Surfrider.

I’d stayed at the Moana about 20 years ago and loved the blend of old and new. The hotel was branded a Sheraton back then, but with an expansion and the addition of a full-service spa, the Moana–although still part of the Starwood family of properties–is now branded as a Westin Resort & Spa and consists of three buildings that are so perfectly blended together, you never really know when you’ve left one and entered another. The original hotel is now referred to as the Banyan Wing and was built in 1901, with a perfectly central location on Waikiki Beach and regal architecture to warrant the name “First Lady of Waikiki.” The two newer towers recently underwent a $20-million renovation and offer modern elegance blended with Hawaiian charm. We stayed in the Tower Wing and where pleased with our five-night stay, although the noise that accompanies a bustling beach area like Waikiki reminds you that you are indeed within a big city (Honolulu) and not on a remote idyllic beach somewhere in the South Pacific.

The Moana Surfrider Hotel fronts onto Kalakaua Avenue.

The Moana Surfrider Hotel fronts onto Kalakaua Avenue.

The Moana features a days-gone-by street-front veranda where you can sit and watch the bustling world go by, and a beach-side set of rocking chairs where you can soak in the beach-front entertainment, admire the massive banyan tree, or the activities going on in the inviting swimming pool.

moana-weddings

You will see numerous brides and grooms during your stay at the Moana.

The interior architecture of the hotel boasts beautiful pillars and a winding staircase where many brides and grooms have wedding pictures taken. And as a guest of the hotel, you, too, can have a complimentary photo shoot and purchase photos of yourself and companion(s) taken throughout the hotel and on the Moana’s strip of Waikiki Beach.

But this chocolate writer was also drawn to the fact that the Moana has its own custom brand of chocolates made by a local chocolatier. I can think of no better place to enjoy Waikiki with chocolate on my mind.

moana-chocolates

The Moana Surfrider has its own custom brand of chocolates featuring local flavours of Lilikoi (passionfruit), Hawaiian sea salt, macadamia nuts, and Kona coffee.

Have you stayed at the Moana Surfrider? Do you enjoy staying at historic hotels? There are many around the world to enhance your travel memories when choosing a destination. Some of my favourites include La Mansion in San Antonio, Texas, Chateau Lake Louise in Alberta, Canada, and The Fort Garry Hotel in my hometown of Winnipeg. Do you have a historic property you’d like to recommend to the rest of us? I’m all ears.

Please join us back here the week of March 24th as we continue to explore the island of Oahu.

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an enduring love for the Hawaiian Islands

My love for the Hawaiian Islands has endured. Even during the 15 years since my last visit, I never stopped thinking about my love for Maui and the memories of snorkelling in the Molokini Crater. Alas, this year’s brief trip to Hawaii did not include a return trip to Maui, but I did indulge in a taste of Maui with my introduction to Sweet Paradise Chocolates. Stay tuned to a future post for more about that.

a Chocolatour of Oahu and the Big Island of Hawaii 

waikiki-beach

Diamond Head Crater is symbolic of Waikiki Beach.

Nothing is more symbolic of the Hawaiian Islands than the image of the Diamond Head and Waikiki Beach, the tourist hubb in the city of Honolulu, on the island of Oahu. Diamond Head is actually a volcanic “tuff cone” caused by a volcanic eruption 150,000 years ago. You can hike into the crater at Diamond Head if you have time and are fit. We didn’t have to do so on this trip, but I did enjoy the hike on my first visit to Oahu many years ago.

Approximately 4.5 million visitors come to the island of Oahu each year. Nearly every one of them will visit Waikiki Beach at least once. Waikiki is a bustling destination, and not one I would recommend for those looking for serenity and solitude. But it is beautiful nonetheless, and definitely worth a few-day-visit if you are planning a trip to the Hawaiian Islands.

japanese-weddings

The Moana hosts four Japanese weddings daily.

We had the great pleasure of staying at the Sheraton Moana Surfrider during our time at Waikiki. I had stayed at the hotel years ago and loved it for its historic ambiance. What surprised me most about this visit is how many Japanese tourists now visit Waikiki and the Moana on a daily basis. We were told that the Moana hosts four Japanese wedding receptions each day! I’m sure other hotels along the Waikiki strip are also home to visiting Japanese tourists, as many restaurants in the Waikiki area have menus in Japanese.

My next post will highlight our stay at the Moana. Have you stayed at this majestic hotel? When was your last visit to Hawaii? Do you have a favourite Hawaiian island or memories of Hawaii that you would like to share?

Please join us back here the week of March 10th for our next new post.

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