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open mind, empty stomach

travel, food, and fun

Oahu’s largest organic farm/non-profit/greatest thing to happen to the island, MA’O Organic Farms, is run by a Kiwi guy named Gary. He put me in touch with his brother, Brian, who lives in the small beach community of Waitarere, which is just outside of their hometown of Levin. Brian and his wife Blossom were kind enough to take me in for a couple days and treated me like family. I knew I would enjoy my stay when they fed me lamb and got me drunk within hours of arriving!

Unfortunately, the weather was miserable for my visit to Waitarere and I wasn’t able to spend much time on the beach. The company more than made up for it though. Brian and Blossom are incredible people, terrific parents, and were perfect hosts. Even though it was gray and rainy, Brian took me for a walk on the beach with their two children, Ollie and Fern. It was the most authentic Kiwi moment I’ve experienced. All three of them were wearing gumboots and Brian was carrying a big breach umbrella to shelter them from the rain. Classic.

There are really nice running and mountain biking trails in the forest at either end of the beach. The rain stopped on my last afternoon and Brian took me for a trail jog with his friend Paul. Paul is really fit and Brian told us to run ahead. I’m not sure if it was me spending some time at the pub immediately beforehand or just being out of shape, but Paul broke me off. We ran for over an hour at a very respectable pace, but I wasn’t going to fall behind and make Hawaii look soft. I survived the run and, surprisingly, wasn’t sore the next day.

A while back, Blossom had picked up a pasta machine at a yard sale, but had never used it. On my last night there, her, Fern, Ollie and I made pasta. They had a big pumpkin that they needed to do something with, so I attempted to make a pumpkin cream sauce to go with the pasta. It ended up being a lot more like a pumpkin puree. While it wasn’t on the scale of the Tuscan gnocchi disaster of ’11, I was still very unhappy with the result. I look forward to redeeming myself when they visit Hawai’i.

Gary recommended that I make a trip to nearby Waikanae and check out his buddy’s place called the Front Room. Waikane sounds a lot like Wai’anae, which is where MA’O is located in Hawaii. It’s interesting to note that both places are on the west coast of their respective islands and are named after the local mullet fish. Brian, who is also a good friend of the chef, Burt, called and arranged for me to eat there and stay at his house. Brian also scored me a ride with his cousin who works in Waitarere and lives in Waikanae. I was blown away with everything Brian, Blossom and all of Gary’s family and friends did to make my stay such a special one.

The Front Room was fantastic. As I normally do in such a situation, I went with the recommendation of the chef for dinner. It turned out that his picks were what I would have ordered anyway. I started with Waikanae crab ravioli over cauliflower puree with a citrus sauce. It was light, delicate, and really, really good. My main was roast duck breast over sweet potato with a pan sauce. It was flavorful, cooked to perfection, and delicious. In addition to using locally sourced, very yummy duck, Burt also highlights an ingredient used by the first people of New Zealand in sweet potato. My dining companion was Burt’s wife/front of the house manager, Hilary. She had the steak with roasted onions and herbed butter. It looked perfect. It’s worth going to Waikanae just to eat at the Front Room. It’s that good.

Like Brian and Blossom, Burt and Hilary were perfect hosts. They’ve traveled a bunch and love food. I was only with them for a night, but we had some great conversations and I really enjoyed their company. Burt had a chefs’ luncheon in Wellington the next day, so he was able to give me a ride into the city and invited me to be his guest for lunch!

Levin isn’t on the New Zealand tourist map, but I will never forget the time I spent there. I was fed extremely well, kept very well hydrated, and felt like family. Mahalo nui loa to Brian, Blossom, Bert, and Hilary. I look forward to seeing you when you visit Hawaii and showing you some Hawaiian style hospitality!

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