Imagine a long evening highlighted by a 12-course meal, all rolled out by a local wild food expert working alongside several talented chefs.
I recently had the pleasure of attending “Modern Savage”, hosted by Sunny Savage, a forager who gathers edible plants she finds in nature. Sunny has been passionate about wild foods for as long as she can remember, and continually harvests an abundance of nutrient-filled wild greens available in her own yard or in nearby mountains and fields.
For this sumptuous meal, the ingredients were all foraged, hunted and gathered from the natural abundance of edible produce found around Maui. The meal not only showcased a variety of new flavors, but was a unique and educational culinary experience.
Our star-studded hosts for the evening included:
Sunny Savage - Maui forager and author of Wild Food Plants of HawaiiMaui Chef Jeff Scheer - Executive Chef at The Mill House RestaurantChef Anton Haines - Executive Chef at Honu Seafood & Pizza Chef Sheldon Simeon - Executive Chef at Migrant Chef Robert Ramshur - Private Chef from San Francisco
Cocktails & Hors D'oeuvres
We arrived on a calm, windless afternoon to the Wailea home of artist Ed Lane and his wife Diane, who kindly opened their home for this wonderful event. After taking in Ed’s artwork displayed in the couples’ elegant living room, we ventured to a spacious backyard, where tables were set out for the evening’s grand culinary affair.
The festivities kicked off with delicious cocktails from two local Maui kombucha and vodka specialists, who served amazing drinks all night long.
The Elderflower Lilikoi Champagne was one of the best champagnes I’ve ever tasted. Its sweet lilikoi flavor peaked with a unique kombucha taste. Sunny made the elderflower champagne, whose natural yeast provides incredible fizziness when fermented. But Sunny had never prepared this wild fermentation in such a large quantity so Leaf & Limb's owner Benjamin Zerbe came to the rescue and did a secondary fermentation utilizing a wild banana poka kombucha they had created with Sunny, to give the champagne a richer, more elegant flavor.
Mark Nigbur, the Master Mixologist from Pau Vodka, served up a refreshing Moscow Mule and some icy cold vodka martinis, the perfect drinks for a warm afternoon in tropical paradise.
Nearby on the hors d’oeuvres table, a mysterious tray of what appeared to be tiny plants growing from a patch of soil intrigued guests, who whispered among themselves and speculated about the display. Were they souvenirs? Would they get to take home a few of these plants to add to their home garden?
Chef Anton, who is an advocate for sourcing fine local ingredients prepared across a wide array of cusines, soon stepped in to present the first appetizer of the evening, baby heirloom carrots dipped in mallow butter, which were then planted in a type of onion soil, made of finely diced, sautéed and seasoned onion. Mallow plants (Malva parviflora) grow in the rainy areas of Maui, and most farmers don't realize that the plant that they often consider a weed is in fact edible and holds several medicinal purposes.
While guests were wary of trying the edible dish, everyone praised its delicious flavor and unique presentation. The soft carrot had absorbed the aromatic onion flavoring for a full yet delicate textural taste experience. It was the perfect opener for the equally extraordinary culinary experience to follow.
The Elegant Dishes
Shrimp: Foraged Jamaican vervain flowers
Created by Chef Rob, the first entrée was the ama ebi shrimp, extraordinarily presented with ali’i mushrooms, red seaweed ogo, and ali’i sauce. Decorated with Jamaican vervain flowers (Stachytarpheta jamaicensis), Sunny’s go-to edible flowering plants, the dish was a big hit. The purple mushroom-flavored flowers added vibrancy to the shrimp, mushroom, and dark-colored dish. The Jamaican vervain taste slightly like mushrooms themselves, so it was a welcome addition to the flavor palate of the dish.
Festive salad: Foraged ginger flower, honohono grass, guava, haole koa seeds, and purslane.
The second dish, also prepared by Chef Jeff Scheer, was a visual wonder of festive colors like mellow pink, white, yellow and the pale pinkish beige of the shell ginger flower, as well as the bright red of the clover blossoms. Feral guava, honohono grass and purslane, a super-nutritional wild green, rounded out the ingredients list. Crispy roasted haole koa seeds (Leucaena leucocephala) added a crunchy texture while a drizzle of faint flower vinegar added a little punch to the overall taste. As appealing as haole koa is, Sunny recommends using it in moderation. In her book, Wild Food Plants of Hawaii, she notes that the mature haole koa seeds should be eaten in small quantities, as they could trigger an inflammatory response in the hair follicles. Purslane (Portulaca oleracea), often dismissed as a simple weed, actually has a long list of impressive nutritional properties, including nutrients like omega-3 fatty acid, calcium, vitamin E, vitamin C, calcium, zinc, and many more.
Vegetable dish: Foraged oxalis, honohono grass, wild mallow seeds
Our third dish, prepared by Chef Anton, was a light vegetable salad with thinly sliced kabocha pumpkin and two kinds of greens, oxalis and honohono grass, featuring a macadamia nut and mallow seed foam. The salad was seasoned with a fennel coriander vinaigrette peppered with wild mallow seeds. With its individual heart-shaped leaves, the oxalis is often mistaken for clover. Sunny’s other common foraging grass, honohono grass, has been used as food and medicine globally for many years and is highly invasive and easy to find on Maui. The chef whipped up the mallow seeds into a creamy foam with a marshmallow consistency. Who could have guessed a cream from foraged plants was so delicious!
Local egg dish: Foraged awa plant, Ulu, and cat's ear
I love soups and noodle bowls with rich, flavorful broths, so I was quite impressed by the broth Chef Sheldon created for the next dish. A miso broth was emulsified in brown butter, and Sheldon added herbal awa flour in a roux-like mixture. The false awa plant is quite an aggressive plant and is plentiful on Maui. Tiny bits of deep-fried ulu (Hawaiian breadfruit), coated with a little sugar, added a creamy sweetness to each bite. Equally impressive, a local egg from Launiupoko was softly poached to creamy perfection and seemed to melt in the broth. Finely chopped cat’s ear stalks (Hypochaeris radicata), which have a shape and taste similar to that of the dandelion, lent texture to the dish. The entire plant - roots, leaves, stems and flowers, is edible. This highly invasive species thrives predominantly in the Haleakala grasslands.
Soup Dish: Foraged kiawe beans
Presented by Chef Rob, the soup dish included fermented onion with dehydrated kiawe beans harvested and prepared by Sunny. Sunny acknowledged that most local Hawaiians do not know that kiawe beans are actually edible and packed with rich nutrients. Usually found in harsher and drier areas of the island, the kiawe tree is plentiful and easy to spot on Maui. The tree produces up to six harvests per year. And watch out for those thorns!
The next dish was a nice surprise for everyone, as it was not listed on the menu. We were given deep-fried pork with snap pea and fried ogo seaweed, drizzled with a bright green shin san chou sauce, and garnished with grilled kumquat. Delicious and of course, beautifully displayed.
A most interesting fish & chips entrée was then presented by Chef Rob. The fish, nabetta, combined with tetris-shaped deep-fried ulu (Hawaiian breadfruit) and cabbage chip. Drizzled on top was a delightfully inventive coconut-milk tartar. Instead of the normal fish & chips tradition of french fries, I absolutely loved the use of ulu and cabbage.
First entrée shabu sabu: Local venison and foraged nasturium, sheep sorrel, honohono grass, shin san cho, and wild mustard.
The next course from Chef Sheldon consisted of Upcountry venison lightly cooked Japanese shabu-shabu style for a few seconds. The orange nasturium (Tropaeolum majus) that decorates this dish, mostly found Upcountry, is spicy and bitter, much like papaya seed. You can’t go wrong garnishing just about any salad, and many other dishes, with these orange flowers. They can also be blended into butter, pesto, and other sauces. The leaves that make up the accompanying side salad were a combination of sheep sorrel (Rumex acetosella), honohono grass, shin san cho, and wild mustard. The sheep sorrel, can also be found Upcountry at higher elevation - look for its bright red, thin flower stalks rising straight up. It too has an astringent taste. Sunny recommends adding sheep sorrel to salads or spring rolls, or tossing it into a soup.
Second entrée ribs: Foraged nasturium for pesto, pohole, burdock root.
Rounding out the main dishes was a rib course by Chef Jeff. The meat rested gently on green nasturium pesto and a pool of white ground pohole (Hawaiian fern shoots) sauce. The rib was braised for 12 hours and then grilled, giving it a juicy consistency that melted in my mouth. The meat, soft and tender, was as light as a dream, and accompanied by Burdock root and purslane.
Winding up with Dessert
To top off an already stunning array of food, Sunny and her team of chefs spoiled us with two desserts, each of which was elegant and even more delicious than it looked (which is saying something, considering they were amazing pieces of art curated by Chef Anton!) The Speculoos cookie was decorated with spiced java plum and compressed Kula strawberry, and garnished with candied calamansi citrus. The second dessert, a ginger cake with wild foraged berries, was drizzled with dark chocolate cremeux made with wild honey and sprinkled with ginger and hibiscus flowers, sprayed with a hint of rose and sandalwood hydrosol (homemade by Sunny).
All in all, the 12-course meal was as unique and eye-opening as it was a culinary delight. That so many tantalizing dishes could be created from plants we take for granted - that we take no notice of, day in and day out - was astounding. Sunny’s message was trumpeted loud and clear. There is abundant bounty in foraging. If we could start gathering one plant a day during a walk, learn its uses and incorporate it into our own cooking repertoire, our lives would be immeasurably richer.
All the chefs were inspired by their new profound education about which plants are edible, abundant and best for foraging from around Maui, thanks to Sunny's vast knowledge and practices. Widespread knowledge of utilizing local ingredients is spreading on Maui, and we hope this blog will encourage you to explore the possibility of foraging. Sunny's book is a great starting point and a great guide to help you get started.
Sunny can be found actively spreading her message through Facebook and Instagram with #eatonewildfoodeveryday, and often gives workshops in the Hawaiian Islands. Learn more about Sunny online at SunnySavage.com.
All photography was either taken by Mill House staff, from owners that have given us written permission, and/or purchased for use. We have all the rights necessary to use these images on our website.