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5 delightful food tours and classes in Hawai‘i

Noi Thai Cuisine. Carved foods: daikon, cucumbers, and carrots. Carved daikon, cucumbers, and carrots at Noi Thai Cuisine, Waikīkī, O‘ahu. | Photo by Ann Cecil

I grew up in my popo’s (grandmother’s) kitchen, where the air was always warm and laced with wonderful aromas. Popo could work magic with just a few ingredients and utensils. Her roast chicken, rubbed liberally with her “secret sauce,” would have made Gordon Ramsay smile. Every shopping trip to Chinatown with her was an amazing culinary lesson.

The more you know about food, the more you appreciate it. And you expand that knowledge whenever you chat with experts, sometimes literally in the field. Or taste a dish you’ve never had before. Or discover a talent you never knew you had using a skillet, spatula, and seasonings. If you love food (and who doesn’t?), you’re bound to enjoy these five food tours and classes on the Islands.

1. Create edible art

Noi Thai Cuisine, Waikīkī, O‘ahu

Simulated class with manager Koi Ford and a server sitting in with Chef Wit who did the beautiful carving.

Chef Wit and Noi Thai Cuisine staff carve vegetables. | Photo by Ann Cecil

During Noi Thai Cuisine’s food-carving class, you’ll learn how ordinary things on your grocery list can be transformed into extraordinary works of art. We eat with our eyes first, so a beautifully presented dish is an important part of a dining experience.

Trained in Thailand, Master Chef Kai (he goes by just his nickname) has been sculpting fruits and vegetables into garnishes for more than 30 years. After watching a demonstration by him or one of the restaurant’s other dexterous chefs, you’ll carve your own lovely piece, with guidance, to take with you. What the chef teaches varies according to the produce that’s available.

Info: Half-hour classes can be arranged for those 18 years and older any day between 2 and 5 p.m. Four people are required for each session. The cost is $8 per person. Call (808) 664-4039 to schedule.

2. Go from farm to table

Inn at Kulaniapia Falls, Hilo, Hawai‘i Island

Cooking class at Kulaniapia Falls.

Cooking class at Kulaniapia Falls. | Photo courtesy Kulaniapia Falls

Popo would have approved of the short trip from farm to table at the Inn at Kulaniapia Falls, and you’d be hard-pressed to find food fresher than this. At a cooking class at Kulaniapia Falls, you’ll first meander through the site’s 3-acre farm, learn about the produce growing there, and harvest what’s in season. Your guide lives and works on the farm, so he or she is well versed in the growing method, nutritional value, taste, and preparation options of each item that you pick.

You’ll then head to the loft of the inn’s barn, a spacious gathering place that’s equipped with a full kitchen. With your guide alongside, you’ll slice, chop, mix, and stir to make a memorable midday meal. The menu often features a themed bowl (for example, Italian, Indian, Thai, Mexican) containing greens, grains, cooked veggies, beans, starches, protein, sauces, and toppings.

Info: The class is geared for two to six guests and runs from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Cost is $149 for inn guests and $199 for nonguests.

3. Roast coffee

Ueshima Coffee Company, Kona, Hawai‘i Island

Roasted Kona coffee is poured out of the mini-roasting barrel.

Roasted Kona coffee is poured out of the mini-roasting barrel. | Photo courtesy UCC Hawaii

Need a jolt of java to start your day? Ueshima Coffee Company’s (UCC’s) Roastmaster Tour will be your cuppa. Founded in 1933 in Kobe, Japan, UCC is one of that country’s largest coffee companies. Its two Hawai‘i Island farms were established in 1989, 4 miles apart at the foot of Mount Hualālai. The 10- and 30-acre farms overlook spectacular views of Kailua Bay and Kailua-Kona town in the heart of Kona coffee country.

At the larger farm, you’ll learn how coffee is grown and processed and how roasting develops the beans’ flavor. You’ll decide whether you want your coffee to be light, medium, medium-dark, or dark (medium or medium-dark is recommended) and roast the coffee under the watchful eye of a UCC roastmaster. You’ll then package your coffee and affix your own label to it for a unique half-pound souvenir.

Info: The 60-minute Roastmaster Tour is at 10:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. daily. Cost is $45 per person. Participants must be at least 12 years old, and there’s a two-person minimum.

4. Become a chocolatier

Wild Kauai Chocolate, Kapa‘a, Kaua‘i

A Build a Bar participant gets ready to temper a batch of chocolate.

A Build a Bar participant gets ready to temper a batch of chocolate. | Photo by Debbie Williamson

Indulge your chocolate obsession by learning how to make it at Wild Kauai Chocolate’s Build a Bar Workshop. Your instructor begins by explaining how cacao beans are sorted, roasted, winnowed, ground, and blended with sugar into a thick liquid. Next, you’ll temper the chocolate, which gives it sheen and snap; pour it into two 3-ounce molds; and top it with your choice of at least three dozen flavorings, including matcha, spirulina, and crushed potato chips and candy canes. Your bars are chilled for 20 minutes before you unmold, trim, and wrap them to take and savor later.

Info: The 90-minute workshop, including samples of Wild Kauai’s eight products, is offered Tuesdays through Saturdays at 9:30 a.m. and 3 p.m. Cost is $60 for those 17 and older and $55 for Hawai‘i residents and children 5 to 16. Private sessions can be arranged.

5. Discover what’s brewing

Maui Brewing Company, Kīhei, Maui

Maui Brewing Company’s outside fermenters.

Maui Brewing Company’s outside fermentation barrels. | Photo courtesy Maui Brewing Company

Beer, the most popular alcoholic beverage in the world, has garnered a sophisticated following, and Hawai‘i’s breweries, like their counterparts around the globe, are producing creative, complex flavor profiles akin to fine wine.

During Maui Brewing Company’s VIP Brewery Tour, you’ll walk through the 82,000-square-foot, solar-powered production facility to learn how the company’s award-winning beers are made (up to two dozen varieties are for sale at any given time, including seasonal and limited editions). You might see a brewer monitoring carbonation levels, checking the quality of cans and bottles, or cleaning one of the 12 fermentation tanks inside (18 more tanks are outside).

After that, you’ll view a 10-minute video about the brewing process and Maui Brewing’s sustainability efforts and enjoy a guided beer tasting (Island Root Beer is served to younger guests).

Info: This 60-minute tour for up to 10 people is scheduled at 12:30, 2, and 3:30 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. Cost is $20 per person. Reservations are recommended.

Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi is happy to be a lifelong learner—all the better if the experiences involve great food and libations. A frequent contributor and Hawai'i expert, her articles include:

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