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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, June 20, 2001

Taste testers find Kamuela tomato superior in flavor

By Joan Namkoong
Advertiser Food Editor

KAMUELA, Hawai'i — Appearances can be deceiving: Great-looking tomatoes don't always mean great taste.

The nine judges at last Friday's 6th Annual Tomato Tasting at Merriman's restaurant in Kamuela experienced more than 30 tomatoes — red and variable shades of red, yellow and green striped — most looking fabulous but many without flavor, mushy in the mouth or having tough skins.

Of ten tomatoes in the red slicing category, there was one with that tomatoey flavor: Hau'ula tomatoes from O'ahu, grown by Graf and Terry Shintaku.

But it was the 13th tomato that made all the judges silently go "Wow!": Lokelani Gardens' tomatoes from Kamuela, grown by Erin Lee, Susan Welch and Joli Ana Lee-Welch. They are the perennial winner of this annual event. Taster John Heckathorn proclaimed Lee the "Tiger Woods of tomato growers." It was the unanimous choice among the tasters as their favorite tomato of the day.

Many tomatoes later, when taste buds were less acute, there was an audible wow as judges bit into Kawamata Farms' Bam cherry tomato from Kamuela, a tough-skinned but very flavorful mouthful that became the No. 2 favorite overall.

Other notable tomato tastes of the day: green zebra from the Shintaku farm in Hau'ula; golden beefsteak tomato and Favorita cherry tomato from Nakano Farms, Kamuela; slicing tomatoes from Kahua Ranch, Pu'u Kapu Greenhouse, P&J Farm and Jungle Fever, all Big Island farms. And interestingly, supermarket tomatoes grown by Larry Jefts in Kunia, O'ahu, compared equally to varieties from Big Island farmers.

A wide range of flavors

Big Island ranchers and farmers fed close to 1,500 people Friday night at the annual Taste of the Range event at Hawaii Preparatory Academy. The event spotlights Big Island-grown beef, lamb, pork, veal, mutton, variety meats and a wide range of vegetables.

More than 30 chefs prepared the food and, as usual, there were many braised and stewed dishes owing to the cuts of meat available.

While I couldn't make it to all the food stations, there were some taste standouts:

• In the "stew" category — Asian osso buco by Scott Simmer of Hualalai Resort Club Grill, using braised beef shank topped with a variety of finely diced vegetables including gobo; it just needed some rice. Goran Streng's stew made with chuck roll served in a roll, was classic and hearty.

• Manele Bay Edwin Goto's beef round pastrami, thinly sliced and topped with Russian banana fingerling potato salad. The peanut-sized potatoes are an experimental crop from Hirabara Farms.

• Mother Goose Farms, new on the ranching scene, donated hefty free-range broiler chickens for the event. Hokuli'a chef Peter Abacor presented a tasty chicken wrap and a very fine Thai green curry that included diced Okinawan sweet potato. Palm Cafe's Stephen Schoembs served a Chinese-style chicken salad in small Chinese take-out boxes. The chicken in all these dishes was moist and flavorful.

• Alan Wong's Wade Ueoka and team disguised Kohala "mountain oysters" well, crisply fried and topped with Asian cole slaw.

• Ahualoa Hog Farm donated the pork loin for Peter Merriman's moist and tasty preparation, stuffed with Ahualoa Cheese Co.'s jack cheese and poblano chili peppers with a nice zing. Bill Poolman of Koa House used pork shoulder to make a Carolina-style pulled pork sandwich with a zesty lilikoi barbecue sauce. I missed the Outrigger Waikoloa Beach Resorts' giant kalua pork won tons — the line never stopped and then they were gone.

• Waikoekoe Cattle Co.'s veal loin was well done by Kawaihae Harbor Grill's Aaron Barfield, served atop a mushroom risotto.

• Kahua Ranch's mutton was turned into a south-of-the-border-inspired dish by Mark Arriola of Merriman's Bamboo Bistro with fresh corn, cornbread and crisp radish topping.

• Rincon Farm strawberries, picked ripe in Kamuela, were dipped in the Original Great Hawaiian Chocolate Factory dark chocolate for a perfect combination. The chocolate is grown and processed in Kona.