hana call­ing

The search for the right fish to serve in Lake­side at Wynn re­sults in an un­shak­able bond be­tween a chef and a fish­ing fam­ily in Maui— and a jour­ney to the un­spoiled par­adise that yields its bounty.

Wynn Magazine - - CONTENTS - By An­drea Ben­nett

The search for the right fish to serve in Lake­side at Wynn re­sults in an un­shak­able bond be­tween a chef and a fish­ing fam­ily in Maui—and a jour­ney to the un­spoiled par­adise that yields its bounty.

Gina Lind stands in front of the house that she and her fam­ily are ren­o­vat­ing in Hana, on the Hawai­ian is­land of Maui. Stat­uesque and strik­ingly beau­ti­ful in shorts and a tank top, her long, curly hair ca­su­ally tied up and tucked with a plume­ria flower while the youngest of her five chil­dren— 3-year-old Kai­hawanawana (“Kai Kai”) and 10-month-old Adri­anna—cling to her limbs, she’s calmly di­rect­ing a snarl of fam­ily traf­fic. Eight-year-old Talia and 6-year-old Wai’oli are try­ing to cor­ral the lit­ter of pup­pies that was a sur­prise fea­ture of the new prop­erty. Her old­est, 13-year-old Ekolu, is help­ing his fa­ther, Greg­gie, un­earth the 70-pound pig that’s been steam­ing in the imu in the front yard. The com­pact earth oven is metic­u­lously lay­ered with wood and basalt stones to hold in the heat, and the pig is wrapped in ti leaves and chicken wire to keep the ten­der meat from fall­ing apart. It’s a fra­grant, smoky, la­bor-in­ten­sive once-a-year treat—an in­di­ca­tion of just how ex­cited the fam­ily is that Un­cle David has come to visit. The “un­cle” des­ig­na­tion is honorary, but David Wal­zog, Ex­ec­u­tive Chef of Lake­side and SW Steak­house in Wynn Las Ve­gas, and Greg­gie Lind greet each other like long-lost broth­ers. They’ve been tex­ting all morn­ing, plan­ning the lo­gis­tics of the next few days of fish­ing, cook­ing, and en­ter­tain­ing. Greg­gie has re­cently switched mo­bile phones, since the last wasn’t con­sis­tently pick­ing up Wal­zog’s texts. “For­get about his wife,” Gina says in her char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally gen­tle, teas­ing way. “He needs to make sure he can be in con­stant con­tact with David.” Yet what Gina laugh­ingly calls the “bro­mance” be­tween the fish­er­man and the chef has be­come cru­cial to Wal­zog’s de­cep­tively sim­ple menu of Hawai­ian fish at Lake­side—2,700 miles away from this scene of cel­e­bra­tory chaos. Wal­zog is well aware that restau­rants will go to great lengths to en­gi­neer a nar­ra­tive in the name of at­tract­ing din­ers who, now more than ever, care about the ori­gin of their food. Cer­tainly any restau­rant with suf­fi­cient re­sources could cre­ate the Ep­cot ver­sion of Mama’s Fish House, the fa­mous beach­side restau­rant on Maui’s north shore. But Wal­zog wanted to dig deeper. The story be­hind Lake­side’s now-renowned Hawai­ian fish pro­gram, which brings snap­per, mahimahi, and ono, among other species, di­rectly from their clean Pa­cific wa­ters to Wynn—some­times within a day—in­volves this friend­ship, nat­u­rally. But at its core, it is about sup­port­ing the tra­di­tions and prac­tices of fam­ily fish­er­men for whom con­ser­va­tion has been an un­spo­ken prin­ci­ple for hun­dreds of years. And of course, it’s about the pu­rity and the fresh­ness of the fish that Wal­zog can de­liver to din­ers in less time than many Maui restau­rants can. A long­time Maui vacationer, Wal­zog had al­ways been drawn to the idea of liv­ing off what is abun­dant and avail­able. “You’ve got to love the fresh­ness right out of the wa­ter,” he says on the first day of our fish­ing trip, his slim bon­ing knife zip­ping through a snap­per. “So the ques­tion has al­ways been how we take this ex­pe­ri­ence to the next level and re­ally tell the right story about it.”

“You’ve got to love the fresh­ness right out of the wa­ter. The ques­tion has al­ways been how we take this ex­pe­ri­ence to the next level and tell the right story about it.”— DAVID WAL­ZOG

At its core, the story is about sup­port­ing the tra­di­tions and prac­tices of fam­ily fish­er­men for whom con­ser­va­tion has been an un­spo­ken prin­ci­ple for hun­dreds of years.

When he was be­gin­ning to plan Lake­side’s Hawai­ian fish menu, he knew he didn’t want to em­ploy an or­di­nary com­mer­cial fish­ing op­er­a­tion. “Typ­i­cally, those boats are out on the wa­ter for 12 to 14 days, and they keep their haul on ice un­til they sell it at auc­tion,” he ex­plains. “That length of time is still con­sid­ered fresh by the stan­dards of most restau­rants.” So he called his friend Eric Kingma, the en­vi­ron­men­tal pol­icy co­or­di­na­tor for the Western Pa­cific Re­gional Fishery Man­age­ment Coun­cil, for ideas. “He rec­om­mended the Linds based on what hon­est, re­spon­si­ble, and good peo­ple they are,” Wal­zog says. Af­ter a flurry of phone calls, he was on a plane to meet them in Hana. A typ­i­cal day for Greg­gie and Ekolu starts be­fore dawn, when Gina helps them launch their fish­ing boat and then drives back home to get the chil­dren ready and go to her teach­ing job at the lo­cal el­e­men­tary school. She’ll come back when their day is done in the late af­ter­noon. The boat is Kai­hawanawana, or Whis­per­ing Ocean, the name given to the Linds by Greg­gie’s pa­ter­nal grand­mother fol­low­ing age-old cus­tom. “She had of­fered us a sec­ond name, Ehukai, but that re­minded us of rough oceans,” Gina says. “The area of Maka’alae is known for its ehukai [salted breezes] when the ocean is rough.” Be­cause their liveli­hood is en­tirely de­pen­dent on good seas and the fair treat­ment of their contents, for the Linds, tra­di­tion and pro­to­col—even a bit of an­cient su­per­sti- tion—are every­thing. When a mem­ber of the crew grabs a banana to take on the boat, Greg­gie stops him. “No ba­nanas,” he warns. “It’s bad luck.” We ask why, ex­pect­ing some ro­man­tic Hawai­ian ori­gin story, and Greg­gie is flum­moxed. It’s just not done, he re­sponds. A sin­gle banana can be a scourge to a whole day’s fish­ing. The rea­son doesn’t mat­ter. On board, Ekolu and Greg­gie reel in fish with the in­tri­cate chore­og­ra­phy that only a fa­ther and son born to this life can achieve. Ekolu can’t imag­ine an­other way; in fact, he has ne­go­ti­ated a homeschool­ing ar­range­ment with his mother, his days of fish­ing con­tin­gent on his grades. The wa­ters are choppy, but Ekolu scans the sea for the flocks of birds that sig­nify there are fish be­low. He looks far older than a newly minted teen as he reels in fish af­ter fish, the densely green hills fronting Haleakala Crater as his back­drop. He and Greg­gie won’t catch more than they can sell, and nearly all of their haul will go to Wal­zog. In fact, for Wal­zog, the fish shop­ping hap­pens while Greg­gie is still at sea: “He’ll call me and say, ‘I’m at 200 pounds of mahimahi. Stop or keep fish­ing?’” Once they’ve reached Wal­zog’s tar­get, the Linds will re­turn to shore, pack the haul into cool­ers, drive for two hours down the wind­ing road to Kahu­lui, and ship their fish to Wynn. If they time things right, the ship­ment will be served at Lake­side the next night.

That af­ter­noon, it’s Wal­zog’s turn to go to work, and he takes his cues for the evening menu from the moun­tain of lo­cal in­gre­di­ents sit­ting in the tiny kitchen of the house our crew is rent­ing in Maka’alae. A 40-pound tuna is cubed for ahi poke, and tuna loins are sea­soned and tossed on a grill in the back­yard. Lit­tle Lind chil­dren scat­ter to find ti and banana leaves to hold the food; the lemon­grass they’ve picked is stuffed in­side whole snap­pers, with fat ginger slices in slits in their flesh. The shred­ded pork from the imu is sea­soned and warmed; na­tive fid­dle­head fern shoots, po­hole, be­come a salad spiked with sweet Maui onions; and the is­land’s fa­mous toma­toes are sim­ply dressed and tossed with basil and spring onions and stud­ded with goat cheese from Surf­ing Goat Dairy in Kula, in Maui’s up­coun­try. In Las Ve­gas, Wal­zog serves dishes he has re­fined for a fine-din­ing au­di­ence, but the idea re­mains the same: Coax the fla­vor from the fish with the sim­plest in­gre­di­ents pos­si­ble. (His fa­vorite at Lake­side: the onaga, or long-tail red snap­per, whose slight sweet­ness he off­sets with an Asian set of pick­led Ja­panese veg­eta­bles and ponzu broth.) The beers come out and trucks show up, bring­ing friends from all over Hana. All this food is a good ex­cuse for a party, which be­comes al­most too per­fectly pho­to­genic when Gina’s fa­ther, Hank Eharis, Jr., ap­pears with his ukulele. To say that fish­ing is in the Linds’ DNA is some­thing of an un­der­state­ment: Both Greg­gie and Gina have fish­ing roots that go deeper than recorded his­tory. On our fi­nal morn­ing, we drive to the coastal area of Kanewai in Mu’olea, the fam­ily’s an­ces­tral land, where Ekolu some­times goes fish­ing at dawn, gath- er­ing up his net and toss­ing it in one smooth mo­tion from the jagged black vol­canic rocks into the sea. There is a dis­tinctly sa­cred feel­ing to this area, which was owned by 13 fam­i­lies, seized as “crown lands” dur­ing the Great Ma­hele—the Hawai­ian land re­dis­tri­bu­tion car­ried out in the mid-19th cen­tury by King Kame­hameha Iii—and tem­po­rar­ily used as a royal sum­mer palace by King David Kalakaua. The ma­tri­arch of the House of Kalakaua, Analea Keo­hokalole, re­turned it to the fam­i­lies, from which both Gina and Greg­gie are de­scended, in the late 1800s. “But peo­ple needed money in the mid-1900s,” Gina ex­plains, “and the only thing they had of value was their land, so they traded it.” Af­ter the land was nearly de­vel­oped, the county and pri­vate donors in­ter­ceded to make the area a kapu, or preser­va­tion district. We walk down to­ward the wa­ter, through tan­gles of yel­low liliko’i (pas­sion fruit) vines, mango trees, and co­conut palms, and past a horse that am­bles through a grassy clear­ing. The place, an­nounces a sign, is an opihi rest­ing area, re­fer­ring to the small cone-shaped mol­lusk that the non­profit group Na Mamo o Mu’olea, which over­sees the district, is try­ing to pro­tect from pro­fes­sional opihi pick­ers (con­sum­ing a few on-site is al­lowed). Greg­gie cooks two over the fire; they’re rub­bery and salty and bathed in their own liq­uid. He splits open pur­ple ha’uke’uke, the hel­met urchins that cling to the rocks, so we can taste the but­tery yel­low roe. Gina’s fa­ther, who heads Na Mamo o Mu’olea, con­sid­ers it a sa­cred duty to preserve the lands all the way up Haleakala and down to the sea: Ev­ery change in the land­scape has a cas­cad­ing im­pact, even­tu­ally af­fect­ing the wa­ters that hold the key not only to their liveli­hood, but also to their cul­ture and their his­tory. “We were mar­ried down here, and our fam­i­lies have had their ashes spread here,” Gina says. “It is a ‘piko place’ [lit­er­ally a ‘navel cord’] for us, lin­eal de­scen­dants who have a close spir­i­tual tie to Kanewai. It is as much a part of us as fish­ing is.” Greg­gie and Wal­zog watch the kids scram­ble over rocks and through dense trees as the men talk a lit­tle shop, dis­cuss Greg­gie’s next visit to Las Ve­gas, and, most im­por­tant, plan what they’ll make for lunch (as it turns out, the world’s most pre­cious tuna sand­wiches, from yes­ter­day’s ahi). It is through this friend­ship, and this fam­ily of stew­ards of the land and sea, that David Wal­zog has found a story to tell ev­ery night in his kitchen.

The back­yard in Maka’alae be­fore the party ar­rives.

be­low: Fresh ahi poke is gar­nished with ogo seaweed, se­same seeds, and spring onions and served from a co­conut. right: Greg­gie Lind serves daugh­ter Kai Kai a plate at the party, while Wai’oli awaits his turn from a tree. op­po­site: Grilled ahi loin an­chors a guest’s plate.

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