While most food lovers are familiar with the names Cat Cora, Michael Mina, and Nobu Matsuhisa, many have never heard of Shep Gordon. He’s not a celebrity chef—rather, he’s a legendary talent agent for musicians such as Alice Cooper, Pink Floyd, and Luther Vandross. Last year, Mike Myers released a film about him called Supermensch that documents the career of the Hollywood insider who befriended Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, and Jimi Hendrix.
So what does Gordon have to do with food, and why is he being honoured at the Hawai’i Food and Wine Festival? “Shep Gordon is kind of responsible for bringing attention to celebrity chefs and giving them rock-star status,” explained Shelley Kekuna, executive director of the Kā‘anapali Beach Resort Association on Maui. Gordon, who is a long-time Maui resident, turned chefs like Emeril Lagasse into stars before the Food Network made cooks into brands. His client list includes culinary heavyweights Wolfgang Puck and Daniel Boulud.
Gordon will be honoured on September 6 during a six-course dinner prepared by six chefs at the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort and Spa. The dinner is just one of many Hawai’i Food and Wine Festival events that happen from August 29 to September 13.
In a phone interview with the Straight, Kekuna explained that the Hawai’i Food and Wine Festival has evolved from its origins on Oahu five years ago to include Maui and the Big Island. This year, for the first time, Maui’s own food festival, Kā‘anapali Fresh, has been rolled into the Hawai’i Food and Wine Festival. Events rotate from island to island throughout the fest. “It gives people the opportunity to really taste the personalities of the different islands, as well as the different chefs,” she said.
The Maui portion of the festival, which happens from September 4 to 6, will be “bigger and more international” than Kā‘anapali Fresh, which previously focused on chefs from the Kā‘anapali area. That’s not to say that it won’t include Hawaiian talent. Roy Yamaguchi, one of the state’s most celebrated chefs and the man behind Roy’s Restaurants, is holding his golf tournament at the Kā‘anapali Golf Course as part of the Hawai’i Food and Wine Festival this year. The September 4 tourney will feature drinks and appetizers along the course and a dinner prepared by Roy’s Kā‘anapali. “His restaurant is right there on the golf course, so it’s a natural fit,” Kekuna explained.
Other Maui events include September 5’s Maui on My Mind evening, with eight chefs preparing food for guests gathered on the Sheraton Maui Resort and Spa’s Black Rock lawn. Participating chefs include Maui’s Bev Gannon of local dining institutions like Hali‘imaile General Store, and Art Smith from Chicago’s Table Fifty-Two. Earlier that day, elsewhere in Kā‘anapali, there will be a farmers market and a mixology seminar on how to make a great Moscow Mule.
Aforementioned celebrity chefs Cora, Mina, and Matsuhisa, meanwhile, will be cooking at events on other islands. Cora will take part in a panel discussion on restaurant-marketing strategies called Dream Bigger Dreams: Tips of the Trade, which takes place on September 11 at Oahu’s Kahala Hotel and Resort.
Kekuna noted that the fest involves over 100 chefs, culinary personalities, and wine and spirit producers—people who “are really making their mark on the culinary world”. For a full schedule and tickets, see the Hawai’i Food & Wine Festival website.