Jayson Kanekoa lives about 20 miles and 4,500 feet in elevation from his job. Every morning, he drives down the hills from his Hawaiian hometown of Kamuela to the Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort & Spa, on Hawaii Island’s Kohala Coast, where he was recently promoted from executive sous chef to executive chef.
It’s a 30-minute drive Chef Kanekoa typically makes alone, except two Saturdays out of the month, when he picks up four resort guests in a van at 7:30 a.m. and drives them back to Kamuela for a daylong excursion. On the ride, Chef Kanekoa gets to know his guests and their culinary likes and dislikes, and creates a mental menu for the night.
The day is spent visiting farms, farmers’ markets, and a hole-in-the-wall fish house, as guests handpick some of the food Chef Kanekoa will serve them that night at the resort. The innovative Chef Shuttle program is the latest extension of farm-to-table, and ends with guests having a personal bond to the food on the dinner table.
“There are times we go to the strawberry farms, and they pick their own strawberries,” Chef Kanekoa says. “It’s a real connection for them; a lot of the things they pick, we turn into a dish that they’re having that night.”
The daylong trip includes stops at J A Farms, which grows an exclusive, organic, seven-blend salad mix for the Waikoloa Beach resort; Wow Farms, where a family friend of Chef Kanekoa grows the tomatoes used at Waikoloa Beach; and a market, perhaps the Waimea Farmers Market, or a strawberry orchard. On the way back to the resort, guests stop in at a fish house to see what the fisherman has brought in for the day—typically ahi, ono (wahoo), or mahi mahi—and the chef purchases some fish for the night’s dishes.
“Every week you go to the farmers market, you’re guaranteed there will be something different there,” he says. “Whether it’s something that’s coming into season, such as mangoes or passion fruit or any kind of root plants, from radishes to taro—in the three years that I’ve taken guests, every guest has been blown away by the experience.”
At J A Farms, Chef Kanekoa partnered with local grower Flavio Miche, who was willing to grow an exclusive seven-blend mix for Waikola Beach. Chef Kanekoa calls it a seed-to-table concept, as Miche plants seeds, from mustard to red oak, that create winter and spring leaf blends.
Chef Shuttle, started by Chef Kanekoa in late 2010, was a natural extension of the chef's weekend plans. “It started with what I would do on my Saturday in a little town on the Big Island,” he says. “I always go to the farmers market and sit down with the farmers. I spend time with them. I don’t know where it came from, but one day, I thought to myself: ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if I took guests to the farmers’ market? And showed them how we take the ingredients back with us?’
By Sonya Chudgar