My son Anthony and I were invited to attend a very special luncheon at Merriman's in Waimea on Friday last week to say farewell to Chef Neil Murphy who is moving on to the Merriman's Kapalua, Maui location.
The event was hosted byPam and Kurt Hirabara (Hirabara Baby Lettuce Farm in
Waimea) and attended mostly by farmers and ranchers with which Chef Neil had
made connections and who supplied him with Big Island products...such as veggies/fruit/seafood/meats... Besides the food providers, also attending were our friends, food writer Joan Namkoon and Chef 'Olelo pa'a Faith Ogawa as well as Chef Neil's fiancée who flew in from a neighbor island for the event.
This was a surprise to the chef who did not know the event had been planned....He was loaded down with dozens of lei, cards and gifts, including a canoe paddle ....and ended up cooking on his last day at Merriman's Waimea a veritable feast for our group.
It was a wonderful meal which I understand was composed of mostly "off the cuff" creations by Chef Neil and his crew when he realized so many of his suppliers were there.... he incorporated as much of the produce/meats the farmers and ranchers provided him with in the dishes he chose to send out.
We ate for about 2-1/2 hours non-stop...dishes kept flying out to our two long tables (about 26 - 30 people all together) in a constant stream and everything was
delicious and beautifully presented.
The mouth-watering offerings started with lidded baskets filled with warm freshly baked rolls and little bowls of warabi (fiddlehead fern) salad and pickled salads strewn all the length of the tables. These were followed by platters of grilled quesadillas and 'ahi and ono sashimi.
Bowls of beautiful mixed greens and more bowls of cubed beets, slices of cucumbers, red and yellow tomatoes and red, sweet, juicy strawberries topped with chopped and toasted macadamia nuts.
More platters of sashimi topped with cubed avocadoes were brought out as well as marinated and grilled shrimp, macadamia rice, seasoned and roasted potatoes and beef tenderloin medalions.
The main entrée, portions of a delicious freshly caught mahi-mahi on a bed of sauteed assorted mushrooms and onions topped with a perfectly poached egg was, in my humble opinion, one of the best mahi I have eaten on this island. It's not even on the menu and it doesn't have a name.
When we thought we couldn't eat anymore, out came the desserts! Seven.....count them... seven different delicious desserts to choose from came marching up and down the tables!
Cheesecakes with strawberries, strawberries and cream, delicate crème brulée, chocolate brownie and ice cream, pineapple upsidedown cake topped with whipped cream, dark, rich chocolate cake and shortbread drizzled with chocolate, and a chocolate flan that was my favorite of all....
It is always gratifying to see the wonderful synergy that can exist between a chef and his suppliers and this ocassion was no exception. The aloha that could be felt surrounding the tables was palpable and very special.
A comment overheard had Chef Neil telling one of the guests summed it up...to the effect that being a chef was more of a vocation than a profession; "where else can you come to work in the morning, grab a cup of coffee and get to play with food while trying to express an idea and have the satisfaction of knowing you pleased someone when they ate it later that day?"
As Pam later said; "I too, thought that lunch was special special. It is as if the food was the least of it. I'm sure you know what I mean.....the food was fabulous because it was, after all, Neil Murphy, but the thing that I remember best was looking around the room and seeing a kind of group of people who got cleaned up (and left their farms) to come to lunch. Both Kurt and I felt extra proud to be farmers that day"
Mahalo Pam and Kurt for being our gracious hosts for a very special special lunch.
To learn more about the growers and suppliers you can reach them below: