A downtown MA’O Fundraiser

Jo McGarry
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Wednesday - September 17, 2008
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Ed Kenney and Dave Caldiero of downtown @ the HiSAM and town restaurants

I was chatting with Ed Kenney the other Saturday morning by phone as he shopped at the Farmers’ Market at KCC. Ed and his restaurant partner Dave Caldiero spend most Saturdays at the market buying local produce for their restaurants town and downtown @ the HiSAM (at the Hawaii State Art Museum).

“Every week Dave and I come down here with a cart or some market bags,” Kenney says. “It’s part of what makes our job so much fun.”

When we spoke, he’d just purchased black Roma tomatoes (they’re in very limited supplies from Lucy Hiraoka’s booth), and some fresh shelling beans. “We’ve got these Mayflower beans that we’ve never used before,” he says. “I’m excited to get back to the restaurant and use them.”

I share this purely to paint a picture of the passion and enthusiasm that chefs like Kenney and Caldiero have for our farmers and the thriving farmers’ markets we’re all fortunate to enjoy. And the remarkable food at town is a reflection of the connection between farmers and chefs who appreciate them. From glasses of freshly made lemonade with parsley and honey, to bowls of simple, handmade pasta with herbs and hearty bowls of comfort food, town tastes like it has a connection to the land.

This weekend there’s a fundraiser at downtown @ the HiSAM for MA’O Farms in Waianae, a project that speaks to Kenney and Caldiero agriculturally, culturally and spiritually.

“We support MA’O Farms because we love their produce,” he says, “but there’s something more to the program. They train young people to move forward in their lives, and culturally that’s an important issue.”

Among the many youth programs MA’O supports, is a two-year internship where students gain work and leadership experience resulting in an Associate of Arts degree from Leeward Community College.

“Working on the farm in Waianae gets these kids connected to the land,” says Kenney, who adds that the awareness the program brings to children is another reason he sees value in supporting the non-profit. “A couple of hundred years ago we were an agricultural society with real respect for the land. This program brings an element of that back.”

What the farming experience at MA’O also does is teach children the importance of showing up on time, being responsible and being accountable. “It’s not that every graduate is going to be a farmer,” says Kenney, “but the foundations they learn from the program help them with the rest of their lives. In an area like Waianae, having children go on to college and further their education is a great thing.”

And this year’s fourth annual MA’O Town fundraiser promises to showcase some outstanding local ingredients.

“We’ll have an extravagant spread of locally produced food and local music,” says Kenney.

One of the most popular parts of the evening comes through the pounding of poi.

“Vince Dodge brings kids down and everyone pounds poi together,” says Kenney. “It’s spiritually uplifting and the poi is like nothing you’ve ever tasted.”

Tickets for the Sept. 20 event are on sale now at town and downtown @ the HiSAM for $125. And while the fundraiser is an important one for MA’O -last year’s benefit helped support 27 children - Kenney and Caldiero are the last ones to take credit. “The people who should be celebrated here are the farmers,” Kenney says. “They do all the work. We just put it on the plate.”

Happy eating!


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