Mmm, Mountain Oysters
Wednesday - September 13, 2006
The first time I tasted mountain oysters was in the Kahilu Town Hall in Waimea, and I was being jostled by dozens of other people anxious to try them too. I was interviewing some of the chefs at Forage Field Days (as it was then known), and as I was talking, a chef pulled a small, meaty looking ball from a sauté pan and popped it in my mouth. “Like it?” he asked, with a slightly devilish grin. “Mmm,” I replied wondering what the slightly chewy consistency reminded me of. “What is it?”
“It’s a bull’s testicle,” he replied, roaring with laughter. It was then I realized what the taste reminded me of: chicken.
At least this one tasted like chicken. But mountain oysters and other rare “agricultural parts” come in myriad styles at A Taste of The Hawaiian Range. To me, this is absolutely the best food event in Hawaii. It’s unpretentious, has unbelievably good food, is extremely inexpensive and is the truest celebration of agriculture in the Islands. I fell in love with the rustic location, the rush and the eagerness of the people and the enthusiasm of the chefs the first time I went, and since 1996 I’ve tried to get back as often as I can.
The event has hardly changed in its mission to celebrate Big Island agriculture and promote appreciation of ranchers and farmers.
“It’s gotten bigger, though!” says event coordinator Merrissa Uchimura.
The first event had 12 chefs, and 300 people crammed into the town hall determined to eat everything in sight. It was an unforgettable evening, remarkable in its utter simplicity. Not a fundraiser, although a portion of proceeds go back to the community because the event is part of the College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources’ (CTAHR) mission to educate and promote local agriculture.
This year’s Taste will be held at Hilton Waikoloa in its Grand Ballroom to cope with the more than 2,500 people expected to attend.
Chefs are assigned a meat for the evening, and while more common cuts like top sirloin, flank and brisket are coveted, you’d be surprised at how many chefs relish the challenge that shoulder clods, tongue, cheek, heart, tripe and oxtail can bring. But even the greatest chefs are entitled to their queasy moments.
“Jackie Lau called me and jokingly said ‘please, no mountain oysters.’ She could hardy look at them last year, let alone cook them,” says Uchimura.
And here’s another thing I just love about A Taste of The Hawaiian Range. Not only does it celebrate farmers, ranchers and agriculture in a big way, a ticket to the event is just $35, so it’s accessible to almost everyone. So many food events in Honolulu are out of the price range of many people, but this one is subsidized by sponsors and open to all. With Neighbor Island flights so reasonably priced and kamaaina room rates on offer from several Big Island hotels, it’s a food-ie trip well worth taking.
Oh, and in case you’re interested, this year there’ll be a Mountain Oyster Cook-Off where ranchers will be invited to cook the delicacies paniolo-style.
“It’s kind of a rare event,” says Uchimura. “This is probably the only place you’re likely to taste mountain oysters - you don’t see them on too many menus!”
And yes, ranchers are asked to provide their own product for the evening. Now that’s what I call going straight to the source.
For information on A Taste of The Hawaiian Range or to download ticket forms, go to http://www.ctahr.hawaii.edu/taste/
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