Chef Tylun Pang, Kō Restaurant and Farm to Table in Maui

Executive Chef Tylun Pang has successfully brought the traditional Plantation Cooking of Hawaii to his customers.

Executive Chef Tylun Pang has successfully brought the traditional Plantation Cooking of Hawaii to his customers.

Those of you who have traveled to Hawaii for a while might remember when your dining out was frequently limited to a steak and lobster house, but you knew there was really good local chow being served in home kitchens and hole-in-the-wall restaurants.

Times have changed as a wave of foodies and innovative chefs have discovered ways to make a good living serving trendy, fancy cuisine to island visitors. That said, it has still been hard to find da kine food that represented the cultures making up Hawaii.

On the island of Maui, Chef Tylun Pang and his talented coterie of multi-cultural chefs have created Kō, a place we came to call a “teaching restaurant,” where you can dine the way Mauians have for generations. It is a place where treasured family recipes have been adapted to principles of elegant cuisine and presented with service respectful of the histories and cultural influences of the food.

Ko Restaurant entrance at the Fairmont Kea Lani, Maui.

Kō Restaurant entrance at the Fairmont Kea Lani, Maui.

It has been a long time since the first sugar mill started operation on Maui in 1828. Lewis and Clark’s historic cross-country trip across North America was still being evaluated and America was still forming, with a Civil War yet to come. Yet there on Maui, immigrant workers were arriving from China, Japan, Korea, the Philippines, Portugal and other nations to provide labor for the expanding sugar operation.

Workers lived in camps on the sugar cane plantations and most raised a few vegetables and prepared family meals in the style of their homelands. From these very ethnic beginnings, combined at times with Native Hawaiian cooking, a unique “plantation-style” food style was derived. Hardy, nourishing food was required to restore the body from the arduous work in the cane fields and the sugar mills. The homemakers saw to it to provide sustenance in their home kitchens.

Chef Tylun Pang grew up on Oahu in a family that loved food and, in Chinese tradition, every meal was a family event, with cooking done by his father and grandmothers. He says he can “close my eyes and still see Dad in the kitchen.” His father took him shopping for food in Chinatown and inspired young Tylun with his amazing wok skills. “The wok is still the first pan I reach for,” says Pang.

Beginning his formal cooking career, Chef Pang started at the Ilikai Hotel in Honolulu, then, with generous mentoring from some European chefs, he went on to the Bonaventure Hotel in Los Angeles before returning to Hawaii, the place he really feels at home. With this experience and resume, Chef Pang eventually became Executive Chef at the Fairmont Kea Lani in Wailea, Maui and here is where the evolution of Kō started.

Heading a kitchen staff in the hotel’s then-upscale Italian restaurant, “I looked around and realized we didn’t have one Italian in the kitchen,” he says. This was also the moment when the Kea Lani wanted to make a change and the collaborations that ensued percolated the idea of a restaurant representing Maui by its traditional multicultural home cooking.

Chef Pang, with his culinarian colleagues, including Chefs Richard Ramirez and Richard Hoang, started collecting recipes from Maui families and other contributing chefs.

Pang’s team made multiple visits to the exhibits at the Maui Sugar Museum in Puunene which depict the cultures that helped build the sugar industry. Distilling and adapting the recipes into the new Kō menu turned into a labor of love as Chef Pang and his colleagues realized they had found, to a great extent, the down-to earth, honest cuisine of Maui.

Some items that made the Kō menu include starters such as Spicy Tuna Poke Bowl, Oishi Sushi, Lumpia Filipino Spring Rolls and Maui Cattle Company Kobe Beef Poke and Banana Ketchup BBQ Pork Skewers (an island street food favorite).

Soups and salads range from Portuguese Bean Soup to Chop Chop Sesame Chicken Salad (with Won Bok Cabbage and Won Ton Chips). Among the adapted Plantation traditional items are Sugar Cane Skewered Prawns and Scallops, Zarzuela (a kettle of lobster, shrimp, scallops, mussels, clams and chorizo in a saffron broth – wow!) and Maui Cattle Company Korean BBQ Strip Loin (with tempura shrimp and house made Kim Chee).

There is also the delicious Lavender Honey Macadamia Nut Shrimp and Painiolo Bone-In Rib-Eye Steak. Fresh fish, from local Hawaiian-waters, weather permitting, are offered with a range of preparations that include: Ginger Steamed, Macadamia Nut Crust, Kea Lani Garden Herb and Wok Seared. We tried Monchong (a deep sea Pomfret) and local Lehi, served with a delicious side of purple, Molokai mashed sweet potatoes.

Rounding out this multi-cultural mix are interesting items like edamame humus, Portuguese taro rolls and desserts like Maui Vanilla Bean Creme Brulee, Chantilly Cake and Coconut Gelato. Check out the entire menu at

So where do all these ingredients come from? Chef Pang has long been committed to local sourcing (remember, his Dad took him shopping in Honolulu’s Chinatown as a small boy). He knows most of the small farmers on Maui and many of the fishermen people like Chauncy and Teena Monden who run Kula Country Farms on the slopes of Haleakala and produce amazingly sweet Kula Onions and delicious Kula Strawberries.

Chauncy Monden, 4th Generation Maui Farmer, Kula Country Farms.

Chauncy Monden, 4th Generation Maui Farmer, Kula Country Farms.

Chef Pang knows when Hana fishermen are catching Ahi Tuna, for example, and regularly talks by phone with chefs across the islands to find out how their fish and produce sources are managing.

We would be remiss if we didn’t mention an over-arching awareness of local food  sourcing by the Maui restaurant community as a whole. From top-flight, award-winning establishments like Kō to smaller quality establishments such as Colleen’s at the Cannery in up-country Haiku, chefs are regularly receiving supplies from local growers such as Kula Country Farms, Otani Farms and even smaller boutique farmers like Patnode Farms, Haiku Organic Farms and Rainbow Specialty Organics. As veteran restaurateur Colleen Nicholas says, with a smile, “people walk in all day and sell us lemons, limes, avocados, star fruit, etc. They are the real unsung heroes because local citrus and produce is so much better.”

Colleen's Beet Salad with fresh organic Kula greens, organic grape tomatoes, candied walnuts and goat cheese.

Colleen’s Beet Salad with fresh organic Kula greens, organic grape tomatoes, candied walnuts and goat cheese.

A trip to Maui these days is not only a trip to an astonishingly beautiful place, but it can be a great opportunity to learn more about Hawaiian history and the modern Mauians’ embrace of sustainable agriculture coupled with fine dining, plantation-style. Trip planners and resort concierges are available to help you plan farm tours and other excursions that will put you right on the farm-to-table route.


Luxury, Sustainability and Aloha+ in Wailea, Maui


All suites at the Fairmont Kea Lani have ocean views.

All suites at the Fairmont Kea Lani have ocean views.

When we think of big resort hotels, we sometimes default to thinking there will frequently be waste issues in food, trash, laundering and energy. It is with delight when we discover a major destination property that has figured it out and made a commitment to sustainability principles.

As guests at the Fairmont Kea Lani, set on lovely Polo Beach on the Valley Isle of Maui, you might get a hint of this commitment with your first Mai-Tai by one of the pools, served in a “glass” made of corn (and 100% compostable).  It doesn’t stop there.


Poolside Mai Tai in a “glass” made of corn tells part of the story of the Fairmont Kea Lani’s commitment to sustainability.

During a recent stay, we learned a great deal more about the Kea Lani’s sustainability efforts on Maui and the significant corporate commitment by the Fairmont’s global properties.  For example, by the end of 2013, Fairmont’s goal is to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions to 20% below their 2006 levels, the equivalent of taking 19,777 cars off the road annually.  Look for Electric Car charging stations coming later this year, a developing addition to Maui travel.  Leftover food donations to local food banks, farm-to-table sourcing and on-site “Green Teams” prove that this is not just a “trendy” corporate nod, but a way of life for the Fairmont culture since 1990.

We found the poolside service to be excellent.  The nicely tranquil adult pool is great for guests who wish to, well, be without kids for a little while.

The "adult" quiet pool at the Fairmont Kea Lani is tranquil with excellent Mai Tais poolside.

The “adult” quiet pool at the Fairmont Kea Lani is tranquil with excellent food service poolside.

Snacks and beverages are brought to your small chaise-lounge tables. Hint: Go for the Kalua-Pork Quesadilla with Mango Salsa.  Zesty!


The spacious and comfortable lobby of the Fairmont Kea Lani is a great place to relax and meet with friends.

The Fairmont Kea Lani actively engages its guests to be partners in the sustainability effort and we found ourselves easily tuned-in and mindful, thanks to the hotel’s examples, led by General Manager Charles Head, a cheerful host, custom-made for the modern hospitality industry.  He is the real deal.



Live bamboo incorporated into the lobby ambience at the Fairmont Kea Lani.


Amenities.  Big ones, small ones, lots of them.  The little touches that you remember.  Have you ever been to a WSUE Resort (World’s Slowest and Ugliest Elevators)?  The Kea Lani’s elevators arrive quickly and are beautifully designed.  Expect top of the line Rose 31 eco-products by Le Labo in the spacious bathroom(s), great in-room coffee and tea service, and high-quality linens and down pillows. Staff attitude?  Aloha says a lot but let’s just say “Aloha-Plus” for this staff. How do they remember who we are by name?  Do they have chips installed?


Whoever came up with the all-Suite resort concept was brilliant.  With 413 of these 800 square-foot-plus ocean-view suites and 37 very private ocean-view villas (each with their own small pool), the Kea Lani is a sweet-spot in resort size.  Add to that a very unique location tucked in the Polo Beach cove and you have a feeling of privacy in the heart of Wailea.


Polo Beach Cove gives the visitor a feeling of coziness. Beaches in Hawaii are public but this setting has a sense of privacy while not being “uppity.”


The whale-watching, in season, from your private lanai, libation-in-hand, is, well, the stuff of dreams.  Speaking of Lanai, that’s the island right out your window.

Service gets to you fast because the resort is adequately staffed with well-trained and motivated employees (each of whom is imbued with the culture of the property and Hawaii by going through a comprehensive cultural training program run by the resort’s own cultural advisor).


The welcoming lobby and adjacent lounge at the Fairmont Kea Lani is a great place to meet friends for an afternoon libation.

There is, of course, lots to do on Maui: from the top of Haleakala to the snorkeling and myriad water sports; to the great helicopter tours, upcountry touring and the gorgeous marathon drive to Hana…but, if you just want to stay put, the Kea Lani makes it easy. This property clearly wants you to relax and enjoy everything.  For off-property adventures the Concierge desk is at your service, and will arrange for just about any activity.

The best deal is to get the Sunnyside Breakfast Package when you reserve.  This is a real value.  We’re not normally big buffet fans, but the Kea Lani Restaurant somehow re-wrote the book on resort breakfast buffets.  From Chef Irwin or Chef “Smiley” at their made-to-order omelet stations, to the huge fresh fruit bar and fresh pastries (the apple strudel and the mango cobbler), with staff bringing fresh pots of coffee, refreshing your water and juice (or mai tai)…well, maybe you’ll be lounging at the hotel today.  And if you are off for an adventure, this breakfast will fortify you.  (You can also order from the menu, but value-wise, go for the Breakfast Package).


Chef Irwin works his magic at the Fairmont Kea Lani Restaurant omelet station.

Later in the day, other dining options will tempt you to stay on the property:

Nick’s Fishmarket Maui is a seafood and steak establishment, with a great terrace and a lively bar; the Polo Beach Grille and Bar is a poolside, casual daytime place where friends gather and includes a handy swim-up bar; and Caffe Ciao Bakery and Deli is open from early morning to late night and has a wide range of food options including custom picnic baskets.


Caffe Ciao makes a great picnic lunch, wonderful coffee drinks and is a great place to pick up those sundries you might have forgotten to pack.

Overseeing all food at the Kea Lani is Executive Chef Tylun Pang.


Chef Tylun Pang oversees all of the food at the Fairmont Kea Lani and is the driving force behind the “Plantation Cuisine” at Kō Restaurant at the resort.

He is also the driving force behind one of Hawaii’s great authentic restaurants, Kō, which was the dining highlight of our Fairmont Kea Lani stay.  There is so much to say about Kō and the integration of Hawaiian home cooking that we are dedicating a separate article in this issue to the restaurant and Chef Pang’s commitment to local food sourcing and environmental stewardship.  That said, one meal at Kō will open your eyes and palate to the cultural influences on contemporary, Hawaiian cuisine.  Move over fusion; let’s get down with some plantation-inspired home cooking.

An over-arching quality for any deluxe property is the amount of return business.  At the Kea Lani we asked staff members about this and the story was consistent:  Families have been coming here year after year.  In fact, many employees have worked at the property for many years and have seen children grow, and return with their own families.  These are qualities of a destination property that can’t fit into any metric but are as important as any.


Along the never-boring Wailea hiking path, easily accessible from the Kea Lani.

Wrapping up this intro to the Fairmont Kea Lani, let us add that evening walks along the Wailea hiking path (which passes through the beachfront of the resort) is another delight.  Because of the Kea Lani’s location, the foot traffic seems modest and there is never a feeling of being crowded, even during high season.  That feeling of seclusion and tranquility carries through this unique property.  Couple this with the Fairmont’s leadership in Maui’s environmental stewardship and we give this great family destination a big thumb’s up!

Aloha from Maui – The First Post

Landing at Kahului Airport

Aloha!  I thought I might inaugurate this blog with a few words and pictures from The Valley Isle.  Maui continues to be a wonderful “easy” destination for people because you can really style your own vacation here.  You can choose from a diverse menu that might include being a “beach potato,” driving to Hana for a night or two of jungle bliss, exploring Up Country Maui, sunrise on the Haleakala volcano, a seasonal whale watch and tasting some wonderful food.  Permit me a few suggestions.

You might have noticed the current banner photograph.  This is a shot I took last night of the seared ahi appetizer at Colleen’s restaurant in the Cannery Building, in Haiku.  Colleen Nicolas has been on Maui for many years and has a knack for creating recipes and finding the right people to prepare and serve to her customers.  Colleen’s is one of my favorite places because it is a local haunt and off the beaten path a bit.  They are open for breakfast (great omelets), lunch and dinner.  Another favorite is the Mahi-Mahi Fish and Chips and the Kula Greens Salad with Roasted Local Beets.

If you are going to Haiku, you might consider making a loop from Paia to Haiku, then up to Makawao and back down Baldwin Avenue to your starting point in Paia. You could take a day doing it, and the sights and shops are lovely.  Start with an early morning walk on Baldwin Beach, just west of Paia on the Hana Highway.  Early mornings are best because the trades can pick up by mid-morning.  Parking is easy and the beach walk is sweet.

Baldwin Beach, Maui

After your Baldwin Beach march, drive into Paia and park.  You might grab a bit at Cafe Des Amis (great crepes) or the Mambo Cafe, close to each other on Baldwin Avenue.

Another great place is the Paia Fish House, right on the corner of Hana Highway and Baldwin Avenue (the only stoplight in Paia).  These folks know how to do it and the family-style dining, bring-your-order-to-the-table casual atmosphere is conducive to conversations, sometimes very international.  The fish is always fresh.

Cafe Des Amis, Paia, Maui

Another fun local place in Paia is the long-standing and very high-granola Mana Foods where some great local organic greens can be purchased in a store seemingly filled with the hippest most blissed-out patrons I’ve ever seen.  Groovy, man.  Seriously, a lovely store with a great selection of healthy products.

And, by the way, if over-nighting, or longer, in Paia is an option, let me recommend the oceanfront Paia Inn, beautifully upgraded and staffed by the sweetest staff this side of, well, paradise.

Next up, a Caesar Salad receipe, then, later, some more on Maui.  A hui hou!