Share the Aloha Spirit

Meet the field chefs at January's Kona Sea Salt event.
Written by: Ariel Knoebel

Dec 15, 2023

We are kicking off our Winter Tour at Kona Sea Salt Farm, where they harvest deep sea salt from pristine ocean water 2,200 below the surface. The resulting flakes, coarse and crunchy, are rich in minerals and lower in sodium, meaning they are a bit sweeter and less salty — adding depth of flavor and texture to dishes without over seasoning. 

While salt is elemental to cooking, we often forget to think about its origin. Like produce, protein and everything else that makes up a plate of food, salt is a product farmed or foraged by hard working hands, a representation of the place it comes from. Our table on the coastline of the Kona Sea Salt Farm will not only overlook the source of their sea salt, but prized ancient Hawaiian fishing grounds and the historical site of traditional fishponds, where native Hawaiians pioneered aquaculture techniques now practiced in the open ocean nearby. 

To celebrate this unique place, we have invited two chefs into the field kitchen to collaborate on a meal focused on the best the Big Island has to offer. These chefs bring culinary influences and classical training from across the globe, but share a passion for the hard-to-define spirit of the islands – some would call it the spirit of aloha. 

“The Hawaiian language has a limited amount of words, but every word means so much more than any word in the English language,” explains Vitaly Paley, one of our guest chefs. “To learn the meaning – and the hidden meaning – behind each word, is so much more. Aloha is a word that everybody knows, but it means so much. It means hello, it means goodbye, good fortune, goodwill, it means so many things. When you say that (and you hopefully say it the way you mean it), you give so much more aloha. To wish someone “aloha” is very enriching.”

We are setting the table at Kona Sea Salt Farm in the spirit of aloha, and we invite you to join us for this special collaboration dinner. 

“Aloha is a word that everybody knows, but it means so much. It means hello, it means goodbye, good fortune, goodwill, it means so many things. When you say that (and you hopefully say it the way you mean it), you give so much more aloha. To wish someone “aloha” is very enriching.”

– Vitaly Paley

Chef Justine Ma 

Justine Ma first learned to cook in Milan, Italy while working as a teacher overseas. She traded her chef friend English lessons for his tips on Italian cooking techniques, an exchange that sparked a culinary career which led her to eat her way around the world. Eventually, she visited Hawaii on a yoga retreat and never looked back. 

She bought a parcel of raw land and built her own homestead farm where she hosts cooking classes and farm stays for others interested in slow living. “I’ve just fully immersed myself into the Hawaii slow living lifestyle,” says Ma. “I’m about slow travel, slow food, slow life, slow coffee – everything is made from scratch, with love…It’s really a lifestyle that I’ve adapted here in Hawaii and, even though I didn’t realize that I was going to build a farm, it naturally, organically unfolded into this dream that I am now offering to other people.” Since arriving in Hawaii, Chef Justine has made it non-negotiable in her weekly schedule to make a trip to the farmers market in order to stay connected with the local agricultural community, even as she has expanded her farming efforts on her own land. 

Chef Vitaly Paley

Chef Vitaly trained at some of the best restaurants in France and New York City before settling down to build his career in Portland, Oregon. He gained worldwide recognition for his enduring celebration of the wealth of ingredients in the Pacific Northwest. After decades running several celebrated restaurants, he and his wife decided they were ready for a change of pace. They stumbled upon the slow life of the Hawaiian islands. “In Hawaii, and they say the island chooses you, you don’t choose the island. We got chosen by the Big Island of Hawaii.”

While his pace may have slowed, Vitaly’s passion for the best ingredients has not waned one bit. He has taken on the role of culinary ambassador for Blue Ocean Mariculture, a sustainably-focused open ocean aquaculture project located in the waters off of Keahole Point, the same location as Kona Sea Salt Farms. “Fish farming in Hawaii has been an ancient practice, Vitaly explains, “Hawaiians have been growing fish for centuries in fish ponds. We’re not farming in ponds, but in the ocean. It’s a quarter mile offshore and very deep, filled with lots of currents and lots of wildlife, and the environment is incredibly conducive to raising this particular fish [Hawaiian Kanpachi].” While he is happy to have stepped out of the restaurant kitchen, Vitaly says, “it means a lot that I can continue learning, I can continue working for a company that I’m proud of. I think the work is incredibly meaningful.”

“To a certain degree, we are in a way a nation of white bread and boneless chicken breast,” he says. How do we change that perception? Food comes from somewhere, and the source of your food, where it comes from, how it’s going, who grew it and how to bring that to the table responsibly and respectfully has always been a big issue.”

While creating their menu, both chefs are thinking about ingredients first, wanting to showcase everything the big island has to offer — from fresh fish grown in nearby waters to grass fed beef from the overlooking volcanic mountains, locally sourced chocolate and herbs from Justine’s own garden. “I think the ingredients speak for themselves,” says Justine. “I think simple is best. It doesn’t need to be bougie. It needs to be good quality, simple, farm fresh ingredients.” Topped with a little sprinkle of sea salt straight from the source and enjoyed with a view of the sun setting over the Pacific, we can’t think of anything better. 

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