Food & Drink | September 16, 2022 7:09 am

Here’s Everything I Saw, Drank, Ate and Overheard at Maui’s “White Lotus” Resort

Juicy gossip and juicier steaks: inside the Maui Food & Wine Classic

Inside Maui Food and Wine Classic
Inside the Maui Food and Wine Classic
Maui Food and Wine Classic

Wolfgang Puck is talking about his ex-wife — and because everybody loves a juicy break-up, a roomful of well-dressed people is listening intently. It’s also a sort of origin story: Puck is discussing the wine he drank on their honeymoon — and a contemporaneous choice of pursuing a career as a truck driver or a chef. Several decades ago, either one seemed like a viable option — or if they didn’t, Puck’s deadpan makes it impossible to tell he’s joking. As the crowd of about 50 food and wine connoisseurs already knows, the world-famous chef headed into the kitchen instead of out on the road. Now, part of his job includes telling all of us about tasting the wines of Napa valley legends Opus One, slightly acrimonious tone toward his ex included. 

In the end, the wine stuck, the wife didn’t, and that’s part of how Puck, and the rest of us, ended up in Maui on Labor Day Weekend to eat, drink, be merry — or, in my case, to see how the other half does all three. Puck and Opus One’s dinner was part of the Maui Food & Wine Classic, resurrected this year after a lauded debut in 2019. This year, it returns with a little extra sparkle, thanks to the fact that the property that plays host to the event is now best known as the favored one-percenter vacation spot on The White Lotus. As the staff are quick to point out, the fact that The White Lotus was filmed at the Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea shouldn’t suggest that the show was inspired by the hotel (or its well-pampered guests). For instance, we don’t arrive on a boat, and there is no pineapple suite — though reservationists did admit, with a laugh, to fielding calls daily from would-be guests asking to book into it. 

What it does mean is this place is so gorgeous it’s sometimes hard to focus on the epic proportions of wine and custom bites doled out all weekend long; Four Seasons Maui is the kind of resort that doesn’t even need to host a bunch of LA chefs to make it a great place to stay. Having opened back in 1990, this property was actually the first in what would become the Four Seasons resort collection, a blueprint of sorts for the opulence and hospitality the brand now represents. But since White Lotus opened the door, why not poke a little fun?. 

There’s literally a NextHealth studio on site, so guests who partied too hard can inject a $300 wellness IV straight into their veins instead of going the hair of the dog route. Beachside massages are so good it helps you understand why Jennifer Coolidge was set on opening her own wellness brand post-treatment — and yes, the outrigger canoe experience is real as well — and I did feel bonded with my boatmates after we pulled the rig back onshore. Even if you don’t opt for Duo Steakhouse, or Wolfgang’s Spago outpost in Maui, the beachfront cafe Ferraro’s is honestly just as good — grab a “jetlag smoothie” and a mahi mahi burger, and call it a day. 

Luckily, there were no ill-behaving guests at that Wolfgang Puck x Opus One dinner, even after the Napa vintners poured a whopping six(!) wine pairings with Puck’s four-course offering. From where I sat — between the “Chief Experience Officer” of a high-end jewelry brand and a couple from Phoenix with plenty of money but even more love for each other in their hearts — tasting their 1993 was a high point of the whole weekend. Serving out of magnum bottles, the Opus One crew never let any glasses get empty unless explicitly asked not to refill them (I had to opt out once or twice). After locally caught fish served in puff pastry (en croûte), a mushroom agnolotti and truffle course, “lacquered squab” and a slice or two of NY steak and short ribs, Puck finally let us rest with a dark chocolate mousse and a berry-leaning baked Alaska. 

Wine and food at the Maui Food and Wine Classic
Wine and food at the Maui Food and Wine Classic
Maui Food and Wine Classic

Eating well is kind of exhausting — one of my main takeaways from a trip to the other side. And while Saturday’s seated dinner might’ve been the weekend’s high point, it was only one of many experiences that LA’s foodie glitterati could partake in throughout their stay. For media guests, arriving on Thursday meant immediately heading out to the beach for an oceanside dinner that showcased some of the cuisine available at the property itself. That meant sushi towers of Vegas-level opulence and main courses by the property’s newly acquired executive chef, Michael Patria. LA readers will know him best for perfecting the dinner menu at Hotel Cara. (And yes, it was obvious when you left, Michael.)

The only thing that could eclipse these impressive dinners was a private stargazing session led by Hawaiian navigator Kala Baybayan Tanaka. Kala may or may not have been a consultant for the Disney film Moana and has personally sailed a small wooden boat from Hawaii to Tahiti with no compass or equipment, solely using the stars for direction. Truth: Everything I ate that first night was terrific. The stargazing session was even better, and a credit to the resort’s commitment to showcasing local figures. 

At the opening gala the following night, the food came in smaller portions, much to the chagrin of the non-foodies in the crowd, including a charming beauty influencer who didn’t know “gala” is often code for tasting menu samples —room service was the place to go for full dinner portions, at least for the first night. Still, the small bites event of the weekend featured standout samples from Josiah Citrin (of Citrin and Mélisse fame) and Bridgetown Roti chef Rashida Holmes, whose Caribbean pop-up is becoming a full-fledged force in the LA dining scene — and beyond, now that that Maui and more have been exposed to the savory beauty of her oxtail patties. 

Hosting lunch on the sand on Saturday afternoon, Holmes and her crew set up full-on fryers in the sand, winning the award for most versatile, and earning plenty of new fans for her spicy goat curry and crispy prawn heads. Paired with icy pink sparkling wine from Laurent Perrier, this final lunch managed to prove that LA’s street food stands on par with the finest fine dining any day of the week. Of course, it sure tastes a hell of a lot better with those Maui beaches in the background.