At the Fire & Wine experience offered to guests of the Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea, the venison -- like many of the items served during the interactive meal -- is more than just a perfect pairing for a full-bodied syrah; it is a vehicle for discussing Hawaii's history, food systems and sustainable future.
The axis deer on Maui are an invasive species, introduced to the Islands in the late 1860s when King Kamehameha V accepted a gift of a small herd from visiting dignitaries from Hong Kong. With no natural predators in the archipelago, the deer proliferated, and today hunting and consuming them helps control the population.
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"The deer have impacts that many people are unaware of," said Yeshua Goodman, chef and sommelier who created and captains the Fire and Wine experience. "They eat the vegetation around the island, which leads to more erosion when it rains. That flows into our oceans and has a negative effect on the coral reefs."
The Fire and Wine experience launched in the second half of 2019, but just as it was getting going the Covid-19 pandemic struck and virtually closed the state to tourism for more than six months. The interactive dinner event restarted in February and is feeding guests' desire for cultural and historical understanding by weaving it into a locally sourced meal.
Participants in the Fire & Wine experience can roll up their sleeves and help prepare the meal. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea
"I think there are multiple factors at play here that are making experiences like this more and more popular," Goodman said. "The pandemic, for one, has people wanting to get back outside and connected with nature. Also, I think there is a generational shift happening where millennials and younger tourism consumers are very much about experiences. They are really interested in knowing where their food comes from."
Goodman was born on the Island of Hawaii (often referred to as the Big Island) and grew up on Maui, where he hunted, fished and cooked over campfires. He left the Islands to attend Hope International University in Fullerton, Calif., where he was a scholarship beach volleyball player.
While on the West Coast, Goodman discovered a love for wine and a knack for tasting, identifying the unique notes in a particular vintage. Eventually, he became an advanced sommelier under the mentorship of current master sommelier Brian McClintic. After returning to Maui in 2015, he started cooking big meals for friends under the stars.
"When I came back to Maui, just for fun I would gather some friends, go up into the mountains, cook a meal over the fire and open some good bottles of wine," Goodman said. "My friends loved it and basically told me, 'This is magic, and you should share this with the world.'"
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Goodman ran with the concept and in 2017 founded Kiawe Outdoor, which offers outdoor, open-fire culinary experiences for groups and events. He also worked at Spago Maui at Four Seasons Resort Maui as a sommelier, and soon after launching Kiawe Outdoor was approached by the Four Seasons team about crafting an exclusive and enhanced version of the experience for the resort. And so, Fire and Wine was born.
Fire and Wine participants first board a helicopter at the Wailea Golf Club and are whisked over waterfalls, rainforest and Mount Haleakala to Maui's north shore. The helicopter lands at Haiku House, a former sugar cane plantation that's now a 20-acre luxury retreat peppered with orchards and gardens. An expert from the Alexander and Baldwin Sugar Museum leads the party on a private tour on electric bicycles that includes stories passed down through the estate's line of locally renowned and influential owners.
"It's an iconic property, with unique trees, foliage and exotic plants," Goodman said. "The house was built in the 1800s, and the property really helps tell the story of plantation-era Hawaii, which was a melting pot of cultures as sugar cane workers came to Hawaii from Pacific Rim countries. It's a stunning property."
Goodman plans a meal well in advance, based on notes about the guests' preferences and featuring as many ingredients from Maui as possible. He dives for fish, hunts deer or wild boar and picks produce from his own garden and one located on the Haiku House grounds.
For an upcoming meal booked in early July, Goodman was planning to dive for octopus and harvest some strawberry guavas and lychees, both non-native fruits. To cook, he uses kiawe wood, a relative of mesquite, which was also introduced to Hawaii and is an invasive species. Goodman also uses kiawe flour, made from the bean pods of the tree, to make cornbread and other baked goods.
"Using these ingredients makes it more of an educational experience, where we start talking about the invasive species on the islands and how they impact the environment," he said. "We talk about the differences in hunting wild animals versus farm-raised animals and their impacts on the Earth."
After the tour, the party joins Goodman and his team as they cook the meal over an open flame. Guests are led in a wine tasting, and their favorite bottles are then featured for the meal. Participants can sit back and let the professional cooks do the work or roll up their sleeves and help prepare the meal. One of Goodman's favorite things to show guests is how he makes sourdough bread over the hot coals. Guests can help shape the loaf, score it and get it baking on the fire. On other occasions, the diners can help wrap fish in ti leaves filled with herbs and spices for cooking over the fire.
"Fire and Wine is bringing a fine dining aspect to the wild side of Maui," Goodman said. "This is part of the next generation of tourism. Rather than just taking from Hawaii, visitors want to be conscious of their impacts and give back and partake in the healing of the Islands. There are only so many resources here, and that translates all the way to the plate."
At the close of the evening, Four Seasons executive pastry chef Riccardo Menicucci leads a dessert demonstration before the guests return to the resort by private car service.
Fire & Wine starts at $23,500 for up to six people. It is recommended that the package be booked at least 30 days in advance, and there is a 72-hour, 100% cancellation policy.