MAUI (KGO) -- Taylor Ponte, executive chef at The Mill House, is holding a freshly dug-up kalo plant, also known as taro, in the middle of a field at the La Kahea Community Education Farm. You can tell he's already mulling over how he's going to use it.
While kalo is used to make the traditional Hawaiin food poi, Ponte is eyeing the large green leaves on the stalk for a puree.
"This is like the the workhorse of all the food in Hawaii. This is like our potato," Ponte explains."So we use these parts for the risotto at the restaurant, which are the leaves, which not a lot of people use."
For Ponte, the food he makes at The Mill House tells a story about the importance of working with local farmers, including farming families he grew up with on Maui.
"We're moving in a direction where everyone is getting back into farming," Ponte says. "People want to know where their food is coming from, how it's being grown, who's harvesting it."
As an island, a challenge for Maui is how to become self-sustaining and less reliant on imported food and other supplies. Meeting that challenge not only means growing more produce on Maui but chefs supporting local farmers by highlighting Maui ingredients in unique and innovative ways.
Madame Donut, owner of Donut Dynamite, used to buy imported organic rose petals for her strawberry rose donut. But she recently discovered a Maui farmer growing organic roses.
"If we can start growing food ingredients that we've never grown here before, we're going to start having more interesting food scene here," Madame Donut says.
In an effort to elevate the humble donut beyond a simple, sweet treat, she makes her donuts from brioche dough. She also makes all the toppings, even the sprinkles, from scratch. The flavors can range from a savory Honey Goat Cheese Walnut to Molokai Sweet Potato Poi to Lilikoi Caramel Meringue. Her inspiration sometimes comes from neighbors.
"A lot of flavors are based on what I get from the neighborhood. I have a lot of customers who bring me fruits and vegetables sometimes from their backyard," Madame Donut explains. "So depending on what I get, that's usually typically how the flavors are created that day."
At the Westin Maui Resort & Spa, Executive Chef Jennifer Evetushick knows the guests are looking for uniquely Hawaiian flavors but adds her own flare especially on the presentation. She whips up an impressively stacked mochi waffle, with multiple layers that include fresh local fruit. She's also brought in Instagram-worthy food trucks to enhance the experience, including one that's shaped like a watermelon.
"I want people to know that we're trying something different here and trying to blow that hotel stigma of having it be uppity and stuffy into something that's approachable and phenomenal," Evetushick explains.
For these Maui chefs, farm to table is more than a movement. It's about creating a uniquely Maui identity and experience and sharing that through their food.
To hear these Maui chefs tell their stories and see their dishes, watch the special Foodie Call: Maui in the player above.