The Year of Bev Gannon: A Celebration, a New Book, TV Appearances, The White House and more

The Year of Bev Gannon: A Celebration, a New Book, TV Appearances, The White House and more

This year, renown chef (and Hawaii Regional Cuisine movement founder) Beverly Gannon is celebrating the 20th anniversary of Hali'imaile General Store with a benefit event worthy of the trek upcountry, Maui. But that's not all she's up to: Gannon just might be the busiest Maui chef at press time. Earlier this summer, she was named Hawaii's "Woman of the Year" by the Small Business Administration, an honor she accepted at the White House, in Washington, D.C. There's a good chance she flew there (part of the way, at least) on Hawaiian Airlines, where she's entering her 10th year as their executive consulting chef. On the way back from D.C., she stopped in Los Angeles and San Francisco to teach a pair of cooking seminars to culinary students. This, while finalizing the manuscript for her sophomore effort cookbook, due at a bookstore near you this March. Needless to say, Gannon is a busy lady.

All this seemed to be good reason to celebrate the milestone of twenty short years at Hali'imaile, where Gannon intended to open a Maui-style catering business on the slopes of Haleakala. As she tells it, "People just started showing up, asking to be fed." A few makeshift tables later, and she become a restaurateur overnight. Make that, one of Maui's most successful restaurateurs. Just ask Rachel Ray, Giada De Laurentiis and Gabrielle Reece, who each stopped by this fall to film segments at her upcountry digs.

We sat down for a little one-on-one with Chef Gannon, and got the skinny on her celebration this November (yes, you're invited), crafting cuisine at 30,000 feet, and paling around with Gabrielle Reece. Read on for the interview you can only read at B on Hawaii...

B on Hawaii: First, tell readers about the event happening upcountry on the 29th of November.

Chef Beverly Gannon: I'm super excited; I just found out that Kenny Rankin will be playing music, along with Fulton Tashombe and other special guests. There will be beer, wine, a Grey Goose Vodka tent, and plenty of delectable treats to eat throughout the night.

B on Hawaii: Twenty years you've been preparing comfort food with an edge to loyalists at Hali'imaile. Any big changes coming down the pipeline up there?

Bev Gannon: I'm not in control of the restaurant there. The customers are. You have to understand this: About five years ago we changed the color of the walls at Hali'imaile, just to update the look. There was almost a mutiny. Two years ago I changed the seats and tables as they were starting to wear. I heard more than once: "Oh, it's not what it used to be in here." Totally serious. People are fanatical about that spot, for some reason, and I really couldn't change some of the things on that menu if I wanted to.

B on Hawaii: So do you, ever?

Bev Gannon: Sure. A few times every year we add a seasonal item here and there. But if I were to take off the Meyer lemon chicken breast and replace it with a Tandoori chicken, as I've wanted to do before, there would be a lot of unhappy people. There are those who have been coming to Maui every year at the same time for a week. They've been thinking about that dish, or the Hunan lamb all year. I can't take that away from them. But I can add things to the menu and see how they sell.
This year, we're actually doing a few new things. We're going to have specials that are priced lower than the regular menu, and see if we can't win over some loyalists to the newer items. Also, we're going to add a "Recession Proof" prix fixe menu, so people can come in and have a salad, an entree and a dessert for $25, and not feel like they broke the bank on dinner. Finally, we're in the last stages of signing on a great new chef, who worked at Roy's in Honolulu. You'll have to stay tuned to see who he is.

B on Hawaii: Perfect, we love cliffhangers. So where do you get to stretch your culinary legs? I know every great chef needs to push the envelope from time to time.

Bev Gannon: We actually roll out some interesting things at Joe's in Wailea. But there too our best sellers are the meatloaf, the fresh catch of the day and the prime rib. It's become an institution down there for the golf crowd. And it's also one of the best spots to have a drink or eat and watch the sunset, which a lot of people don't know. But with the people coming in and out of the fancy resorts at Wailea, we sell some specials and get to mix it up a bit. Also, on Lana'i I've been getting a bit creative.

B on Hawaii: That's exactly where I was going next. How involved are you in the kitchen over at the Hotel Lanai? It's such a unique spot...

Bev Gannon: It really is. There isn't any place on Lana'i to have a nice dinner outside of the hotels, and I feel like visitors need to have somewhere to go. You just can't eat at a resort every single meal. I've got an amazing team over there at the Hotel Lanai. It's taken me a year to find someone as talented as Chef Mike [formerly of the Canoe House on Big Island, and the Four Seasons Resort Lanai]. He manages a really small but talented kitchen.

B on Hawaii: How do you keep the reigns on him when you're not there, and so busy with other projects?

Bev Gannon: First off, I tell all my chefs: You have to think of it as you're taking care of my child. You need to protect it, and fix it when it's sick. Mike does a great job. He's been growing herbs at his home so he can use them at the restaurant. Plus on Lana'i you have this great environment to serve venison, all the gamey stuff, roasted root vegetables and things. But don't be fooled; our biggest sellers there are also meatloaf and rotisserie chicken.

B on Hawaii: So you don't feel competitive with the Four Seasons resorts there on Lana'i?

Bev Gannon: We try and keep the relationship good. But wouldn't you know it? I just saw that they added meatloaf and rotisserie chicken to the menu at The Lodge! As helpful as you are to everyone, you're always competitors first. But I don't care. Ours will be better. We have such a following, which is wonderful.

B on Hawaii: I know from your lunch demonstrations at Kapalua Wine & Food Festival that you really cook from the gut–you're not a stickler for perfect measurements and exact ingredients. How did you ever come around to writing a cookbook?

Bev Gannon: It's really interesting that you ask that actually. Back when I first started, there were many nights that I would come home and think to myself "What the heck am I doing? I have no idea, I can't do this" and that sort of thing. So it wasn't until 10 year ago when I wrote the Hali'imaile General Store Cookbook, the most amazing thing happened. I sat with a yellow legal pad and wrote out from memory the ingredients and measurements. And when we tried them out in the kitchen, almost all of them came out perfectly. It was the reassurance I needed; I felt like I was a real chef at that point.
So this next book, due out in March, is an extension of that. But where the first book was all about the restaurant, this one is all about the people. It's got great pictures, and is all about sitting down at home with the family and friends. It's not about hours in the kitchen preparing meals, but enjoying who you are eating with.

B on Hawaii: So will you do book signings and tour with the book? Any chance we'll see it on Hawaiian Airline flights?

Bev Gannon: It's a little heavy for the planes, but they might carry it on their web site. You know, I figured out that no one shows up for book signings, so I don't think I'll do that. But I want to do more cooking demos, like the ones I do in L.A. once a year, and at Draeger's Markets in the Bay Area twice per year. I will also do them in Dallas and the East Coast, maybe. I really get a good audience at those, because they want to learn to cook. So I can sell the books there.

B on Hawaii: As the chef for Hawaiian Airlines, did you just craft the menus? Or is there more time spent on that outlet?

Bev Gannon: At times the airline stuff takes more of my time than the restaurants. I fly to the east coast to shoot morning show stuff to promote the airline. I work with the chefs at all the airports they fly to, which include Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles and so on. I go to Sydney, Australia, and Manila once a year. I keep an eye on them, as all complaints about the food come straight to me. It's a lot of work!
But that said, it's pretty amazing. I've had people email me for the recipe of something they ate on the plane. It's all a product of us sourcing fresh fish and ingredients at all the hubs, and making sure we make good use of them. My distributers know that I don't want processed cheddar cheese, but aged white cheddar. I've got it worked out pretty well over the last 9 years. But it's not without slip ups. I just keep on the local chefs and make sure they're doing the job I need them to do.

B on Hawaii: Tell the readers about some off-the-beaten path places on Maui you like to eat when you're off the clock.

Bev Gannon: I don't get out much! But I really like Cafe Mambo in Paia. They make a killer sizzling duck fajita that comes out on the skillet. It's all crispy, and has onions, which you fold up on a tortilla with black beans, salsa, goat cheese and guacamole. They also do a nice Moroccan-style chicken dish. There's a crepe place also in Paia called Cafe de Amis, which does amazing crepes. I feel like I'm in France when I'm there. Great breakfast crepes, with spinach, feta, tomato and eggs, and it's real affordable. I'm also a fan of the tiny sushi place in Makawao, and not only because it's so close to my house. It's a deli and sushi joint, I'm not sure it even has a name. But they make great sushi.

B on Hawaii: Thanks Bev, see you at the party on November 29th!

Bev Gannon: Will do. Thanks!

Tickets to the November 29th Party at Hali'imaile General Store are on sale now. Stop by or call 808 572-4946 (by Nov. 10th) for tickets, which cost $125 per person and include all party accoutrement ($100 of the ticket price is tax deductible). Proceeds will benefit Hui No'eau Visual Arts Center and the Maui Food Bank.
Bev's second cookbook will be at a bookstore near you this March. It will be published by Ten Speed Press.

"I've had people email me for the recipe of something they ate on the plane." – Gannon