Around the table: You’re invited to Kona’s premier holiday event

Kick off the festive month of December this Saturday at what is arguably Kailua-Kona’s best annual holiday food and wine extravaganza, “Christmas with the Chefs.”

Spread out on the seaside grounds of Courtyard King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel from 5:30-8 p.m., tables of savory and sweet treats have been designed to dazzle and delight. Members of the American Culinary Federation (ACF) Kona-Kohala Chefs Association will be front and center, along with live music, a silent auction, handcrafted ales, wines and Kona coffee.


This annual fundraiser benefits local students attending Hawaii Community College — Palamanui’s culinary program and member chefs who want to further their education. More than $900,000 has been awarded since the event’s inception in 1989. This year, all-inclusive tickets are $90 and available online at or at Westside Wines, Kona Coffee &Tea, The Spoon Shop, and Courtyard King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel. Three participants who are key to the success of this event have graciously shared recipes today.

Jean Hull, CCE, AAC, Associate Professor of Culinary Arts at Hawaii Community College-West Hawaii, created this event in 1989 as “Christmas at Hulihee Palace” when she saw the need for financial assistance for culinary students. It has been successful since inception, and Hull continues to oversee the benefit.

Polenta Triangles with Tomato Jam

By Jean Hull, CCE, AAC. Makes about 30 servings.


3 cups chicken stock

1 cup dry polenta

2 tablespoons olive oil (divided)

2 tablespoons butter (divided)

In a medium saucepan, combine chicken stock and polenta; simmer about 20 minutes, stirring frequently. Stir in 1 tablespoon each: olive oil and butter. Butter an 8-inch-square baking pan; press plastic wrap onto surface. Add polenta and smooth evenly in pan. Chill for several hours or overnight.

Tomato Jam:

1/2 pound bacon, sliced into small strips

2 pounds tomatoes, chopped

1 yellow onion, finely diced

1/2 cup sugar

3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Fry bacon until crispy; drain on paper towels. Crumble bacon when cool. Meanwhile in same pan, stir remaining ingredients into 2 tablespoons of the bacon fat; stir until sugar dissolves. Add bacon crumbles, adjust salt and pepper; cool. Store in glass jars in refrigerator up to a week, or freeze for up to 2 months.

To Serve:

Cut polenta into 16 squares. Heat a skillet over medium heat with remaining tablespoon each of olive oil and butter. Add polenta squares to pan; saute until lightly browned on both sides. Carefully remove from pan to a cookie sheet lined with paper towels; cool. With a sharp knife, cut squares in half diagonally into triangles. Place on a serving tray or platter. Top each triangle with a little Tomato Jam and serve.

Chef George Gomes Jr., a graduate of the very first class at HCC-West Hawaii, has had a successful culinary career throughout the islands of Hawaii, plus guest chef appearances on the mainland and in Taipei, Taiwan.


By Chef George Gomes Jr. Makes 24.

2 cups milk

1 teaspoon dried yeast

4 eggs

9 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons salt

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, minus 2 tablespoons

2/3 cup granulated sugar

Scald milk in a pan, then cool to warm temperature. Add yeast; let sit for 10 minutes or until it starts to foam. Whisk in eggs. In a separate bowl, combine flour, salt and sugar; add liquid mixture to dry ingredients and mix until dough starts to form. Mix in the butter. Knead dough until smooth; place in bowl and let rise a half hour; flatten dough and refrigerate for 1 hour. Divide dough into 24 equal pieces; let rise until 3/4 bigger (not quite doubled) then fry in oil heated to 375 degrees, until bottom side is golden. Flip over in oil, using chopsticks, and cool other side until golden. Remove from oil; drain on cooling rack, then roll in sugar while still warm.

Chef Paul Heerlein, CCE, CCC, Associate Professor of Culinary Arts and Program Coordinator at Hawaii Community College-Palamanui, has instructed and mentored many students who have benefitted from the “Christmas with Chefs” events, and continues to be a driving force in the program.

Ahi Poke on Won Ton Chips with Wasabi Aioli

By Chef Paul Heerlein, CCE, CCC, Associate Professor, Hawaii Community College – Palamanui. Makes 35 to 40 servings, depending on amount of fish per won ton.

Ahi Poke:

1 pound ahi, diced small

1 teaspoon peeled and finely minced fresh ginger

2 pinches toasted sesame seeds

3 tablespoons finely diced Maui onion

2 tablespoons minced green onion

1 teaspoon sesame oil

1 pinch red pepper flakes

Shoyu and Kosher salt to taste

In a bowl, mix all poke ingredients, adding shoyu, salt, and red pepper flakes to taste; set aside.

Won Ton Chips:

10 square won ton skins

Cooking oil

Heat oil; cut wontons diagonally each into 4 triangle pieces. Fry to light brown; drain on paper towels and set aside.

Wasabi Aioli:

4 tablespoons mayonnaise

Wasabi paste (to taste)

Tobiko (optional)

Mix mayonnaise and wasabi in a small bowl; set aside.


To serve:

Top each won ton chip with a little ahi Poke; garnish with a very small dollop of Wasabi Aioli. Add a touch of tobiko on top if using. Place chips on tray or platter and serve.