This month’s T+L includes an eight-page feature on Hawaii’s new food scene, where we spotlight some of the young chefs, upstart farmers, pop-up restaurateurs, and food-truck vendors who are taking Hawaiian cuisine to the next level.
Had we more space in the print magazine, we would’ve devoted another eight pages to Madre Chocolate, a terrific new bean-to-bar chocolate operation (Oahu’s first) based in Kailua. (A tony suburb just 20 minutes from Honolulu, Kailua is where President Obama and family have stayed during their Hawaiian vacations.)
Madre was founded by two young mainlanders, Nat Bletter and Dave Elliott (above), who moved to Oahu only a few years ago. Bletter, a PhD in Ethnobotany, had traveled the world documenting exotic plants and fruits; Elliott had fallen for artisinal chocolate while living in Oaxaca, Mexico, the veritable motherland of cacao. Today, working out of a tiny storefront in Kailua, they hand-craft some astonishingly good chocolate, sourcing their beans from small farms around Hawaii. “Hawaii is the only place in the U.S. where cacao can grow,” notes Elliott. “There’s always been a disconnect between cacao-farming and chocolate-making—the latter is often outsourced to another hemisphere, so the farmers growing cacao never even taste the chocolate being made from it. We wanted to move production towards the source.”
In an effort to sustain unique varieties of cacao, Madre also imports heritage strains from Mexico, the Caribbean, and even Vietnam. Their Hawaiian chocolate comes in a range of flavors, including coconut-ginger and a fabulous “salt-and-pepper” bar, made with mesquite-smoked Hawaiian sea salt and locally foraged pink peppercorns.
Elliott is excited about the bean-to-bar movement now taking hold. “I liken it to what happened with microbreweries twenty years ago, when people realized you can do all these unusual things with beer. It’s the same now with chocolate: working on a small scale, you can source better cacao, and look for interesting outliers,” he says. “Our vision is that Hawaii could one day become the Napa Valley of chocolate.”
The shop is open Tuesdays through Saturdays, usually from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. (Best to call first.) Madre also hosts occasional chocolate-making tutorials and tastings (pairing chocolate with wine, coffee, even cigars). Check madrechocolate.com for upcoming events and to mail-order a few bars for yourself.
On a related note, check out the just-launched site of this year’s Hawai’i Food & Wine Festival, taking place on Oahu this September, and sponsored in part by American Express and T+L’s sister magazine, Food & Wine. Last year’s event was a rousing success, and the 2012 festival promises to be an even bigger draw.
And watch this space: later this week I’ll be back with two artisanal cocktail recipes from the great Town restaurant in Honolulu. (Be forewarned: they’re potent and delicious.)
Peter Jon Lindberg is Travel + Leisure's editor at large. You can follow him on Twitter @PeterJLlindberg.