Who am I to judge?

Agfest judges
Maui, Hawaii

When the Maui Visitors Bureau asked me to come to and judge this year’s Maui Agricultural Festival food challenge I was happy to accept. I love food. I cook, not to the proficiency of the chefs I would be judging, but well enough that my friends have to put up with my strong opinions on food and restaurants.

But I had no idea I would be alongside accomplished writers, including Carolyn Jung – a James Beard award-winning writer who just judged the Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest with a $1 million prize.


I am out of my league.


Hawaiian food

But I reminded myself that while Pillsbury will never knock on my door, I know good food. There was a lot of good food.ย So after 12 dishes featuring traditional ingredients from local farmers all of the judges were too full to move but ready to talk.

Fortunately, yesterday we were given a briefing on local foods like taro and breadfruit, which many of us had never eaten before. It was great to talk to the farmers about the challenges of growing and cooking the ingredients.



You would be surprised to hear that I didn’t think a pork product was best. Instead I agreed with the others that Chef Sheldon Simeon was spectacular once again by showing us that taro could not only be traditional like in poi but also sophisticated and modern with his taro dumpling.

I don’t like poi so I had pretty much written off taro but Chef Sheldon was able to change my mind. I think this pretty much confirms I’ll eat anything this man cooks.

Now I just need to figure out how to convince him to transplant his wife and children to Toronto.



Much thanks to Peter Liu for the lead photo.



  1. says

    I went to University for a year in Honolulu, and one of my classes was Hawaiian studies. We got to grow & care for Taro plants. It was tons of fun! Walking around barefoot in deep mud, clearing the river that irrigated our patch from debris after storms, etc.

    That food looks incredible. I miss Hawaii! :)

  2. Carmie says

    What a great opportunity for you…this passion of yours is certainly taking you into interesting situations…who would have thought that you would end up doing things like this!

  3. says

    This is SO cool! I think it’s neat you got a trip to Hawaii to judge a food contest! And then to get to mingle with the sort of people you judged with? WOW! Best of all, you got to EAT! IN HAWAII! YOWSER!!!!

  4. says

    I’m jealous of two things:

    1) I watch food network entirely too much and it’s definitely a life goal to to be able to taste amazing food, for free, and to give an opinion on it. Amazing!

    2) You are really good at photographing food (and other things, too).
    Ava Apollo recently posted..Coachella Recovery Tips

    • Ayngelina says

      Aww thanks Ava, food was the first thing I started photographing and it’s probably what I am best at. Before I left to travel I subscribed to 5 food magazines, a bunch of podcasts and too many email newsletters. Food takes up a good portion of my life even now.

  5. says

    wow, awesome opportunity to judge! it’s my dream gig!

    i love, love, love taro! we Chinese (and Filipinos) cook with taro all the time – from the root to the leaves! in fact, my fave Filipino dish is “laing” or taro / dasheen leaves simmered in spicy coconut milk!!! omg, i’m hungry.
    Jen Laceda recently posted..Rainbow Kale Salad

  6. says

    That is the coolest thing! I’d be a terrible judge, I love everything it would be impossible to choose a favourite! Congrats on being among such accomplished foodies, you’ve made it lady!

  7. says

    Wow, I would love to try all those food. I loved Hawaiian food when I was there, and have tasted plenty in California, but nothing like what you’re featuring here. Ah, the life of a foodie. I envy you a bit! ๐Ÿ˜‰

    • Ayngelina says

      I hadn’t tasted any Hawaiian food before, I guess it just hasn’t made its way far east enough – yet!

  8. says

    Wow, what a great opportunity. I’d be in heaven judging something like this. All this food looks absolutely delicious! I’d probably chosen a taro dish as well-ever since I learned how to make spring rolls with taro in Cambodia I have been hooked. Great blog!

  9. says

    I would love to do this. Everything looks delicious. Interesting to see how chefs can turn taro and breadfruit (which can be very bland) into a savory dish. Believe me, I had enough of the bland versions when growing up in Puerto Rico.
    Ruth recently posted..Tulum: Location Saved You

    • Ayngelina says

      I love breadfruit, the guy from the breadfruit institute gave us some just tossed in garlic and it was fantastic.

    • Ayngelina says

      I’m not sure if you could weather the winter but I know Sheldon would be so popular there or anywhere for that matter.

      Maybe I just need to come to Maui more frequently?

  10. says

    What a fun time that was judging with you! It made me so wish I could more easily find some of those Maui produce staples back here in California. Alas, I may have to just high-tail it back there instead to get my fix. ๐Ÿ˜‰
    Carolyn Jung recently posted..A New Farmed Salmon

    • Ayngelina says

      Last night we had coconut pineapple ice cream and it was so bittersweet knowing how delicious it was but that we would not be able to get it in Canada.


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