When I think about the different experiences I like to have when I travel, my mind usually wanders over to food. I associate places with the foods I’ve had there. I can fondly recall the spiciest curries from Thailand, a birthday dinner in Bali, and a completely unexpected lunch in Cairo. So in returning to the Big Island of Hawaii (Hawaii Island) I knew I wanted to explore a different culinary adventure. And in finding this I said ALOHA to some incredibly inspiring people who have done the impossible: farm vanilla in Hawaii.
-Above is Jim Reddekopp, Head Bean at the Vanilla Farm-
Cooking is one of the most important activities I do on a daily basis, especially baking. I am a sucker for vanilla, so when I heard of this Vanilla Farm I knew I had to go and see what it was all about. Enter Jim & Tracy Reddekopp, a couple with a big dream back in the late 80’s-early 90’s to build a sustainable vanilla farm in Hawaii. All these years later, they’ve gone on to offer a creative mix of products straight from their farm on the Hamakua coast of the Big Island. I drove over to the farm to participate in the Vanilla Luncheon experience and I was blown away by just how much effort it has taken to create the first commercially grown vanilla in the US.
Here are some photos of my food experience so you see how creative the Redekkopp family can get cooking with vanilla!
Jim and his family, who all work in the kitchen and on the farm, were busy preparing our meal so I sipped on a freshly prepared Vanilla Arnold Palmer-a mix of ice tea and lemonade while I watched Jim make our first course with a live cooking demonstration!
For starters, we had a lightly toasted baguette w/vanilla pineapple chutney & garam marsala shrimp. I don’t even normally like shrimp but the smell of vanilla was incredible, all the spices used creatively to make this delicious amuse bouche really pop in my mouth.
The second course description was a delicious mouthful:
Vanilla citrus marinated chicken served on homemade vanilla sweet bread w/ vanilla caramelized onions and our Vanilla Mango Chutney aioli sauce, an organic green salad topped with our Vanilla Honey Peppered Pecans, feta cheese, and house made Vanilla Raspberry Balsamic Vinaigrette w/a side of our Way South West seasoned potatoes and our Vanilla BBQ sauce for dipping.
Can I get an AMEN! I looked around to see if I could eat some leftovers off the other guest’s plates. I’m kidding. But it was that good.
Dessert was Hawaiian Vanilla Bean ice cream topped with Lilikoi Curd. Do you ever go wrong eating this? Vanilla & Lilikoi (Passionfruit).
Check out this short video I made of my time at the Vanilla Farm:
Afterwards, we headed over to the farm to get a lesson on how to pollinate & produce vanilla. An incredible labor of love for this family who is so passionate about what they are doing.
I spent a long time looking over all the delicious offerings back in the Vanilla shop such as Vanilla coffee, salad dressings and marinades, lip balms (made in house) and soaps. You can purchase all of the items via their website but I picked up a few treats since I was already there, it was the thing to do right?
Overall, this experience was one of my favorites on Hawaii Island, easily accessible by car and offering super reasonably priced tours. If you’re looking for something special to do while visiting the Big Island, bring your whole family down to the Hawaiian Vanilla Farm. I am already looking forward to visiting in April when they pollinate the vanilla!
Website: Hawaiian Vanilla Farm
**I was a guest of the Vanilla experience luncheon, but as always, the opinions here are expressively my own and I highly recommend this offbeat tour while visiting Hawaii Island.