Maui Chefs Feed Their Community During Fire Recovery Efforts

In the aftermath of the devastating wildfires in Maui, members of the hospitality community on the island and beyond have stepped in to provide relief. Local restaurants and nonprofits from both Hawaii and farther away are working to ensure the people of Maui are fed and taken care of, while giving them the space for grief and recovery.

“This is the most basic form of what we do: providing nourishment to people in need,” said Brendan O’Leary, a manager at Merriman’s Kapalua, which began cooking meals for the displaced within days of the fires. “It’s the most meaningful work most of us have ever done. And in the midst of all the trauma, being a source of stability and connection has been so important.”

The wildfires broke out on August 8, rapidly spreading through western coastal towns and upcountry farming communities like Kula. In only an hour, the flames devastated the historic town of Lahaina. Though the official cause of the fire is unknown, the county of Maui has filed a lawsuit accusing local utility Hawaiian Electric of negligence for not deactivating power lines during high winds and drought conditions.

The loss from the fires is staggering, with 115 people reported dead and almost 400 people still reported missing, making it potentially one of the most deadly wildfires in U.S. history. More than 2,170 acres burned, destroying hundreds of homes, farms, restaurants, businesses and buildings of historical significance in Lahaina, which was once the royal capital of the Hawaiian Kingdom.

Feed and sustain

But in a time of grief and desperation, the kindness shown by residents and the hospitality community has provided hope. At Merriman’s Kapalua, which is located just north of Lahaina and was spared from the flames, the staff has provided more than 1,200 meals a day to both locals and responders, while also serving people in person at the restaurant. Valerye Zimmerman, Merriman’s Restaurants director of special operations, has been leading the efforts, despite having lost her own home.

The restaurant management has been raising money for staff members in need through their GoFundMe page. It’s also been providing free Starlink WiFi access around the Merriman’s Kapalua location during the day to allow people to communicate with loved ones. All donations to the Merriman’s Culinary Scholarship Fund for the next 6 months will be diverted to fire victims.

Some local chefs have been able to feed thousands of residents in need by partnering with larger nonprofits. Team members from World Central Kitchen (WCK), the non-profit organization co-founded by chef and humanitarian José Andrés, began arriving in Hawaii on Aug. 9. They started working with Lee Anne Wong—head chef at Papa’aina located at The Pioneer Inn, a National Historic Landmark destroyed in the fires—and two local nonprofits: Chef Hui and Common Ground Collective. Together, they have cooked and distributed over 50,000 meals from the University of Hawaii Maui College Culinary Arts School.

Wong and her team have also collected donations to aid residents and to spend money locally to ensure the survival of businesses that escaped the fire but are struggling financially in the aftermath.

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WCK representatives told Wine Spectator that they have three main goals right now. The first is getting meals to those who lost everything. Second is establishing a WCK field kitchen closer to Lahaina to ease the strain on the Culinary Arts School kitchens. Third is helping families who are back in their homes by partnering with Maui-based Local Harvest to purchase food from Maui farms to distribute for…

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Maui Chefs Feed Their Community During Fire Recovery Efforts Maui Chefs Feed Their Community During Fire Recovery Efforts *Maui Chefs Feed Their Community During Fire Recovery Efforts