Categorized | Agriculture

HTFG salutes chef for using local products


The statewide Hawaii Tropical Fruit Growers (HTFG) is recognizing a Big Island culinary professional for his tireless efforts in using locally produced foods.

James Babian, executive chef of Four Seasons Resort Hualalai, is being lauded for his exemplary support of local farmers, ranchers, aquaculturists and fisherman and his belief in island food sustainability.

Chef James Babian

“HTFG appreciates the initiative of Chef Babian and others like him to utilize the bounties of Hawaii’s agriculture,” says Richard Johnson, HTFG president. “Our members produce a large variety of high quality fruits and it’s a pleasure and privilege to work closely with chefs and other customers to deliver what they need, when they need it and in a configuration of size, ripeness, variety and quantity to meet specific requirements. We hope to expand these relationships to not only support our customers, but also to support Hawaii’s sustainable agriculture.”

Babian says using local foods is a win-win for both local food purveyors and guests at Four Season Resort Hualalai.

“By using fresh, locally produced food, we give our restaurant patrons a unique, island experience while supporting the local economy,” Babian said. “By the end of the year, we’ve easily worked with 160 different local farms to source products for our restaurants.”

A native of Chicago, Babian grew up in the restaurant business on the East Coast and was formally trained at the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco. He’s been preparing food on the Big Island for 13 years.

“We challenge ourselves to get everything we need locally,” Babian said. “We try to get it from the Big Island first, then from within the state and then we import from where we need to if necessary.”

Babian only has to look out the door to get fresh moi, which is farmed on-site at the resort.

Members of the HTFG appreciate that Babian uses their local mango, papaya and banana, plus exotic fruits like jaboticaba kumquat, rambutan, fig, surinam cherries and showy dragonfruit. At a recent meeting of the ACF Kona Kohala Chefs Association, Babian served an incredible luncheon featuring an avocado-inspired menu with 13 items, all containing various varieties of local avocado — including three desserts.

“It was over-the-top,” said HTFG Executive Director Ken Love, who is also a board member of the local culinary group. “Chef and his talented crew beautifully and expertly demonstrated how to use local avocado, plus many other local products like grass-fed beef, cod, shrimp, USDA-inspected wild boar, cheeses, heart of palm — you name it. We were in awe.”

“I appreciate the credit but now that local growers know I’m into buying local, they call me and we make it happen,” said Babian, who buys direct from farmers and island wholesalers. “If I see something somewhere that we don’t have, then I have to get it.”

Babian says he gets to know his food producers, taking his culinary staff on bi-monthly farm visits where he does an on-site class.

A proponent of sustainability, chef says he strives to eliminate unnecessary waste by preparing dishes that use more of the animal, such as the oxtail, which is known for its flavor. He also prefers to “buy responsibility,” from businesses who subscribe to sustainable business practices.

“We know chefs have to work a little harder to use local products, but Chef Babian shows it can be done, and done with extraordinary results,” Love said.

Incorporated in 1989 to promote tropical fruit grown in Hawaii, HTFG is a statewide association of tropical fruit growers, packers, distributors and hobbyists dedicated to tropical fruit research, education, marketing and promotion.

The 20th Annual Hawaii International Tropical Fruit Conference is Sept. 24-26 at the Aston Aloha Beach Resort on Kauai. The anniversary event is geared for farmers, educators, orchard managers and proponents of sustainable agriculture. Headlining the gathering is Dr. Noris Ledesma of the Fairchild Tropical Botanical Garden Center in Florida.

The gathering is open to the public. Registration forms are available on or by contacting Love at It’s sponsored by the Office of Economic Development County of Kauai.

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