Four Seasons Resort Hualalai Offers an Experience Worth Its Salt
Feb 11, 2019 11:32AM
● By Fran Miller
Photo: Four Seasons Resort Hualalai
BY FRAN ENDICOTT MILLER
The contrast is captivating. A pristine, starched white chef’s coat set against the craggy black lava cliffs of the Kona-Kohala Coast. Chef Thomas Bellec has led us from his state-of-the-art kitchen at Four Seasons Resort Hualalai’s ‘Ulu Ocean Grill to the wild and windswept shoreline just beyond the resort’s boundary. We are hunting for treasure. Our desired bounty? Fleur de sel, aka, salt, a commodity valued throughout the centuries for its versatility, and harvested in this same Hawaiian location for just as long.
Chef Bellec, a French trained Maitres Cuisiniers de France, may seem out of place on this tropical island, but the ocean-loving native of Brittany feels right at home, preparing for the lucky guests at this posh paradise variations on the sorts of dishes he enjoyed in his youth. Our sea salt venture is part of Four Seasons Resort Hualalai’s Salt Harvesting Experience – a Chef Bellec-guided tour along Hawaii’s ancient lava flows in search of the sodium chloride which settles in the black coastline crevices, another juxtaposition of light and dark.
Chef produces from his pocket a metal spoon which he first utilizes to help roll back into the ocean a sand-stranded, full-blown puffer fish. As we celebrate this heroic ‘save,’ he hands us our own spoon which we will use to scrape into small burlap bags the white flakes produced via evaporation of ocean water. Later, we’ll set the flakes in the sun for bleaching. That such a simple task yields such a valued and useful product is exhilarating, as is the view.
The versatility of that product is illustrated when we return to a private room at ‘Ulu that overlooks the ocean and gives us the perfect whale-watching vista. We are offered a glass of chilled rosé as we observe the artful array before us: two bowls each of fresh ahi tuna poke, and an assortment of salts (including red alaea and dark kiwi) and condiments (roasted Kukui nuts, fresh seaweed, scallion, and Maui onion) which we will add to the poke to attain different flavors. The lesson? Salt's capacity to transform.
Next, Chef Bellec produces from his kitchen a steaming, salt-encrusted cocoon, cooked during our lava hike. The only giveaway to the contents is its shape and the peek of a tail. He cuts the top half to reveal the expertly cooked catch of the day - Onaga (snapper). The scent of juniper and coriander wafts upwards. Two perfectly succulent portions are served with yuzu aioli and a fresh leek and carrot salad. We have never tasted fish like this; I swoon. He tells us we can make this splendid dish at home. We don’t quite believe him.
As we finish our meal, Four Seasons Resort Hualalai’s charismatic executive pastry chef Kalani Garcia enters to expertly plate the dessert he has prepared expressly for us: Kona Coffee Cremeux with salted caramel sauce and cookie crumble. He provides us the recipe, and like Chef Bellec, encourages us to make this beautiful creation at home. Again, I’m not quite sure this is possible.
We say our goodbyes and depart, satiated by the delicious food and exulted by the knowledge that we’ve just experienced something extraordinary. To have these two masters – each amiable, warm, and willing to share the tricks of their trades - doting over the two of us for two and a half hours is nothing short of intoxicating. Who needs rosé?
Guests at Four Seasons Resort Hualalai can extend their salt education at the resort’s lush spa with the Salts of the Ocean body treatment. Featuring seven varieties of Hawaiian sea salts blended with seven unique Hawaiian essences, the indulgent treatment balances energy and well-being by addressing each of the seven chakras. A sensory interpretation of the salts and essences and their attributes is provided, and blending takes place at the lobby’s colorful apothecary display. The whole body scrub is followed by a relaxing massage, and use of the serene spa facility which includes an outdoor garden in which to linger. A flowing river invites meditation and introspection while the abundant variety of greenery creates a soothing canvas.