A food lover’s paradise

Since 2010, Living Foods Gourmet Market & Cafe has been a food lover’s paradise. But early this spring, Jim Moffat sold the establishment to Jeff Sacchini, founder of The Kauai Marathon, and his brother-in-law Howard Warner. The new owners are Poipu residents who have made subtle enhancements.

The staff remains intact, a new point of purchase system has been installed and there are in-store samples. Employee training emphasizes exceptional service and soon, streamlined menu signs will be installed.

Located in The Shops at Kukuiula, the cafe stands rustically fresh: Tropical landscaping surrounds white wood beams, a-frame eaves stained deep green and a wide lanai shaded by lattice. As electric doors quietly open, the smell of fresh baked bread fills the air.

Fruit tarts, scones and cookies line bakery trays. Fresh fruit is blended into smoothies as espressos are pulled. Pizza bubbles in a Wood Stone oven, paninis are pressed into crisp, warm sandwiches and gluten-free crepes sizzle on a griddle. Pork belly and whole chickens turn on the rotisserie, their juices sputtering and basting the flesh into succulence.

It’s easy to get lost in the air-conditioned store, perusing aisles for gourmet pantry items. Seventy types of fresh cheese are stacked alongside exotic homemade sauces, condiments, bread pudding and little olives marinated in a house blend of roasted garlic, orange zest, chili flakes and fennel seeds. Hawaii grown coffee is roasted onsite and sold as bags of whole beans or hot cups of coffee. More than 300 bottles of wine and 20 types beer are offered.

About 30 varieties of fresh made salads are weighed by the pound and tucked into take-home containers. Cazuelas, traditional Spanish cookware, are filled with fresh Kauai Shrimp and Kauai Clams and stacked next to trays piled with glistening Hawaiian fish, pork chops, chicken breasts and house-made sausages.

In the bustling kitchen, executive chef Michael Simpson and his sous chef Justin Kai work with four culinary trained chefs.

Cooling trays are stacked with an assortment of European-style baguettes and loaves of cranberry walnut or olive bread. Kai stuffs Italian, chorizo or merguez (North African spicy lamb) fillings into casings and twists off sausages. As he parboils chicken sausage studded with raisins, he tells me it’s a recipe Moffat taught him when the gourmet grocery store first opened.

A plethora of sauces and condiments are diced, blended, reduced or whisked. The choices are a jungle gym for the imagination. Banderillas, a sweet, spicy and earthy red sauce works well with sturdy flavors such as seared steak or grilled ahi. Salsa verde, with chunks of egg whites, capers, cornichons, onion, herbs and garlic, is delicious on chicken sausage, over steamed rice and beans, or fried eggs with toast.

My mother is from Barcelona, Spain. As a child, my family would visit her relatives during summer vacations. Living Foods’ romesco sauce, with its sherry vinegar tang, reminds me of my aunt’s version. Only it’s spicy from hot paprika and is made with almonds instead of hazelnuts. For me, it’s all about the romesco, so I don’t care what the delivery system is, but fried potatoes and roasted meat are my family’s favorites.

I learned how to make aioli from my aunt, who pounded sea salt and garlic in a mortar with a pestle, added egg yolks and a thin stream of olive oil until it turned into a thick garlic mayonnaise. It’s good exercise for your arms, and at 67 she made it look easy. Living Foods saves you from the workout and their version contains lemon juice. Aioli is great over just about anything including steamed vegetables, paella, seared white fish, seafood or grilled lamb chops.

I could go on about this fantasyland for people who love high-quality food, but I need to tell you about the grand re-opening celebration on Wednesday, July 23. The blessing begins at 2:30 p.m. and the in-store celebration is from 3 to 5 p.m. There will be live music and samples including fresh baked bread, sauces, sausages and poke. Samples of locally grown tropical fruit include Hole in the Mountain Farm sugarloaf pineapple, sunrise papaya and passion fruit.

Living Foods Gourmet Market & Cafe is open daily, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. They can be reached at 742-2323.

• Marta Lane, a food writer on Kauai since 2010, offers farm to fork food tours and is the author of Tasting Kauai: Restaurants – From Food Trucks to Fine Dining, A Guide to Eating Well on the Garden Island. For more information, visit TastingKauai.com.

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