Many of the design elements at Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa, were incorporated as a nod to Hawaiian culture.
David Roark/Disney Enterprises


A growing number of chefs fly a similar local flag. In my days on Oahu, I feasted on fish tacos at Cocina, where Quinten Frye garnishes fresh-caught mahimahi with herbs from the restaurant’s rooftop garden. And I binged on banh mi sandwiches stuffed with Oahu-raised pork at The Pig & the Lady, whose chef, Andrew Le, puts an island twist on dishes inspired by his mother’s native Vietnamese cooking.

There were obvious upsides to this kind of cooking, as Kenney made clear when he sat with me at Town over a dish of roasted pork loin with grilled pa’i’ai, a traditional, hand-pounded taro.

“Eating locally is better for the economy, it’s better for the environment,” he says.

And though he didn’t have to tell me, since I’d just taken a bite, he adds: “It tastes a lot better too.”

On its trip from Ma’o Organic Farms to Kenney’s kitchen, fresh produce travels along Oahu’s western coastline and curls through Ko’olina, an area once blanketed by sugar plantations but now given over to seaside resorts. The newest is Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa, a property whose nearly every detail was dreamed up in consultation with local experts on Hawaiian culture, among them Kahulu De Santos, a hula practitioner and the Aulani’s cultural advisor.

“When people think Disney, they think imaginative storytelling,” De Santos tells me. “But in this case, we didn’t have to imagine a story and build a resort around it. Hawaii already has a centuries-old story, and that’s the story we wanted to tell.”

We are in the lobby, a soaring space with a triangular ceiling shaped like the canoe sheds used by Hawaiians. The strains of a Hawaiian melody — part of a soundtrack written and recorded for the Aulani by a well-known local musician — fill the air. De Santos leads me through a maze of oversize feather standards of the kind long used to herald island royalty (imagine huge bouquets of feathers attached to long poles), then down a corridor adorned with Hawaiian artwork. Above us, gourdlike light fixtures of varied sizes mimic the phases of the moon.