19 May 2017

Auckland restaurant showcases Pacific cuisine

12:07 pm on 19 May 2017

Treasured Pacific dishes which have been locked up by Pacific families for generations are being introduced to diners in Auckland.

Hawaiian raw fish dish

Hawaiian raw fish dish. Photo: Kai Pasifika

The recently opened Kai Pasifika restaurant is the first Pacific cuisine restaurant to be established in New Zealand. While it aims to celebrate traditional Pacific foods, it also wants to change existing misconceptions about them.

The restaurant is a dream come true for celebrity chef Robert Oliver who has won top awards at the Gourmand World Cookbook awards for his material on Pacific cuisine.

A dish by Robert Oliver.

A dish by Robert Oliver. Photo: Imagine South Pacific

Mr Oliver said he has had to challenge perceptions around Pacific foods being inferior.

"Pacific people know better and I know better," he said

"The first book I wrote won best cook book in the whole world. Of course it's due to the value of the cuisine. So I'm flipping that conversation around now, saying 'it's whose perception?'....because Pacific people know how good their food is."

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Photo: Imagine South Pacific

Establishing the restaurant began as a crowd-funding business venture which aimed to raise capital from the public.

While last year's funding campaign fell short, Kai Pasifika still managed to secure enough from private investors.

Chief financial officer, Kenina Court, says the huge public interest they received during the funding campaign showed that having a Pacific Cuisine restaurant is important to New Zealand's Pasifika community.

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Photo: Imagine South Pacific

"There's all this talk about how western food is much better than pacific food and in the islands it costs a lot more and it's easy," said Ms Court.

"So part of what we're trying to do is actually take products that are produced in the islands and give them a platform to be showcased to the world. And then the second thing is around giving us back, as a group, as a culture and as a people, the pride that comes from our own food."

The restaurant's menu has reformatted well known Pacific dishes to help bring diners a fresh appreciation of the region's traditional foods.

Ika Vakalolo Fijian style fish dish

Ika Vakalolo Fijian style fish dish Photo: Kai Pasifika

Mr Oliver says honouring the traditions of Pacific foods has been key.

"The Chefs are now bringing dishes in from their background. They were challenged to think through, what from your grandma's repertoire of recipes would be good on the menu?"

"So we're going to start working with them, because there's a process about converting it or formatting it slightly so it fits in a restaurant situation."

Pua’a Samoa, roast pork with koko Samoa

Pua’a Samoa, roast pork with koko Samoa Photo: Kai Pasifika

Mr Oliver says the ethnic diversity within his kitchen means that each cook brings a different flavour to the table.

Among Kitchen staff is a Fijian head chef, two Samoans, a Venezuelan, a European and a ni-Vanuatu woman who Mr Oliver met at a market in Port Vila.

"She came up to me and said 'Chef! You don't know me but I have to work with you!' explained Mr Oliver,

"It turned out she was at cooking school here so she graduated and came right to us. The flavours of Vanuatu are almost unknown outside of Vanuatu, so she's bringing something very special to our repertoire."

Celebrity chef Robert Oliver (far left) and his talented team at Kai Pasifika.

Celebrity chef Robert Oliver (far left) and some members of his talented team at Kai Pasifika. Photo: Kai Pasifika

The Kai Pasifika Restaurant also aims to boost trade from businesses across the region, using products which Mr Oliver says helps to make their menu authentic.

Featured ingredients include virgin coconut oil, koko and taro from Samoan farmers in partnership with Women in Business Development in Samoa as well as line-caught Wahoo fish and tamarind chutney from Fiji.

Kai Pasifika dishes using some of the region’s products.

Kai Pasifika dishes using some of the region’s products. Photo: Kai Pasifika