Pacific to Plate
Whether sourced straight from the Pacific or from a local paddock, the region is renowned for fresh local produce, mostly organically grown and pesticide-free. So it’s no wonder that chefs are attracted to our resorts and restaurants – not only do they get to enjoy a tropical lifestyle, they have access to some of the best raw ingredients on the planet. Here we look at a South Pacific selection and menu choices, from tuna to steak tartare.May 30, 2019
Rebecca MurphyMay 30, 2019
Property name: Malolo Island Resort
Where: Malolo Island, Mamanucas, Fiji
Chef name: Ryan Ward
Chef’s produce philosophy: Ryan says, “We now have a very strong focus on using hyper-local seafood, as this is something that I have always been passionate about. We source all of our crayfish from our local fishermen who dive for lobsters, caba caba (slipper lobster) and coral crabs in the Mamanucas and bring them straight to us (no middle man). All of our reef fish (ie: snapper, coral trout, emperor) also comes from local fisherman. This ensures that the profits go straight back to the locals and that we get the freshest seafood.”
Ryan often speaks to the fisherman about sustainability and encourages them to consider future generations when they are fishing. For example, he won’t accept lobsters that come with eggs or fish that are undersized in an effort to discourage the fisherman from taking everything they see. “We also make sure that we do not accept fish that are in breeding season and encourage all of our staff to do the same in their own homes.”
Ryan is also working on dishes that showcase Fijian produce and interpreting these ingredients in a modern way. Traditionally, Fijian cuisine is very heavy, so he is focusing on teaching the chefs to use modern techniques, particularly in desserts to reduce the use of refined sugar.
A dish he is working on takes inspiration from a traditional cassava cake which is normally very dense. Instead, he has created a cassava crumpet using cassava flour, which is light and fluffy but still nods to a traditional Fijian dish. This is served with a local mango sorbet, roasted coconut ice cream and a honey macaron. Another favourite dish is banana, honey, coffee and chocolate which is made of 100 per cent Fijian ingredients.
Where do you source your produce from? Our own produce gardens, the local waters and shortly, honey from our own beehives.
Go-to dish: banana, honey, coffee and chocolate
A TREAT FOR THE SENSES
Property name: Six Senses
Where: Malolo Island, Mamanucas, Fiji
Chef name: Ihaka Peri
Chef biographies and food philosophy: A New Zealand native, Ihaka spent his school holidays jumping from waterfalls in the Northland region at Ngapuhi. He worked at a number of fine dining establishments, before finding his feet in the resort industry and then began his journey with Six Senses in 2016. Ihaka has developed restaurants, concepts and menus that ignite taste buds and create not just meals, but memories. In Ihaka’s experience as a chef, he quickly came to realize that he is forever a student of his passion and shares this philosophy with his team, forever encouraging them to express themselves in the kitchen. He believes “eating and vacations go hand in hand, and now guests can enjoy both without derailing their health goals thanks to fresh whole food that is nutritious and delicious.”
Ihaka is assisted by executive sous chefs Pranil Prasad and Filimoni Drau. Pranil brings his expertise from the small town of Ba on the mainland of Fiji, where he grew up on his family farm. The local Indian Fijian first joined forces with Ihaka Peri back in 2012. Filimoni brings history and culture to the kitchens at Six Senses Fiji. Born and bred on Malolo Island in Solevu village, Drau is from the Vunavika clan which is one of the three main clans in the Mamanuca archipelago.
Where do you source your produce from? The local waters, the resort garden and Fiji ‘mainland’ while the eggs come from the onsite ‘Cluckingham Palace’.
Go-to dish on menu: Local crab omelette and kokoda – a Fijian ceviche created from raw fish (mahi mahi), coconut cream, chilli and limes.
A DENARAU INSTITUTION
Property name: Cardo’s
Where: Fiji, Port Denarau Marina
Chefs: Pita and Filimoni
Food philosophy: Another Fijian institution is Cardo’s at Port Denarau Marina. A great team of staff is lead in the kitchen by Fijian chefs Pita and Filimoni but the eponymous owner is the man who ensures the best steak in Fiji is served. To be honest, Cardo imports a lot of his beef cuts from New Zealand but is also farming his own herd, hoping to one day serve Fijian beef that is as good in quality as the imported stuff.
Cardo is also farming his own pigs on a property about 20 minutes from Nadi. It’s clearly his happy place, this long term publican looks just as at home there as he does holding court with his loyal regualars.
Cardo’s steak is not the only dish customers love; his chicken and mango salad is light and fresh, his seafood platters are particularly popular and his fresh juices and Acai bowls ensure a good start to the morning.
If you’re staying at a nearby resort make sure you pencil in a meal at Cardo’s. The prices are affordable, the service friendly and welcoming and the food is the best at the marina.
A SUVA SENSATION
Property name: Eden
Where: Suva, Fiji
Proprietor: Sangeeta Maharaj
Eden, owned and operated by the formidable Sangeeta Maharaj, is in a class of its own. Sangeeta is a Suva institution, her staff the best-trained hospitality staff in the capital and the food … simply superb, every time.
Sangeeta is somewhat of a perfectionist; if it is not super fresh and not the best, it doesn’t make it on to a plate. Her menu seems to be about 85 pages long but in truth, you don’t really need to read it. Just tell the staff what you like and don’t like and something amazing will be served.
Sangeeta visits the Suva markets early to get the freshest catch, most aromatic spices and crunchy vegetables to ensure her restaurant guests enjoy a fabulous meal. A walk through the Suva markets with Sangeeta is a true Fijian experience – her favourite farmers all greet her with huge smiles and save their best catch for her.
If you do read Eden’s extensive menu you’ll find most dishes have Pacific or Indian influences, Thai curries to New Zealand lamb, Vanuatu beef to Fijian lobster. The seafood is the best available in Fiji and Sangeeta’s curry pastes are all homemade.
Food philosophy: “I try to grow as much of my own herbs as possible and I’m forever going to cooking schools in other countries to see what else I can bring home to Eden,” she says.
Eden is located near the American embassy, on the corner of Bureta and Maharaj Streets. Bookings are required for most nights due to its popularity.
FIVE STAR LUXURY
Property name: Tokoriki Island Resort
Where: Tokoriki Island, Fiji
Chef name: Ashim Singh
Chef biography and food philosophy: Ashim has been travelling extensively throughout Asia, the Pacific, Europe and New Zealand for over twenty years; food is his life. When we spoke recently Ashim was away in India sourcing ideas, recipes and mostly inspiration. Chef Ashim lives, breathes and displays food, he has butcher’s knives tattooed on his forearms, and a diagram of beef cuts on his back …. that says it all really.
The universe works in mysterious ways – Ashim landed back at Tokoriki Island Resort after having left in 1997 to travel the world and 21 years later he has returned with a wealth of experience, passion and a desire to keep Tokoriki Island Resort at head of the table.
Recently the resort earned 5 star status, along with being voted the #1 Top Hotel in Fiji by TripAdvisor travellers for the 5th consecutive year.
Where do you source your local produce from: “All local produce is sourced from farms on the mainland, I’m incorporating more and more into the menu. We have so much on offer here in Fiji, it’s plentiful and it’s what I grew up with, I love the flavours and so do our guests.”
He has also introduced cooking on an open wood fire, inspired by watching his mother and grandmother which offers guests an opportunity to experience authentic island style cooking.
Go-to dish: “We are constantly changing and evolving here at Tokoriki Island Resort, I love the variety and I love having the freedom to be as creative as I want; this is important to both myself, the owners and the guests. The Vietnamese degustation which is available on request is something quite spectacular.”
AUTHENTIC HOME COOKING
Property name: Flavours of Fiji
Where: Fiji, Denarau
Cooking schools are popping up all over the world, offering visitors to foreign countries the opportunity to not only sample local food, but learn how to cook it at home.
Flavours of Fiji in Denarau has several options at their cooking school, from guided market walks and cooking classes to hens’ days, corporate team building days and private lessons.
Food markets are free to the public of course, but having a guide from Flavours of Fiji is such a great experience. Learning how and what grows where and what it is used for is quite an education.
In Fiji many local herbs and flowers, trees and plants are not only used for cookery but also for their medicinal benefits.
Visitors can enjoy a fun and informative guided morning tour of the local Nadi Markets.
Fresh fruits and vegetables, hand-picked local greens and herbs, fragrant spices, unearthed root crops and an array of assorted seasonal harvests, this authentic local experience is one not to be missed. It’s colourful and exciting, and local vendors are happy to chat, have their photo taken and explain what they use their products for.
After the market tour, an authentic local island cooking class is offered back at Flavours of Fiji’s commercial kitchen on Denarau Island. The classes are not run by chefs, rather by local cooks who are up every day at 4am preparing food for their families before teaching visitors the tricks of the home trade.
Creating eight delicious island favourites, the cooks share their traditional techniques, helpful hints and entertaining stories. The menu boasts both Fijian and Indo-Fijian flavours, taking you on a journey of Fiji’s rich cultural history. The Island Cooking Classes include a food culture presentation, cooking lesson, lunch, refreshments and take-home recipes.
POOLSIDE CASUAL TO FINE DINING
Property name: Taumeasina Island Resort
Where: Apia, Samoa
Executive Chef: Sham Chopra (pictured second from left)
Chef biography and food philosophy: Taumeasina’s executive chef Sham Chopra has adapted and created new recipes using local ingredients employing traditional Samoan methods, attention to detail and culinary creativity.
“Since arriving in Samoa my priority has been to work with our fabulous local chefs to combine our skills to create an exciting menu using the best local, fresh and organic produce available.
“We are lucky to have a good source of quality fresh seafood here in Samoa, including masi masi, yellowfin tuna, lobster, crabs and seagrapes. We source these from local fishermen regularly,” he says.
Sham’s menu includes Ahi Poke, Pork Palusami Pie and Taro Nachos, to name a few of the locally inspired dishes. He uses coconut and coriander and fresh tropical fruits such as breadfruit, guava and passionfruit in many of his dishes as well as local spinach, yam, pumpkin and bok choy. All are plentiful in Samoa.
Sham worked at the famed Airways Hotel in Port Moresby and before that various five star hotels in Austalia, Bahrain and India. He is now settled in Samoa and enjoying his cooking.
Taumeasina has several dining choices, from casual poolside lunches and snacks to fine dining and regular themed buffet nights.
Property name: Return To Paradise
Where: Apia, Samoa
Executive Chef: Kitiona Foe
Chef’s Food philosophy: Samoan born Chef Kiti has been back in his country of birth for three years, after spending most of his training in Australia and New Zealand. He says ‘it’s good to be home’. Kitiona’s love of his home country and all it provides him is plain to see; his menu at Return to Paradise Resort is full of traditional Samoan dishes but also notes of western cuisine. Staying true to his culture and tradition, Chef Kiti has created dishes close to his heart. He wants guests to know the true beauty of Samoan food, how seafood is plentiful and such a huge part of daily life, how having a garden is an essential part of being able to serve consistently fresh food and how all of these things come together make for a standout restaurant just like his is at Paradise Kitchen.
Where do you source your local produce from: “I have my own garden here at the resort, it was important for me to have the tools I need readily available”.
In the islands, because all produce is true to its season with not a lot of hydroponics being grown, Kitiona needed to think outside the box. Importing fresh produce is expensive and also can be difficult to maintain quality; the answer for Chef Kiti was creating his own garden to provide the restaurant with quality options. He also purchases from the surrounding villages, saying “it’s important to give back to those that support us”.
Not a lot of the produce is bought from the main market in Apia, the surrounding villages know what he needs and have also adapted to how and what they grow for the resort.
Go-to dish: “Seafood Platter without a doubt; I love the variations of flavours, the different types of seafood and whether it’s raw or cooked, I know it’s from right out the front of the resort.”
Samoa is famed for having the best seafood in the Pacific, so traditional dishes on the menu such as Oka are always a standout at any restaurant you dine at in Samoa.
BEACHFRONT DINING DESTINATION
Property name: Tamanu On The Beach Resort and Spa
Where: Whitesands, Efate, Vanuatu
Food philosophy: Did someone say long lunch? For fresh local produce and a seasonal blackboard menu, take the 20-minute drive from Port Vila to Tamanu on the Beach for an exceptional lunch or dinner. With a 20+ years reputation for delivering some of the finest cuisine in the South Pacific, Tamanu is located on its own white sand beach lined with palm trees and a sweeping view of the ocean.
While the resort has been recently expanded and refurbished to the highest standards, the restaurant welcomes visitors and is a long-time favourite with locals who famously congregate here for Sunday lunches by the beach. It’s here that you will find the best that Vanuatu has to offer – fresh-caught seafood, Vanuatu’s famous organic beef and lip-smacking pitchers of ice-cold fruity cocktails.
The chef offers a mouthwatering Mediterranean-inspired menu using only the best organically produced local produce and many items grown in Tamanu’s very own gardens. We recommend you pencil in the whole afternoon for this one because you won’t want to miss out on anything on the menu!
Property name: Breakas Beach Resort
Where: Port Vila, Vanuatu
Chef name: Paolo Zanella
Chef biography and food philosophy: Italian chef Paolo Zanella joined the team at Breakas Resort in Vanuatu as their executive chef in late 2018. He had enormous shoes to fill, with the retirement of renowned chef Mario Alfieri after many years in the kitchen at Port Vila’s only adults-only beach resort. Paolo arrived in Vanuatu from Dubai and brought with him a sophisticated menu and cutting edge style.
Paolo was 13 years old when he started cooking with his parents who owned their own restaurant. He studied at Caterina De Medici in Desenzano Del Garda. His experience is in Italian, Mediterranean and fusion cookery.
“When I arrived in Vanuatu I started staff training to get a high standard of hygiene and quality. After careful research on local products, the Coconut Crab (when in season) is the most interesting to me and it goes with the local flavours and the fusion cuisine. Most of the products used in the Breakas Restaurant menu are fresh, organic and local.”
Go-to dish: “Based on my experience and creativity I developed the new menu. The clientele is attracted by all the new dishes but the best seller is my Open Lobster Raviolo.”
The vibe: Breakas offers beachside dining for romantic evenings and warm nights, open air breakfast, lunch and dinner on the patio or in their poolside restaurant or casual dining and snacks in the bar.
A weekly Melanesian night with custom dancers and traditional kai kai (food in Bislama) is one of the island’s most popular nights for visitors. Sunday chill out sessions with a local DJ are also very popular.
The resort restaurant is open to the public (guests over 15 only).
SEAFOOD FRESH FROM THE FRONT
Property name: Whitegrass Ocean Resort and Spa
Where: Tanna Island, Vanuatu
Why Tanna?: Tanna island in Vanuatu is about as far off the beaten track as you can imagine. Much of the island has no power, no running water, unsealed roads and few services. It is, however, Vanuatu’s most popular outer island and with good reason – the authenticity of island life here is unmatched. The local people live simply and welcome visitors. There’s the world’s most accessible active volcano on the island and some of the most spectacular beaches in the South Pacific.
So one would be forgiven for thinking fine sophisticated dining would be an impossibility here. Well, it’s not.
Whitegrass Ocean Resort, located close to the airport on Tanna, offers stylish, comfortable acommodation (yes with power, water, cooling and all the mod cons you would expect at a three-four star hotel) but it also offers a fantastic dining experience.
Produce philosphy: The island of Tanna may be small, but it’s full of adventure, passion and a true belief in the simplicity of life being at the core of tradition and values. This flows through to the newly renovated Whitegrass Resort. The restaurant’s philosophy is to source exclusively organic vegetables, fruit and nuts from the local markets and growers, all of which are grown pesticide-free in the rich, fertile volcanic soil that makes up this spectacular island. It boasts a richness in taste and flavour that is truly rare to come across.
Where do you source your local produce from? The restaurant sources seafood direct from the ocean out front, including painted crayfish, crabs, squid, tuna, wahoo, poulet, mahi mahi and parrot fish. Famed Vanuatu beef and locally farmed prawns from Port Vila are flown in fresh to ensure consistency, quality and taste are at the forefront.
The chefs: Whitegrass’s chefs are local Ni-Vanuatu people, with a passion for food and a vast knowledge of their own local produce. They are experts at knowing how to cook with it and be versatile when it comes to what’s available from season to season.
Go-to dish: A favourite for locals and tourists is the smoked pork belly with kumala mash, Asian greens and mushrooms.
Property name: Eratap Beach Resort
Where: Port Vila, Vanuatu
Chef name: Scott Lawther
Scott Lawther, the new Head Chef at Vanuatu’s famed Eratap Resort, has brought with him a wealth of experience gained from around the globe and also has a teaching background, which is ideal for the resort, ensuring his knowledge is passed through. Scott’s main focus has been on clean fresh food; having access to some of the Pacific’s best local and organic ingredients has made this dream match of teacher and chef an unstoppable combination.
What is your produce philosophy? “My primary aim is to use fresh locally produced products as much as possible. This means not all ingredients will be available year round so we have created our menus to be flexible. Of course some things have to be imported as they are not available in Vanuatu. This we do to ensure the standard of each dish is maintained.”
Where do you source it from? “We shop daily at the main local market for fruit and vegies and herbs. We purchase line caught fish from local fishermen and game fishing boats. We buy fresh lobster from local fishermen or have it flown in from outer islands within Vanuatu. We buy the majority of our chicken from local trusted suppliers and beef direct from the abattoir. Other goods are purchased through local wholesalers. Achieving consistent supply of everything on a daily basis is extremely challenging and requires adaptability and creativity to maintain the extensive menus we offer.”
Go-to dish: “Our seafood platters are a big hit, as is our baked poulet fish wrapped in banana leaves in our special coconut sauce. Other popular dishes include poke bowl, fish curry, daily special salad and vanilla panna cotta.”
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