20 Oct 2016

Fine-dining Pacific cuisine out to change negative stereotypes

8:50 pm on 20 October 2016

A new Pacific business venture hopes to change negative stereotypes around traditional Pacific dishes, which are often seen as unhealthy.

The project - led by award-winning chef Robert Oliver - will see the first fine-dining Pacific cuisine restaurant established in Auckland.

A dish by Robert Oliver.

An example of the type of dish that may be served at Kai Pasifika Photo: Imagine South Pacific

The Kai Pasifika Restaurant will aim to help boost trade from Pacific Island producers by showcasing products from around the region.

"Here we are with the biggest Polynesian capital in the world and we don't have any sort of a restaurant, like a Pacific cuisine restaurant here in Auckland." said the project's chief financial officer, Kenina Court.

"We've got Chinese, we've got Vietnamese, we've got Greek, we've got Mexican, everything from the other side of the world. But our own backyard - we don't have anything here."

Ms Court said there were many misconceptions about Pacific food and the restaurant would aim to change that.

"It's really taking foods of the Pacific and the cultural way in which food is prepared, and then putting a modern twist around it," she explained

"The menu will have a lot of sharing plates so that there is more of an experience about dining with people and eating the same food. As opposed to, you know, this is my meal and I'll just eat off this plate," she said.

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Kenina Court hopes the Kai Pasifika project will help nurture local Pacific talent Photo: Imagine South Pacific

"Because in the Pacific, that's exactly what happens. Everybody just puts the food out and it's kind of like more of a smorgasbord as opposed to an actual a la carte thing."

Ms Court admitted the idea for a Pacific cuisine restaurant wasn't sparked by demand but she believed that once the restaurant was established, it would be valued.

"We're just seeing that we've got over 300,000 people in Auckland who identify as Pacific and there's nowhere for them to go and have a lovely meal with their own Pacific cuisine," she said.

'At the heart of it, it's actually really healthy'

Behind the Kai Pasifika Restaurant menu is renowned chef Robert Oliver, whose book Me'a Kai: The Food and Flavours of the South Pacific won Best Cookbook in the World in 2010 at the Gourmand World Cookbook awards.

The menu will put a spin on negative stereotypes around Pacific foods being high in fat and contributing to health diseases such as obesity and diabetes that are killing Pacific people.

"That's actually a big part behind Robert's thinking, is that there are a lot of misconceptions out there about Pacific cuisine but at the heart of it, it's actually really healthy. Because it's full of lots of fish, fresh fruit and fresh vegetables," explained Ms Court.

Robert Oliver.

Award-winning chef Robert Oliver Photo: Imagine South Pacific

"And Robert's take on it is, how do we put together a meal within the Pacific culture that looks gorgeous, that tastes divine, but is going to be good for you?"

Ms Court added that many Pacific people like herself, who were raised in New Zealand, did not know how to make many of the traditional Pacific dishes themselves.

She says the project aimed to help grow and nurture more Pacific talent in the hospitality industry.

"You know, Auckland has got such a huge number of Pacific chefs but they don't themselves have the training in how to prepare Pacific cuisine because there is nowhere for them to go for that.

"So we'll give them that place where they can come and learn about their cuisine."

The business venture is offering 50 percent of company shares to the public through a crowd-funding campaign and hopes to see two Kai Pasifika branches eventually launched in Auckland.

A dish by Robert Oliver.

A delicious crab dish prepared by Robert Oliver Photo: Imagine South Pacific