Auckland’s newest and only specialist Pasifika cuisine restaurant aims to bring to the city much more than Pacific cuisine.

Auckland’s newest and only specialist Pasifika cuisine restaurant aims to bring to the city much more than Pacific cuisine.

Celebrity chef and author Robert Oliver, whose brainchild the restaurant is, plans to deliver a complete Pacific experience. Mr Oliver, who grew up in Fiji and Samoa is passionate about everything Pacific. He has authored two award winning books on Pacific cuisine and has anchored numerous television shows and been a judge on the popular ‘My Kitchen Rules’ TV series. He has been associated with setting up top end restaurants in several countries including the United States, the Caribbean and Australia.

Kai Pasifika is his dream project five years in the making. As well as its completely Pasifika menu including its beverage and beer list, its chefs and staff are also of Pacific heritage: Fijian, Samoan and ni-Vanuatu, with a Venezuelan thrown in for a bit of variety. The floor staff, too, are of Pasifika heritage.

“I am looking forward to the acknowledgement of our Pacific food is natural, healthy and flavoursome and is as good as the best cuisines of the world,” says chef Bertrand Jang, who hails from Fiji. “I’m Fijian Chinese – three-fourths Fijian,” he smiles. He is well travelled in the Pacific having spent six years in the Cook Islands and has been across New Zealand’s North Island since 2012.

Explaining the differences between the cuisines of different islands across the region he says, “For a dish like the Fijian Kokoda, which is Poke in Samoan and Ikamata in the Cook Islands, which are quite similar, the difference is in the marinade, marinating times, cooking processes and presentation. We hope to tell these details to diners and explain the beauty of their individual ingredients.”

Bernard Jang’s colleague Lisa Murgatroyd from the island of Epi in Vanuatu is introducing a couple of dishes from that picturesque archipelago. “I’m working on dishes like Tuluk and Bunya from my island, which will be new to Aucklanders and different from Laplap [considered Vanuatu’s national dish], with which most visitors to Vanuatu are familiar,” she says.

The restaurant plans to host and display art by Pasifika artists on its walls and niches. “We’re also planning a series of events celebrating art, culture and performing artistes from the different islands whose cuisine we bring to the people of island,” Mr Oliver said.

These “island-flavoured” events will consist of a monthly Tongan act, performers like the celebrated Cindy of Samoa and Kai Korero among others. “This is about Pacific ingenuity finding its place in the heart of Auckland,” he said.

While he proudly acknowledges pure Pacific-sourced ingredients from his hand-picked trusted suppliers, with whom PTI has also worked, Mr Oliver is keen to promote them in Auckland and is planning a small retail shelf space for these at Kai Pasifika, he told Pacific Periscope.

“We welcome the possibility of Robert moving into retail of Pacific Island products, which is a great idea,” Pacific Trade Invest (PTI) NZ Trade Commissioner Michael Greenslade said.  PTI works with Pacific Islands exporters to find markets in New Zealand.


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