Food & Wine / stuff.co.nz

Screen Shot 2014-09-16 at 10.34.10 pmFor a celebrity chef who spends nights dreaming about food and days surrounded by extravagant culinary creations, living on the extreme poverty line for even a few days will be a challenge.

This year celebrity chef Robert Oliver has decided to give up most of his favourite edible luxuries to participate in Oxfam’s Live below the line challenge – a fundraising campaign challenging participants to live on $2.25 a day for five days.

The idea is to connect with the more than one billion people who live on or below the poverty line.

”It’s going to be about eating a lot less for me…what does it feel like? We are so surrounded by choice in New Zealand, all the food is so extraordinary. It will be like being on a diet I guess, and the concept of a diet is still a luxury,” Oliver said.

Raised in Fiji and Samoa, Oliver has developed restaurants in the US and Australia and food programmes to help feed the homeless in New York City.

His work in the Pacific is focussed on development.

He is the chef ambassador for Le Cordon Bleu culinary school in Wellington.

Though he estimated he regularly spent at least $25 a day on food, was often surrounded by food and never skimped on what he wanted, Oliver had tackled weeks-long fasts before.

”After a few days the hunger pains go away. I’m determined to do this right. I won’t be cheating.”

Oliver said he wouldn’t take part in any tastings or freebies – a regular part of a top chef’s day.

Clean eating, organic fruits and vegetables, fish, whole foods and good coffee make up Oliver’s regular diet.

He dreamed about food most nights and went to great lengths to have the food he wanted – even flying internationally at times specifically to eat at certain restaurants.

For the challenge Oliver hadn’t yet plotted a specific game plan other than filling up on miso broths, ”gingery spicy things” and complex carbohydrates to keep himself grounded.

From his past challenges he knew he might feel light-headed at times.Oliver heard about Live below the line through fellow My Kitchen Rules judge and celebrity chef Nadia Lim, who has done it in the past.

He said he would be asking her for a few tips as he neared the October challenge.

”There is enough food for everybody but distribution is a problem. I think it’s about putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and that someone else in this case, is a huge part of the world’s population. ”

To sign up for the Oxfam challenge, go to oxfam.org.nz


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My acceptance speech at the KEA WORLD CLASS NEW ZEALAND AWARDS

I have had a long association with KEA during my years in New York and Shanghai- so this feels great...there are many dreamers like me out there but few get acknowledgment in the public arena- so thx KEA for valuing what I do …I am truly grateful

All of the work credited to me of course is the combined efforts of many and this recognition lifts us all. I have been fortunate to work with some brilliant collaborators. … firstly I’d like to acknowledge my co author and writing partner Dr Tracy Berno, and photographer- the magic man! Shiri Ram

You need vision to see vision, so I'd like to salute Mr Edouard Cointreau founder of the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards who in seeing our vision gave us the thrilling break that put us on the path we walk today
I am seriously grateful to the tenacious Heather Lee and Anna Marbrook of Zoomslide Productions who painfully and patiently schooled me in the world of television with my first show REAL PASIFIK based on our books

I have also loved my roles on both My Kitchen Rules and Marae Kai Masters and wish to thank Imagination TV, Television New Zealand and Maori TV… and in particular Cindi Lucas ….and I have loved sharing screen time with 2 of Aotearoa’s biggest talents who are both dear friends…and they are Nadia Lim and Tekohe Tuhaka (I learned heaps from you TK..)
I wish to acknowledge my partners at Kai Pasifika restaurant…Auckland’s hot Pacific Island restaurant born thru the efforts of Richard Hall, Kenina Court, Repeka Lelaulu and our awesome chef Bertrand Jang
I speak for us all when I say it is our great honour and privilege to serve the Pacific community in Auckland, this Pacific city in this Pacific nation

I cherish my relationship with Le Cordon Bleu New Zealand and especially my friendship with its dynamic director Jenny Jenkins

I have amazing friends who have always thought the best of me…and man, that can get you anywhere in life…everyone knows the fabulousness of Beatrice Faumuina, and then there’s Gayle Anne Kelly of One Bowl Productions in Los Angeles, Maiki McKay, Shauna Flenady, Cindy of Samoa and the ever awesome Marisa Tomei….many of you know her as a Hollywood actress, but through our 30+ years of often outrageous friendship, I know her as a sterling soul. She was the first person I called when we won the Gourmand Award …I was in a state of shock at reaching such crazy heights and Marisa’s words to me were “But I’ve have always seen you that way”

I have been guided and mentored by a group of Pacific Island women. It’s not that they set out to teach me; it is that I learned EVERYTHING just by being around them.
They are Votausi McKenzie in Vanuatu, Papiloa Bloomfield Folikai in the Kingdom of Tonga, Adi Tafuna’i and Faumuina Tafuna’I in Samoa, and Suliana Siwatibau in Fiji. Through these women, I have been exposed to true leadership. It's a form of leadership that is based on the power of love, rather than the love of power….the kind that nurtures communities… … they saw the value of my work in the broadest sense- by looking back both to their own grandmothers and also forward to their grandchildren. The story of the food is the story of the people, and these women entrusted me with their stories, stories from the past that are also the blueprint for the future- in fact, I now view all of my work as the activation of indigenous knowledge, their knowledge.

And then there are the ones that have always been…my own whanau….my brothers Jeff and Richard, my awesome sister Shelley, beautiful Willa and handsome Sione, and my mother Jean who has loved and guided us all, she’s always believed in us, and with that in your life, you can fly.
3 months ago today, my beloved father left us…he was much more than a father to me, he was my mentor, my hero. Legacy is defined in many ways- often in buildings built, wars won, institutions founded, policies enacted.

But for me, the truly great leaders, the Martin Luther Kings, the Ghandis, legacy is something that is left in the people whom they affect, the social movements they inspire, the communities they enrich, the mindsets they ignite. This speaks to me of my father. He touched the lives of thousands of people and he gave me my mindset, the way that I think. He may not be here in person, but he is profoundly and absolutely here in spirit and I am my fathers son…so Tagaloafa’atautele Dennis John Oliver….although it is me standing here accepting this accolade, this pretty boy…this is really one for the whanau
Kia ora..vinaka vakalevu, malo lava..
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About Robert

Award winning Author, Chef Ambassador for Le Cordon Bleu New Zealand/Pacific Islands, TV presenter of REAL PASIFIK and MKRNZ tasting panelist.

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