The Dominion Post / Stuff.co.nz

The Dominion Post: Chef Robert Oliver's shares his love for Pacific pantry

Fijian-Samoan chef Robert Oliver’s love for Pacific Island food has seen him develop international restaurants, drive farm-to-table resorts in the Caribbean, and feed the homeless and sick in New York City. He’ll be cooking at the Wellington Food Show, on this weekend at Westpac Stadium. Catch him and his co-host, Cindy of Samoa, in the Whirlpool Cooking Theatre on Saturday from 12.30pm-1.15pm.

What’s your signature dish?

I’ve done a smoked pork belly with Samoan cocoa with chilli and honey glaze, and I loved that. My books are about culture not just about plates of food. So if someone asks what’s my signature dish I’m probably going to think people not just dishes.

Tell us a bit about your food show segment, which you’re doing with fa’afafine co-host, Cindy of Samoa.

I’m doing demos in the cooking theatre, so they’ve got a chef’s programme. Cindy and I are doing two raw fish dishes and then we’re making Koko Samoa, which is hot cocoa from Samoan cocoa.

I included Cindy because I often find shows a bit static. I said to the team at the food show ‘let me bring in a real entertainer to keep the energy’. She’s so hilarious and irreverent and fun.

You’ve worked in five-star restaurants, on TV, in resorts, but also developed programmes to feed the homeless and aids sufferers in New York. Can you tell us why you decide to do the latter?

I think it’s part of the nature of food. Food isn’t just gastronomy or creativity, it’s also hunger and nourishment. I was raised in the Pacific where everyone has plenty of food. Those programmes, which were in New York many years ago, were a heart response for me that everyone should have food.

A lot of my current work is in the Pacific and there’s kind of a social mission in that. I work with an amazing women’s group called Women in Business Development and it’s a network of about 1000 organic family farms. I’m working on getting their supplies channelled into the Samoan tourism industry.

What’s the trick to getting the perfect poached eggs?

It’s not vinegar! I don’t actually know, but I saw something on an aeroplane recently which said don’t use vinegar, use salt, and salt makes everything good.

Suppose a dinner guest is vegan, gluten free and sugar free. What would you cook them?

There’s lots you can cook them. I think of the whole Pacific tool kit. I would do Taro leaves with coconut cream and some breadfruit and there’s always fruits you can follow it up with. Any Pacific market will make that question into a non-problematic thing.

What was the last book you read and was it any good?

I’m re-reading Cooked by Michael Pollan. I just watched the series on Netflix [based on the book] called Cooked. For anyone in food it’s essential reading.

If you could invite four people, dead or alive, to dinner, who would they be and why?

I mean a couple of great artists like Frida Kahlo and Dorothy Parker cos she has a great wit. Frida Kahlo for her flamboyance. David Bowie just because, for my generation he shaped us all. And Leonardo Da Vinci. One of those original thinkers. 

What would you serve them?

I would serve them Pacific Island food. We would do the pork I mentioned, we’d do fish cooked in banana leaves with fresh coconut and lemon grass and lime leaves. We’d do green bananas made into a salad with tomatoes, coconut oil and turmeric. Everything would be shared. And raw fish.

And to drink?

New Zealand wine, of course. The wine from Waipara Hills [2014 Waipara Hills Equinox Sauvignon Blanc] last time at the food show was delicious.

Read the full article HERE

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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.

For event or booking enquiries please contact: Johnson & Laird Management
+64 9 376 0882
Current location: New Zealand

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