The Independent (UK)

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You could call it the gastronomic upset of the night. At the 2010 Gourmand World Cookbook Awards, it wasn’t the usual suspect who was called to the stage to accept the title of Best Cookbook of the Year.

This year, the writer-chef didn’t hail from culinary stalwarts France, Italy or the US. Nor does the recipient boast a world-class restaurant. Instead, the best cookbook of the year highlighted the cuisine from a small corner of the earth and knighted a chef from a gastronomically modest country.

New Zealand-born chef Robert Oliver beat out some formidable competition to land the title of best cookbook, which was announced last week in Paris. His book Me’a Kai was deemed superior toNoma, titled after the Copenhagen restaurant which was named the World’s Best Restaurant in 2010, and The Essential New York Times Cookbook.

Me’a Kai features the cuisine of six South Pacific island nations, Tonga, Tahiti, Samoa, Fiji, Vanuatu, and Cook Islands.

But more than just entertaining anecdotes, colorful illustrations and innovative recipes, the book delves into deeper issues threatening local economies today: sustainable food, local farming and annihilating tourism, said Edouard Cointreau Jr., a spokesman for the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards.

“It defends producers,” he told Relaxnews. “The Pacific islands are being killed by massive tourism and his book is saving the cultural traditions of the islands.”

Oliver’s win also marks the first time a New Zealand chef has taken the top spot at the awards.

“We’ve never seen a win from such small, modest origins,” Cointreau said. “They always come from prestigious chefs. This year was different.”

The two-year journey took Oliver into the kitchens of island home cooks who shared their recipes using fresh, local ingredients. But the inspiration behind the cookbook came from his time working in the Caribbean, where grand hoteliers were turning their backs on local farmers and resources at their doorstep in favor of importing most of their ingredients from abroad.

“It reminded me of my own country, Fiji and Samoa, which was exactly the same,” Oliver said in an interview with Relaxnews. “People didn’t realize how good their own food was. So, I wrote a book to change all that. I wanted to excite local chefs with their own ingredients. The project became a whole lot more.”

The 90-plus recipes highlight signature South Pacific island ingredients and cooking methods. The coconut, for instance, is used in all its incarnations – milk, flesh, oil and steamed – and forms the basis of island cooking, Oliver said. Fish is also a main ingredient.

“Most of the ingredients are grown organically. Before, that was a liability, but now, it’s a big asset,”

Oliver is hoping to replicate the recipe of his success from St. Lucia, where he helped wean the island off imported goods from 70 percent down to 20 percent and generate $2 million for the local economy.

“That’s what I want to do in the Pacific Islands.”

In fact, his next big project is to wean the resort island of Samoa off imported ingredients as well. He’s already secured the commitment of 17 resorts, which represents half the island nation’s economy, he said.

“I want this book to help the Pacific Islands rediscover their own culture and use that as a platform for their own economic sustainability,” he said. “We want to position the little island country as a world leader in sustainability.”

The book retails for $75 NZD (40 euros) and was released in April 2010 by Random House New Zealand.


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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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