Founded on the hope of encouraging the people of the Pacific to eat more local cuisine and use local ingredients, Pacific Island Food Revolution is more than a reality cooking show.
It is a project that aims to encourage switching from processed food to the healthy alternatives that can be found in one’s own backyard. The show celebrates Pacific cuisine and culture in a big way.
The message the show is spreading relates to the health issues the Pacific Islands faces- more specifically non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and the fatalities they cause all over the region.
Changing food habits, as well as making the most of the resources at home, goes a long way towards helping.
The show’s episodes are filmed across the Pacific: Samoa, Vanuatu, Tonga and Fiji in season one, and more to come in season 2. Season two is set to air in the Cook Islands soon.
With four teams from each of the countries, the competition isn’t a race for prize money, fame or personal gain – instead, it is about bringing the message of the show alive in creative ways, helping each other.
In each episode there is a challenge the teams have to complete, with the real life barriers of convenience, taste and affordability something they have to battle.
But the teams aren’t “battling it out” with one another. According to chef Robert Oliver, they are working towards their common goal with their common passion for cuisine, and there is none of that “cut-throat nastiness” one sees in a lot of other reality TV shows.
Oliver is the host. With experience starring on other shows like My Kitchen Rules NZ, he’s had a lot of experience working in draining, combative reality TV environments. He was determined this would be different.
When speaking of the project, the passion for the cause and the people is very evident in his voice as he speaks of the elements of the show.
“My producer, Cindi Lucas, has been on a lot of shows where that type of negative environment was depressing to be in – she ended up really affected by it as well. We realised that if we encourage positivity in a good environment, then it will be a better environment to compete and work in.
“If you encourage a bad environment, then people allow themselves to be real nasty – you see that in a lot of reality shows.
“It’s a credit to the Pacific that the show isn’t a cut-throat and hostile environment; because of the sense of community on the show, which is influenced by the culture of the Pacific, the core value of the show is kindness.”
The friendly environment and how the teams formed close bonds with each other, meant there were times when a team would get eliminated – and the other teams would get upset because of that.
“The idea of [having that environment] came from realising that this sort of warmth is very much what the Pacific stands for. Kindness is a core value for the show, because that is the nature of the show, the people and the producer.”
Another reason the show is lively and animated is Oliver’s team of co-hosts. With one from each country, the cast consists of the Princess Royal Salote Mafile'o Pilolevu Tuita from Tonga, chef Dora Rossi from Samoa, food entrepreneur Votausi Reur-Mckenzie from Vanuatu, and Dr Jone Hawea from Fiji.
“The co-hosts are a big part of the show. They each have their own stories and backgrounds that are unique. Selecting the co-hosts was about building a family that has different perspectives and capacities, uniting under one common goal. I find that when the camera’s turned off, all that care and passion is still alive. The conversations we have are amazing.”
Speaking of how his team’s passion for the project has made him enjoy and love the project all the more, Oliver adds: “Normally, I would feel drained by the time we get to filming the last episode. But I don’t with this show. That’s due in part to my team, and the environment of the show.”
Oliver also talked about how he uses his impressive reputation to help people see that the project has its own story and importance. “I often find that my identity as a celebrity chef overwhelms the show – but the celebrity chef thing is what opens doors and attracts attention. Once the framework for the show is set, that’s it.”
One thing that we can expect from any Pacific show is, of course, humour.
Says Oliver: “There is so much humour in the show … There was this one time I overheard two of the male contestants talking. One said to the other, ‘How are we going to win this thing? I can’t cook! We’re both guys, guys don’t cook’!”
The show also showcases the whole spectrum of emotion. “There was this one scene where her Royal Highness of the Kingdom of Tonga was complimenting the dish of Team Tonga, both of whom have mothers who suffer health issues because of food … Hearing her Highness praise them, it really hit hard.”
In PIFR, there is so much of heart-warming moments, passion and humour, which helps it to leave a lasting impact on viewers.
“It goes beyond a show. We have a social media presence, which helps to keep the message alive. Shows end, but the message can live on through social media.”
An important thing that also came with the show was the true and positive representation of the Pacific on a screen – the likes of which you rarely see.
“You can see the impact in the show from how the participants of the show get recognised by youth of the countries. They love TV shows where they can see themselves and their lives – and because we’ve helped bring that to life, they recognise us chefs.”
The show is to air around the world, in places like the USA, “making it a big show with an international presence that the Pacific deserves”.
As for how the Cook Islands can get our people on the show, and our beautiful island as a location – well, there is a definite possibility for future Cook Islands episodes.
“There is an opportunity to get the Cook Islands involved in the show – the project is funded by New Zealand and Australian governments, who have close relations with the Cook Islands.”
He also admits that he’s thought of who he would love to have as his Cook Island co-host. “If the show were to be done in Rarotonga, then I would choose Rangi Mitaera-Johnson as one of my co-hosts. She has this quality, with her presence and knowledge base, that would help bring everything to life.”
* * * * *
RANGI MITAERA-JOHNSON, whom Oliver has met and befriended during his many visits and stays in the Cook Islands, knows what she is talking about when it comes to food.
Says Mitaera-Johnson when asked, “If we did have Pacific Island Food Revolution in the Cook Islands, it would be phenomenal.”
The social media aspect of the show would go very well, as she says “Cook Islanders are very big on social media, those on the island and those of us spread all over the world. We’re so active, and we would have lots of exposure to our following. Our people are spread far and wide.”
On the pool of possible contestants, Mitaera-Johnson said “So far as people are concerned, we do have a lot of experienced people here, which is really great, at different levels. We have the novices, amateurs, the home cooks, and the ones that are already skilled, working in the hospitality industry. It wouldn’t be hard to gather those kinds of people.”
She says, we would even have a sort of advantage in the competition. “I find Cook Islanders quite knowledgeable when it comes to food, we love food. We do a lot more food… Having travelled to other places, I feel we do a lot more with our food than a lot of others.
“We really are people that travel quite a lot. We travel internationally, and, I mean, we go to New Zealand for the weekend. Just for the weekend. We also have people who work in government who travel internationally. Every week there are, I would guess, no less than 20 people from this country travelling abroad. They come back with their experiences and they move levels with their food knowledge; they also mix it in with what we have here. Over the years you will notice how we’ve adopted and adapted food here in the Cook Islands.”
With our evolved food style, “Some of it’s good, some of it’s not so good; but that’s normal and that’s what you should expect with a developing country. Food is developing. Our behavior is developing, social media is developing, technology is developing, our attitudes and the social atmosphere is developing as well. It’s so true to say that we are a developing nation because we do pick up things fast and well.”
She continued one with, “Having said that, I feel that this program would do really well here. It’s not up to me, if this program goes ahead, it’s up to the powers that be, which is most likely people in government as you are working with an international scene. I think it would encourage a lot of people in the amateur sector to step forward and it would encourage a lot of people in the home to re-look at the food we are serving our families. That’s the challenge for us.
“Dare I say, it’s done it for a lot of the other countries that have hosted the Pacific Food Revolution. It’s made them sit up and think, ‘hold on, what did I just cook?’. The show coming here would give it a lot more priority.”
Pacific Island Food Revolution has a spot with the name of the Cook Islands on it, and if we so chose, we could help our country and make an impact all over the place.
The show could benefit us, and we could benefit the show by showing our beautiful people, cuisine, skill sets, stories, culture and environment on the screen.
Some food for thought.