The event was part of the Tourism Corporation’s drive to define a Cook Islands cuisine strategy.
Visiting chefs Oliver Fitton and Joseph Stubbs were hard at work early and were later joined by chef and well-known food writer Robert Oliver.
The kitchen was a hive of activity with staff and students and the chefs creating a range of favourites and also some “surprises” for the official launch of the cuisine strategy.
Of course there were a few of the normal little kitchen glitches to deal with: some ingredients were out of season or in short supply, the fish was still frozen and taking its time thawing out, and it looked like being a pretty long day. But all was expected to be right on the night.
The Cook Islands Tourism Corporation launched this debate and search for a Cook Islands autherntic cuisine strategy at a function at Highland Paradise last Tuesday night. During the week there were visits to plantations and gardens growing local foods and fruit, a fishing trip (unsuccessful, unfortunately) and discussions with stakeholders about the use of local ingredients to create authentic Cook Island dishes to form part of the attraction and satisfaction of visitors to these shores.
At Coastal Kitchen on Friday there were three thought-provoking panel discussions debating the security of food supplies for the country, getting people to eat healthy foods, and food and culture.
The panel on food security was told by local marine biologist Dr Teina Rongo that climate change is already having a marked affect on the country’s fish populations.
There has been a loss of reef fish habitat because of coral bleaching and this has resulted in a reduction in the number of small reef fish, which usually feed larger fish and so on. He says there has also been a drop-off the number of large pelagic fish making it through to our waters because of a drop in their food supplies; skinny sharks are being seen coming closer inshore, looking for food.
Other speakers talked about the possibility of growing crops in the pa enua for export to Rarotonga. There was discussion too about sourcing goats, pigs and fish from the pa enua to provide economic opportunities. One problem identified was the lack of hygenic processing facilities, which could be overcome by funding to provide container-type killing and processing sheds. Transport to Rarotonga was not expected to be a major problem as Air Rarotonga has freight space available on return flights from the outer islands.
Visiting chef Joseph Stubbs told the healthy food panel that while it would take time to change peoples’ eating habits to healthy foods, it could and should be done. Local chef Tim Tierney, who was in the audience, reminded people that the food we have in these islands is the food that the rest of the world would like to have and we should be taking advantage of that.
In the discussion on food and culture, Puna Rakanui from the House of Ariki told people how a traditional Takurua – the brand name Tourism is promoting for the cuisine strategy - would be planned months in advance, with people designated to plant crops. The Takurua would also be planned to coincide with the right season for desired fruits and fish.
In keeping with the theme of the week the refreshments served by Coastal Kitchen featured healthy local foods and fruit.
The launch at Te Vara Nui last night included addresses from Professor Jon Jonasson, celebrity chef Robert Oliver and Cook Islands Tourism Corporation chief executive Halatoa Fua.
While last nights event at Te Vara Nui was a private function for invited stakeholders and sponsors.
Tonight and tomorrow night the public will get a chance to give their taste buds a real treat with a sensational menu put together by Sails Restaurant in Muri.
The five celebrity chefs will create a meal using produce from Atiu, Mangaia, Manihiki and Rarotonga; something unlikely to be available anywhere else in the world.
The dishes include korori pearl meat and coral cod, wild boar and eel, a vegetarian course, wild goat and black taro, and an uto coconut desert.
Bookings are essential.
- Derek Fox