The village, which is a well-known promoter of Cook Islands traditional culture, provided a fitting location for the event, with a special dance show featuring students from Tereora College’s culture team.
Metua Vaiimene of the Cook Islands Tourism Corporation was MC for the night, first introducing guests to the concept of ‘takurua’, which features elements of traditional culture and is designed to promote healthy eating and living. It also highlights the exciting variety of local produce available in this country and has the participation of several government ministries, including Health and Agriculture.
Monday night’s menu was designed by three visiting chefs, who earlier in the day also oversaw the production of the food at the Cook Islands Tertiary Institute’s commercial kitchen.
Several Cook Islands chefs also took a leading role, demonstrating – as visiting chef and food writer Robert Oliver later pointed out – that our most skilled local chefs can foot it with their counterparts anywhere in the world.
The meal was preceded by a detailed explanation of the place of takurua in traditional Cook Islands culture by Professor Jon Jonassen. With the help of a visual presentation, he explained the traditional concepts behind the term ‘takurua’, which in earlier times described religious and chiefly occasions.
The food itself was served between segments of a dance show highlighting the hugely talented young dance team. It began with korori pearl meat and coral cod served on a chilled oyster shell. This was followed by a meal featuring wild boar and smoked marlin (replacing eel, which proved to be in short supply), then a vegetarian course, another featuring wild goat and black taro, and an uto coconut dessert.
New Zealand chef, author and cuisine ambassador for Le Cordon Bleu in New Zealand and the Pacific Islands, Robert Oliver later gave an enthusiastic and passionate presentation focusing on the potential for the Cook Islands to further develop the takurua concept.
He also spoke about the benefits a clearly defined and healthy local cuisine could bring to the tourism industry – and just as importantly, the local community.
Oliver certainly knows what he is talking about – he won an award for best cookbook in the world in 2010 for his book Me’a Kai: The Food and Flavours of the South Pacific, and a best TV chef cookbook in the world award for follow-up cookbook Mea’ai Samoa: Recipes and Stories from the Heart of Polynesia.
He is also the presenter of television series Real Pasifik and is clearly passionate about wanting to see genuine Pacific cuisine enjoyed around the world and in the islands, working with the UN to develop projects to help organic farmers in Samoa sell their produce to commercial kitchens.
Summing up the Takurua launch, which last week included workshops and discussions and visits to the leading sources of traditional foods on Rarotonga, Tourism Corporation chief executive Halatoa Fua described local cuisine as an integral part of an authentic experience for visitors. He said it showcased what the Cook Islands could offer visitors.
“But it is more than just for our visitors to enjoy, it is a key part of the Cook Islands culture and our identity as a unique place in this world,” he added.
“Throughout the week we have witnessed the coming together of a community to work on Takurua. As the promotional arm of government, it is important for us to have a clear understanding of our local cuisine and its benefit towards economic development and social wellbeing.
“The workshops and panel discussions have been very useful to broaden our focus to wider social and economic topics that impact on our local foods.
“From the work completed this week, we will use Takurua as part of the Cook Islands’ image to diversify our products and experiences available to our visitors. The promotion of local cuisine is a key part of the Cook Islands’ distinctive culture.
“Takurua gives us the tools to integrate our local cuisine into our destination marketing strategies in a way that we have not done before.”
Fua thanked all those involved in the development of Takurua, including local chefs, international chefs, local photographers, sponsors, and the food and beverage industry.
Earlier Fua said the Tourism Corporation would use Takurua as part of the Cook Islands’ image to diversify the products and experiences available to our visitors.
“The promotion of local cuisine is a key part of the Cook Islands’ distinctive culture.
“Takurua gives us the tools to integrate our local cuisine into our destination marketing strategies, in a way that we have not done before.”