William Gill Pokino has returned home with a bronze medal, after his first Junior Global Chefs Challenge for the Pacific Rim.
Pokino said he had been confident entering the contest with fellow cook Vou Williams – until nerves struck on the first day in the competition kitchen. “Vou helped me through, calming me.”
The contest took place in Melbourne, the hottest spot in southern hemisphere cuisine. That is where the world’s biggest TV cooking competition, Masterchef Australia, is filmed.
But Pokino and Williams weren’t competing with TV wannabes – they were up against real chefs.
And there were Cook Islands supporters cheering him on, which he found distracting, “I wasn’t used to people looking at me while I was cooking. Once I’m in the kitchen I’m focused on my food, it was just the people.”
When he was 16, his initiation as a cook was in the kitchen at home, watching his father Munukoa and brother Aaron preparing and cooking dishes for customers at the night markets.
“I started washing the dishes and stuff, then they started teaching me, I enjoyed it.”
Since then, he has been training fulltime as a cook at the Cook Islands Tertiary Training campus.
But cooking in Melbourne was very different. Pokino had to prepare and cook an entrée and main course in 90 minutes, and as in Masterchef, the time restrictions were what he found the toughest.
The entrée he presented was none other than our popular island dish of raw fish with taro chips.
Although he had to use canned coconut cream, his meal was rated good, “but I needed more salt,’ he adds.
He was comfortable making his main meal of pork belly with carrots and beans, kumara mash, apple sauce and jus (meaning with sauce) from the marinade.
“It’s very basic, I double-baked the pork to get crackle on top.”
He smiles. The judges said, “it’s pretty crunchy, and beautifully cooked.”
Pokino learned a lot: the pressure was tougher than he had expected. “One minute you’re calmly cooking, next thing they’re yelling out how much time is left to cook and you’re trying to keep calm and not stuff anything up.”
After winning bronze, the first person he called was his brother Aaron – who was excited for him.
So what is it about cooking that keeps him motivated? “When people taste my food and are happy they give me compliments and I’m happy, when customers are happy, I’m happy.”