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Cafe revived, Italian-style pizzeria opened by two Cook Islands chefs

Monday 29 January 2024 | Written by Joanne Holden | Published in Features, Food, Go Local

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Cafe revived, Italian-style pizzeria opened by two Cook Islands chefs
Chefs Sam Timoko and Phillip Nordt have opened Café and Pizzeria Avarua. 24012820/ PHOTO: AL WILLIAMS

Two Cook Islands cooks have teamed up to revive and expand a Rarotonga café by transforming it into a traditional Italian pizzeria at night.

Chefs Sam Timoko and Phillip Nordt launched Café and Pizzeria Avarua at the Botanical Bakehouse on Friday evening.

“Over a couple of hours we’ll be serving up samples of margherita, capricciosa, marinara – all those pizzas that were created centuries ago, that you would find in a traditional pizza house,” Timoko said.

“We believe in it so much, it’s free.”

Timoko said the pair, who both tutor culinary arts at the Cook Islands Tertiary Training Institute, were “excited” to open the pizzeria side of the business after first floating the idea a year ago.

“We want it to feel like something you would find down a cobblestone street in Napoli,” he said.

The Botanical Bakehouse originally opened as the retail arm of a bakery run by Nordt’s daughter, Hanny Oberg-Nordt, in 2022.

However, juggling the business with raising a baby had made it difficult for Oberg-Nordt and partner Teva Hosking-Tinirau to open consistently – so the mantle had been handed to Timoko and Nordt.

Timoko said Oberg-Nordt had trained the bakers who would be taking over producing her recipes, while she focussed her attention on a managerial role at the bakery.

“We’re expanding what she did before,” Timoko said.

“We’ll start off with coffee and cabinet food, like artisan sandwiches and panini, then move on to more extensive breakfasts and lunches. We’re going to bring chefs in for a Mediterranean-based menu.”

Meanwhile, the pizzeria would be serving hand-stretched napolitana pizza, Italian wine, antipasti, aperitivo, and desserts at the pizzeria.

Nordt said the appeal of Italian food was the flavours, while “simple”, had been “absolutely perfected”.

“People can come here to sit down for a pizza, or have a glass of wine to unwind after work – it caters for a wide range of people.”

Timoko and Nordt had both worked in restaurants around the world.

Timoko had run a café in New Zealand and a gastropub during his 15 years living in the United Kingdom, while Nordt had owned five franchises in New Zealand and now operated On the Beach Restaurant and Bar at Manuia Beach Resort in Arorangi.

Starting this week, the Botanical Bakehouse will function as a café from 7am to 3pm and a pizzeria from 4pm to 10pm on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays.

Nordt said they would look at opening on more days “at a later stage”.