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Cook Islands chef heads to culinary celebration

Saturday 1 October 2022 | Written by Al Williams | Published in Features, Food

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Cook Islands chef heads to culinary celebration
Cook Islands chef Rangi Mitaera-Johnson is set to show off her culinary skills at Kai Pasifika. 22092921

Cook Islands chef Rangi Mitaera-Johnson will mix it with the best in the region for what looks to be celebration of food and community to help strengthen relationships between the Pacific and Aotearoa New Zealand.

Kai Pasifika celebrates the produce and cuisine of the Pacific continent and will see several high-profile chefs converge on Peter Gordon’s acclaimed Homeland Restaurant in Auckland, starting October 3 (New Zealand time).

Cook Islands’ Mitaera-Johnson anticipates it will be a mixed bag, a “mystery box” in fact, where chefs will be challenged to work side by side with a wide range of Pacific ingredients using their professional and cultural skills, knowledge and experiences to create specialty dishes.

She was contacted by New Zealand Foreign Affairs and Trade in a combined effort to promote Pacific product and produce.

“It will be quite interesting, what I am interested in is the use of local produce.”

Mitaera-Johnson has worked in kitchens for 25 years and now works freelance.

“It’s exhausting work, in Rarotonga and the Cook Islands it’s the challenges of creating something with locally grown produce.

“You have to think outside the box here, fixed set menus don’t always work.

“You have to be pretty creative.”

She will be joined by Dora Rossi (Samoa), owner of Paddles Restaurant and Milani Café in Apia, Leonid Vusilai (Vanuatu), winner of Pacific Island Food Revolution Season One, and owner of Island Kakae, Losavati Sewale (Fiji), executive chef at Raymond’s Restaurant and a trainer chef at Fiji Orchid Resort and Tuiohu Mafi (Tonga), head chef at Tanoa Hotel and president of the Tonga Culinary Association.

The event is led by Pacific Trade Invest NZ (PTI NZ) in collaboration with the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT), and Homeland – “the Food Embassy for Aotearoa and the Pacific”.

Glynis Miller, PTI New Zealand’s Trade Commissioner, said the organisation had worked on the project with Peter Gordon and his team at Homeland for a “long, long time so it’s a relief to finally see it all coming together thanks to the support of the New Zealand Government”.  

“We wanted to promote the Pacific’s unique products, tell the stories of its producers, and encourage all of our chefs to create a bond whereby they can teach and learn from each other back in their own countries,” Miller said.

“It would be fantastic to see a twining arrangement coming out of this – something our food writers in the media industry could themselves participate and share.”

MFAT’s director for Pacific Connections, Felicity Bollen said she was proud to partner with PTI New Zealand and Homeland to deliver a programme that supports innovation and partnerships with the Pacific.

“As we set our sights on new horizons for economic recovery across Te Moana-nui-a-Kiwa, Kai Pasifika speaks to our engagement principles of Tātou Tātou and Turou Hawaiiki, and enables us to continue navigating market uncertainties — while reimagining the future of tourism and trade — with our partners in the region.”

Timetable of events

Monday 3 October 2pm - 5pm (NZ time) – The Mystery Box challenge provides the opportunity for New Zealand and Pacific chefs to work side by side with a wide range of Pacific ingredients using their professional and cultural skills, knowledge and experiences to create specialty dishes.

Tuesday 4 October 9am - 12 noon – Today’s mystery box challenge provides food writers with the opportunity to get up close and personal with Pacific ingredients with guidance from Pacific chefs to create their own masterpiece.  

In the afternoon 3- 5pm, industry leaders and buyers will be treated to an invitation only showcase of Pacific products by Pacific producers and exporters.

Wednesday 5 October 6.30 – 10.00pm – KAI PASIFIKA Dinner: a sumptuous five-course dinner created by Peter Gordon and the Homeland kitchen, celebrating the flavours of the Pacific Islands. Guest will include Ministers, Pacific dignitaries and VIP guests.  KAI PASIFIKA tasting dinner is sold out. 

Thursday 6 October 5.30 – 8.30pm – KAI PASIFIKA Cooking Masterclass featuring Peter Gordon’s very own culinary prowess using Pacific Island ingredients to create speciality dishes.