Award-winning New Zealand chef, Robert Oliver, symptoms whose cook book catapulted Pacific cuisine globally, has acknowledged Pacific women and mothers for inspiring him to write the winning Mea Kai cook book.
Oliver co-authored Mea Kai a collection of recipes of Pacific cuisine. Mea Kai surprised the world in 2010 when it won the Worlds Best Cook Book at the prestigious Gourmand Cookbook Awards in Paris.
He was keynote speaker at the regional Women In Business conference in Nadi.
His acknowledgement of Pacific women drew applause from the 200 Pacific women attending the conference.
The award is for all of you women who continue to work hard to plant and bring your produce to the markets, to feed your communities. Women have also kept alive most of the traditional cuisines. If we lose these knowledge using traditional foods, we lose our culture, Oliver said.
He urged women to use locally grown foods instead of relying on imported and processed foods.
A lot of our small island nations have become dumping grounds for unhealthy food products. Previously, the healthy diet consisted of fresh fish, coconuts and root crops. A change to imported food has brought with lifestyle diseases. A friend of mine called it food colonialism, Oliver said.
Unfortunately, many Pacific Islanders have caught on this new fast food culture which Oliver called the fish and chips generation.
The award winning cook book author used the opportunity to share his concerns about local foods in restaurants and hotels around the Pacific region.
The perception is that local food is only good enough for the home but not for the menu in a fancy restaurant or for tourists in a hotel. I find that there is little regard for local foods by chefs in the Pacific.
It should be an insult to us as Pacific Islanders when our own local food is not good enough for the tourists. Some tourists come to our shores to taste our cuisine but end up eating what they are used to in their country.
When local food is in tourism, it becomes tourism for everyone, said Oliver.
Oliver, who was born in New Zealand but raised in Fiji and Samoa has a great appreciation of local foods of the Pacific. He said one of the first things he does when he gets into a country is to go to food market to get a feel of the countrys food culture.
The story of food is the story of the peoples in the Pacific. It is around food time that people sit together to discuss important issues. Food is an important part of the Pacific culture.
Writing the Mea Kai cookbook was a miracle for Oliver.
I had lost everything when the US was hit by the financial crisis. I decided to come back to my parents when this opportunity presented itself. I felt a miracle happened when my book was shortlisted with three others for the Gourmand award in 2010. In fact I only had $40 in my bank account when the book was launched, Oliver shared with business women from the Pacific.
The author of Mea Kai has since then produced a cook book for Samoa and a television show, Real Pasifik, showcasing local foods prepared and cooked by local chefs.
One of my aims is to promote the use of local foods and empower chefs to use local foods.
I am looking at setting up a restaurant in Auckland called Kai Pasifika and provide a space for cooking lessons from Pacific women and an area where Pacific chefs can do internship with the restaurant, said Oliver.
He was addressing women on the topic, The Power of Pacific Cuisine.