Auckland finally gets its first Pacific themed restaurant

Ika Mata, Cook Islands style raw fish is a perfect starter for an island feast at Kai Pasifika.

New Zealand’s largest city has been known for a while as having the world’s highest concentration of Pasifika peoples. The annual Pasifika Festival is believed to be the world’s largest Polynesian festival. Pasifika people and their distinctive culture and music contribute richly to Auckland’s vibrancy.

Yet, there was nowhere in the city where one could enjoy the great variety of Pacific cuisines. Until this month, that is. Celebrity chef, TV cuisine show host and award winning author Robert Oliver has brought the islands’ pristine cuisine to Auckland with his new Kai Pasifika restaurant on the fringe of the city’s CBD.

Kai Pasifika offers an array of pan-Pacific dishes, both from Polynesia and Melanesia: Samoa, Tonga, the Cook Islands, Fiji and Vanuatu, to begin with. Dishes from other islands will follow, Mr Oliver says.

“Pacific cuisine has suffered from a lot of misconceptions,” Mr Oliver says. Misinformed stereotyping has tended to portray Pacific Island food differently from the pristineness that is its true character. All Pacific cuisine uses fresh ingredients that are organic, for the most part, and use little oil in the cooking process. According to Mr Oliver, this allows for the natural flavour of each ingredient to speak for itself.

Pua’a Samoa, Samoan roast pork with koko samoa is a signature dish.

“That’s the goodness of Pacific cuisines with fresh Pacific ingredients that we bring with Kai Pasifika,” Mr Oliver said. “It’s our interpretation of Pasifika cuisine in an urban and contemporary way.”

The ingredients in most of Kai Pasifika’s fare are sourced directly from the islands. Much of the fish comes in from Fiji, the cocoa and taro are from Samoa, the coconuts and coconut products could be from several islands and the spices and chutneys, again, are from Fiji. And yes, all the beer on the menu is Pacific – from Fiji, Samoa and Vanuatu.

Most ingredients are organically grown, some certified organic. Mr Oliver has worked closely for the past several years with reputable Pacific NGOs like Women in Business (WIBDI), Samoa and FRIEND from Fiji. Kai Pasifika proudly mentions the source of the ingredients in its menu and credits the NGOs, which source many of the ingredients to its chefs’ exacting requirements.

Robert Oliver (right) with his team. Everyone is paid a living wage, says Mr Oliver.

Pacific Trade Invest (PTI) NZ has worked with these NGOs over the past several years. Commenting on the opening of the restaurant, PTI NZ Trade Commissioner Michael Greenslade said, “We welcome the opening of Robert Oliver’s Kai Pasifika in Mount Eden. This is probably one of the original settlement areas for Pacific Islanders in Auckland. Robert is seeking to provide a Pacific infusion style of cuisine complementing the role that PTI have in promoting Pacific ingredients to buyers and chefs in New Zealand.”

As well as promoting Pacific cuisines through a series of popular television shows aired in many parts of the world, Mr Oliver has helped promote organic growing and healthy eating in countries like Samoa through farm to plate programmes, where organic farmers directly supply to the hospitality industry under the aegis of NGOs like WIBDI.

“It was a long time coming,” Mr Oliver told Pacific Periscope, at the restaurant’s opening. “It has been a five-year dream.” Kai Pasifika tried the online crowd funding route last year to raise capital for the enterprise but fell short of raising the desired amount. However, neither Mr Oliver nor his partners, restaurant business expert Richard Hall and Chartered Accountant Kenina Court, see the crowd funding exercise as a failure.

“The socialisation that the campaign created was awesome, it generated terrific public enthusiasm,” Mr Oliver said. Though the campaign did not fructify, the cornerstone investors who pledged in the online campaign stayed on to invest in the enterprise, Mr Oliver revealed. He credits Auckland real estate business owner Repeka Leaulu for “making it all come together.”

Kai Pasifika has a cover of 65 seats and is open for lunch and dinner. The address is 3, Mount Eden Road, Auckland and the best way to book is through the restaurant’s Facebook page, Mr Oliver said.

For more information email Joe Fuavao PTI Trade Development Manager at joe.f@pacifictradeinvst.co.nz

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