Fresh and tanned from my recent visit to Fiji for the inaugural South Pacific Food & Wine festival, I thought I'd share some of the highlights of this trip before delving into each event in detail in later blog posts...
This was my first time to Fiji although I had visited other South Pacific islands previously. So I sort of knew what to expect in terms of the look and feel of the streets and beaches. My sister had just returned from a short trip to Fiji as well and so she prepared me for this experience, with wise words - "If you order eggs benedict, don't expect it to be eggs benedict".
What she discovered on her trip, was that while menus may read sumptuously, what she was served, never quite met expectations.
Food in Fiji has never really been the focus for the tourism market. That is, up until now!
The South Pacific Food & Wine Festival is a celebration of food in the South Pacific. Stemming from chef Robert Oliver's success (2010 World Cookbook winner) with his cookbook, Me'a Kai; The Food and Flavours of the South Pacific, this festival concentrates on realising the potential for using local produce, culinary techniques and recipes for assisting with rural prosperity, and creating a market for 'food tourism' in the South Pacific.
Robert was the festival ambassador and was joined by celebrity chefs Peter Kuruvita, Manu Fieldel, Ben O'Donoghue, Willie Harcourt-Cooze, Peter Gordon and Michael Meredith, whom all brought credibility, passion and a sharing of knowledge. It was fantastic seeing that there was lots of mentoring of local chefs going on behind the scenes.
Denarau Island in Fiji is a man-made island which houses 5-star resorts such as Sheraton, Radisson Blu, Westin and Sofitel. It also features an 18 hole international standard golf course, residential villas, private properties and a marina, all interconnected with stunning gardens and coconut palms.
Depending on how you see it, it can be the most luxurious accommodation, or an enclosed compound that is disconnected from local culture and local food. (With that said, the service is absolutely genuine and just so lovely! I miss being greeted by staff with a big smile and a "Bula!"!)
The first South Pacific Food & Wine festival was held on 14-17 March 2012. There is mention of next year's festival to be held in February 2013.
The stunning resorts: Swim-up bars, the gorgeously designed pools, the fabulous breakfast buffets... What's there not to love about resort indulgence?
The array of world-class chefs: The festival featured a pretty impressive line-up. One night, I'm enjoying a degustation by Manu Fieldel and the next morning, I'm chatting with Peter Kuruvita, then by night, I'm dipping my feet in water while enjoying a feast by Ben O'Donoghue!
Festival lunches: Festival passes included complimentary two-course lunches at selected restaurants. I naturally found myself at Flying Fish at the Sheraton. Not once, but twice, as the menus changed daily!
Masterclasses: I love it when chefs share their secrets. Robert Oliver's session taught me so much about South Pacific flavours and cooking techniques, and Willie Harcourt-Cooze's love of cacao was just infectious!
The concept of Fiji Time: If the current trends in the Western world are to slow down, declutter, and de-tech (have more digital downtime), then Fiji's humble lifestyle is leading the way of the future! What I've taken away, is that we all need to take the time to embrace happiness, express gratitude, and really just sit back and relax.
A visit to the local food market and an invitation into a taxi driver's home, set things into perspective for me.
And now, I'll leave you with a sneak peek of some of the deliciousness I'll be soon blogging about:
In terms of great food and wine festivals, the South Pacific Food & Wine Festival still has a long way to go, but this was one giant first step! There were some hits and misses with my meals here, and I'd like to see much more involvement of local chefs and local flavours and produce... Although it's easy to forgive and forget when you're dining in such a beautiful environment!
Stay tuned for more Fiji posts... (I'll try post them every Friday so that you can still get a good mix of my usual Sydney restaurant reviews)
JENIUS travelled to Fiji and attended the South Pacific Food & Wine Festival as a guest of Tourism Fiji with special thanks to Mike Parker-Brown