No matter what your race, religion or creed – Christmas is a time to light the world of others, especially those less fortunate. The true essence of this festive spirit is not just a monetary one of gifts, but how each of us can make a family member, friend or even a stranger smile. For a chef our gift is one of cooking. Watching someone enjoy a meal painstakingly prepared with fresh ingredients and cooked with love, is the ultimate reward for a chef. The giant smile, the eye-popping surprise and the exclamation of flavours exploding in the mouth like fireworks during Diwali, is recognition of experience and knowledge. But what if this opportunity to tantalise the gustatory sensors of total strangers was coupled with a good humanitarian cause in a foreign country?
REGIONAL CALL FOR HELP
In early December 2018, my “Fiji-Made” culinary team travelled to Apia to answer just such a call. Help was needed to fundraise for the Special Olympics intellectually disabled team in Samoa, as they needed funds to compete at the Special Olympics in Dubai in 2019. The Craig family, whom I had got know a few years back when I was training chefs in Samoa, asked if we could assist their “Light the World” Gala event. I jumped at the chance to return to this beautiful country. As one of my chefs was to later observe, Samoans just love to sing, dance and laugh! Cooking for 150 high-end guests is nothing new in Samoa, but the challenge was to produce a gala dinner with Pacific island flavours, that Samoa had never seen before – at an outdoor venue with kitchen! I needed a team I had worked with before who could hit the ground running and get this done. Rohit Singh (Likuliku Lagoon Resort), Praveet Singh (Sofitel) and Fiji’s Junior chef of the Year, Ravinesh Prasad (Marriott) were the lucky chefs chosen to accompany me.
It might seem like it should have been an easy task for a group of experience chefs but without the freedom of a large resort kitchen and plentiful fresh produce – this event was an enormous challenge. Despite sharing many root crops and fruits, Samoa doesn’t have the abundance of affordable vegetables, spices and exotic ingredients that the Indian indentured labourers helped introduce to Fiji. Ingredients like ghee, lamb, onions, turmeric, garlic and tomato are either scarce or expensive. Imported American chicken is affordable but also pumped full of hormones, whilst tinned and far-from-nutritious cuts of meats (mutton flaps and turkey tails!) are staple in Fiji. The search was on for the best available ingredients. Freshness and unique flavours was also going to be key to a successful menu for this top-notch event. Samoa’s influence from the Dutch, French, Germans and Americans is evident in some of their dishes which are heavy in cream, butter and sauces. After a make-shift kitchen, coolroom and freezer were erected on-site, we had 24 hours to prepare a menu of pork, chicken and seafood, as well as a edible Christmas dessert table.
THE MENUSuckling pig with a Filipino lechon liver sauce Seawater-braised roasted pork belly with plantain chutney and mangoes in coconut Taro salad with rendered bacon and local long beans Kokoda-style BBQ chicken with fresh coconut milk Chicken chop suey spring rolls with hoisin sauce Kung Pao sweet and sour chicken with fresh pineapples Herbed grilled lobster with coriander chimmichurri Fish arancini rice balls with fresh tomato chutney Spice-blackened mahi mahi salad Edible Father Christmas and Christmas Tree cakes Xmas Lamingtons Sweet-spiced pani popo buns in coconut milk Jackfruit Cheesecake
Sufficed to say that the “Light the World” event was a huge success and helped raise more than WST$200,000 for the Special Olympics team. We were also lucky to have the support of local caterer Dani’s Cuisine and her entire team, without whom we could never have pulled off such a big catering event in Samoa. We will be back!