KAI VITI CHEF

mailife - - Food - By PRIYA DARSNI Pho­tos SUPPLIED

It is a cold, win­ter af­ter­noon in Auck­land as I cross to the cor­ner of Mt Eden and Symonds Street to ar­rive at Kai Pasi­fika, the coun­try’s first ever Pa­cific Is­land res­tau­rant and life­long dream of celebrity chef Robert Oliver. The warmth ex­uded as the doors open is matched by a sun­shine is­land smile on the face of Fiji born chef, Ber­trand Jang. “Isa, it’s freez­ing out­side. Come in quick, Belinda will fix you a drink,” he says with a hug. In­stantly the bit­ter cold seems a dis­tant mem­ory and I feel as if I am back home in Fiji. A Dark and Stormy with an is­land twist of pas­sion­fruit in hand, I sit down with Jang to sate my cu­rios­ity about his jour­ney from sell-out high school bake sales at Marist Broth­ers in Suva to the kitchen of one of Auck­land’s most an­tic­i­pated restau­rants this year.

Grow­ing up in Fiji

As I fin­ish off a tast­ing plat­ter of the Kai Pasi­fika menu, it comes as no sur­prise that Jang knew he wanted to be a chef when he was in pri­mary school. At an age when most chil­dren still think su­per­hero is a vi­able ca­reer choice, he was al­ready ex­per­i­ment­ing with cakes in the kitchen. “I re­mem­ber the first thing I ever made. I was only in class two and it was a cake that I saw on an episode of Sesame Street. I had no idea what I was do­ing so I threw all the in­gre­di­ents into the pan and baked it with­out mix­ing,” he re­called. Grow­ing up in a three bed­room house with seven broth­ers, he re­mem­bers his mother’s cus­tard pies and his fa­ther’s chop­suey as child­hood favourites in a house­hold that re­volved around love, food and a love for food. His

early years were shaped by the sup­port of his par­ents, who put aside money to buy in­gre­di­ents for him to learn and ex­per­i­ment with, de­spite com­pet­ing de­mands on their earn­ings. There was a bright­ness in his eyes as Jang spoke of his par­ents and the way in which their re­lent­less com­mit­ment to his dream is the rea­son for his suc­cess to­day. Their sup­port com­bined with a strong work ethic guar­an­teed it wasn’t long un­til his sig­na­ture tuna pasta salad with mango chut­ney was high in de­mand at every ex­tended fam­ily func­tion and his cakes were the talk of his friends’ cir­cles at school. The same work ethic saw him grad­u­at­ing from the Fiji In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy’s culi­nary school at the age of 18.

Pro­fes­sional train­ing and early years

With a sat­u­rated mar­ket of young chefs in Suva, Jang found him­self in a po­si­tion where op­por­tu­ni­ties in the culi­nary world were so slim that the most for­tu­nate grad­u­ates were be­ing hired as kitchen hands, with­out any chance of ex­po­sure to cook­ing. But de­ter­mined to con­tinue his cho­sen tra­jec­tory, Ber­trand chased his dreams to Raro­tonga where he started out as a sous chef. Af­ter four years of ex­pe­ri­ence across a va­ri­ety of cuisines, he was pro­moted to head chef at the re­sort. “There were a cou­ple of peo­ple in those early years who re­ally shaped me as a chef. Maitua Vano, a pas­try chef was one of those peo­ple and some­one I con­sider a men­tor. Maitua taught me how to be pa­tient with food, a skill that serves me well till this day. Through her, I learned to mas­ter the art of tim­ing and adopt clean­li­ness in the kitchen as a virtue.”The second in­flu­ence in those early years was a col­league, Arvind Ku­mar who Jang to join him in New Zealand af­ter six years in Raro­tonga. They worked to­gether at Bay View Re­sort in Taupo and later at Pep­per’s Blue Water at Lake Tekapo. This was his first taste of cook­ing in a purely com­mer­cial en­vi­ron­ment and the per­fect plat­form for re­fin­ing the skills he had de­vel­oped as a re­sort chef. That both restau­rants were sit­u­ated within some of New Zealand’s most beau­ti­ful nat­u­ral land­scapes was a bonus.

Kai Pasi­fika

Af­ter his years as a com­mer­cial chef, Ber­trand de­cided to take some time to build his per­sonal brand as a chef, one which he de­scribes as sim­ple Pa­cific flavours made with freshly sourced in­gre­di­ents. “My per­sonal food aes­thetic is that we shouldn’t de­cide what to cook then go out and buy in­gre­di­ents for the meal. In­stead, we should let na­ture tell us the menu for the day. Visit the women at the mar­ket, visit the fish­er­men and they will tell you what you should be cook­ing with to­day.” This mind­set saw him work­ing as a culi­nary lec­turer at Cor­nell on Hob­son in Auck­land and it was dur­ing this time that he worked along­side chef Robert Oliver at Flavours of Fiji fundraiser. The func­tion was held at the fa­mous Cloud venue in down­town Auck­land in aid of those af­fected by Cy­clone Win­ston in Fiji. Hav­ing roots in Fiji as well, Oliver and Jang con­nected in­stantly. But it wasn’t un­til the dream of Kai Pasi­fika was ap­proach­ing re­al­ity that chef Oliver ap­proach him to be a part of the ven­ture. “The pitch re­ally res­onated with me. Robert spoke with a pas­sion about bring­ing in­dige­nous food to the plates of peo­ple here in Auck­land and it fit right in with where I wanted to go as a chef. “Even though he is a fa­mous, world-renowned chef who has won pres­ti­gious awards and ac­co­lades, he will still ask for our opin­ion on every dish he cooks. There is no lad­der here at Kai Pasi­fika, no hi­er­ar­chy and the para­dox of the an­gry fa­mous chef is com­pletely dis­man­tled. We all op­er­ate as a big happy fam­ily in the kitchen and ev­ery­thing that comes out of the kitchen is made with that love.” They say home is where the heart is and it dif­fi­cult not to leave a piece of your heart at Kai Pasi­fika where Ber­trand, Robert and his team have truly cre­ated a home which brings food lovers to­gether with fresh in­gre­di­ents and flavours that take you back to fam­ily feasts on the is­land.

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