Beach Club Heal­ing

mailife - - Contents - Words and photos by LANCE SEETO

When Vavi­ola Varo was just nine years old, her grand­par­ents would take her to their fam­ily’s sa­cred pic­nic is­land in the Ma­manuca’s. It was abun­dant in fresh fish, man­goes and bread­fruit, and blessed with medic­i­nal trees of dilo, pan­danus, tavola and co­conut, which made it the per­fect place to heal the body, mind and spirit. With only a few bread shops back then, their tra­di­tional fam­ily pic­nic con­sisted of a healthy lunch of fire-roasted fish, fresh fruit and mashed bread­fruit. Th­ese were the life giv­ing foods of her an­ces­tors and en­joyed long be­fore she had heard of non-com­mu­ni­ca­ble dis­eases. Now in her early 40s, Vavi­ola has re­turned to her child­hood play­ground to of­fer lo­cal and in­ter­na­tional guests a taste of what she once en­joyed as a lit­tle girl, as part of Fiji’s new­est foodie ex­pe­ri­ence and my lat­est culi­nary jour­ney of lo­cal pro­duce with in­flu­ences of Pa­cific Is­land gas­tron­omy. WHAT IS AN IS­LAND BEACH CLUB? Tak­ing its cue from lux­ury world class beach clubs in Bali, For­mentera, Barcelona, Greece and Croa­tia, Mala­mala Beach Club is be­lieved to be the first club lo­cated on its own is­land. With no bu­res or guest ac­com­mo­da­tion, the club is a salu­bri­ous ex­pe­ri­ence of all day din­ing and drinks, set against a back­drop of white sandy beaches, a sparkling in­fin­ity pool, pri­vate ca­banas with but­lers who serve dilo ‘choco­lates’ for the skin, and cu­rated de­signer cock­tails. Open from 9.30am daily, there is no lunchtime at Mala­mala - you can graze, get spun and lux­u­ri­ate all day as you watch the world go by. And the best part for trav­ellers is that is lo­cated just 25 min­utes ferry ride from Port De­na­rau with South Sea Cruises. There are no mem­ber­ship fees, land­ing fees or all-you-can-eat pack­ages. You just come, eat, drink and rest to your heart’s con­tent. You can’t bring your own pic­nic lunch, snacks or drinks be­cause what awaits you is a day long ex­pe­ri­ence of de­signer food and drinks that Fiji has never seen be­fore. PA­CIFIC IS­LAND IN­SPIRED MENU When I started de­sign­ing the Mala­mala menu I was adamant it had to in­clude 100% Fi­jian-grown pro­duce. It also had to be in­ter­na­tional beach cui­sine in­spired by my trav­els of the Pa­cific Is­land na­tions but not nec­es­sar­ily their na­tive foods. The im­por­tance of lo­cal pro­duce to the is­land com­mu­ni­ties goes to the very core of their bat­tle against noncom­mu­ni­ca­ble dis­eases, in­creas­ing their in­come op­por­tu­ni­ties and re­duc­ing im­port food bills. Tak­ing in­spi­ra­tion from that phi­los­o­phy it meant no im­ported fruits or veg­eta­bles, no im­ported seafood and no im­ported meats. I also wanted to re­duce the use of im­ported pro­cessed foods like tomato sauce, French fries and potato wedges; the sta­ples of is­land food menus. You won’t find any Heinz tomato or Master­foods BBQ sauce on Mala­mala but you will find a fresh-made smoked pineap­ple, raw pineap­ple vine­gar and hy­dro­ponic tomato sauce. All the sauces, mari­nades and fer­mented com­po­nents of my menu are made on the is­land. The ubiq­ui­tous French fry has been re­placed with root crops of cas­sava, dalo (taro), ku­mala (sweet potato), ubi (yams) and uto (bread­fruit). Typ­i­cal pool­side fare like burg­ers, Cae­sar salad, Club sand­wich and even kokoda have had the Mala­mala makeover and will be un­recog­nis­able at first – un­til you taste them. Vavi­ola’s story of eat­ing heal­ing also in­spired me to cre­ate more health­ier choices with many gluten free, pa­le­ofriendly and veg­e­tar­ian op­tions.

SUP­PORT­ING FI­JIAN PRI­MARY PRO­DUC­ERS Any­one who says Fiji doesn’t have a good and con­sis­tent enough sup­ply of lo­cal pro­duce to cre­ate an en­tire menu is not keeping up with our lo­cal farm­ers and en­trepreneurs. From pris­tine fish, crus­taceans and shell­fish, red and white meats, to ex­otic or­ganic herbs, fruits and veg­eta­bles, the Fi­jian farmer is hard at work to prove naysay­ers wrong. Mala­mala flies or­gan­i­cally-farmed ed­i­ble flow­ers, raw pineap­ple vine­gar and Asian herbs from as far away as Tave­uni; sev­eral types of snap­per and squid from Pa­cific Har­bour; sus­tain­able sego (heart of palm) from Si­ga­toka; home­made pure ghee from Momi Bay; and young goat from the in­te­rior high­lands of Kabisi. And when it comes to a real meaty beef burger, the way burg­ers used to taste, a de­signer recipe of Ya­gara beef was de­signed to go in­side a co­conut bun sauced with a Fiji spiced rum, espresso cof­fee and ba­con jam. Sali­vat­ing yet? Wait till you try the spiced goat curry pie! Mala­mala has also de­vel­oped in con­junc­tion with Pure Fiji, a world first chilled “white dilo choco­late” that you don’t eat, but rub on your skin to re­ju­ve­nate and re­pair af­ter time in the hot sun. IN­FLU­ENCE FROM THE SUB­CON­TI­NENT One of the unique culi­nary dif­fer­ences in Fiji com­pared to other South Pa­cific is­lands is the in­flu­ence of our In­dian de­scen­dants. Like a lot of vis­i­tors, I love the lo­cal cur­ries and bean cart snacks but I didn’t want to serve the same Indo-Fi­jian fare you can get else­where. Former chair­man of South Sea Cruises, Roger Dold, told me that some­thing he looks for­ward when he re­turns to Fiji is goat curry. It’s a dish rarely en­joyed by vis­i­tors but when you gen­tly cook this recipe of bone­less young goat, com­plex spices and less chilli heat, a good goat curry sur­passes any meat curry. But like ev­ery­thing at Mala­mala, how was I going to serve a goat curry that didn’t look like the com­mon thali plat­ter with rice, roti, dhal and chut­ney? En­ter the crusty-top pie. In Syd­ney, I grew up en­joy­ing a very late-night Tiger Pie topped with mashed potato, mushy green peas and gravy from Harry’s Café de Wheels in Wooloomooloo. This was the in­spi­ra­tion for the Mala­mala spiced goat curry pie. Gone are the potato, peas and gravy, re­placed with a sweet spiced recipe in­side a crispy case, stacked with mashed lo­cal pump­kin, ghee-in­fused crushed lentils and an awe­some sauce made from roasted goat bones and tamarind. CU­RATED DE­SIGNER COCK­TAILS There’s noth­ing quite like kick­ing back in an in­fin­ity pool watch­ing the world go by with a cock­tail or three close to hand, and Mala­mala makes the day even more special with its panoramic views, craft beers, im­ported ciders, New and Old World wines and de­signer cock­tails. But th­ese are no any or­di­nary cock­tails. This beach club is right into the lat­est in­dus­try jar­gon, so you’ll be of­fered “cu­rated” cock­tails made with ar­ti­sanal spir­its and fresh made syrups. There’s not a blue cu­ra­cao or grena­dine drink in sight. The temp­ta­tion to say, “Just give me a beer or an espresso mar­tini” may be strong but you’ll be do­ing your soul a favour when you sam­ple a cu­rated cock­tail. The term means that some­one knowl­edge­able has se­lected the best in­gre­di­ents of spir­its, aper­i­tifs and sundry com­ple­men­tary en­hance­ments like in­fused tinc­tures, syrups, smoked fruit and per­fumes of ex­otic herbs and spices. San Fran­cisco mixol­o­gist, Tommy Quimby, was flown out to cre­ate a flight of seven cock­tails that in­clude or­ganic herbs, lo­cal rums, chilli and even our prized noni juice that will defy and im­press even the most crit­i­cal of cock­tail con­nois­seur. The po­tent Fi­jian fruit, known lo­cally as kura, can be best de­scribed as tast­ing like blue cheese but is un­ex­pec­tantly bal­anced in an in­trigu­ing cock­tail called the Elixir of Life. Whilst you can cer­tainly ask for your favourite cock­tail, the cu­rated list of spiced tinc­tures (sugar syrups), Fiji rums, co­conut rums and ex­otic fruit like sour­sop are de­signed to tempt your palate be­yond the norm. With quirky names like the Momi Can­non, Naked Lady, Drunken Co­conut, The In­qui­si­tion, Smok­ing Bar­rel and Beach Club Tea, it’ll be hard not to suc­cumb to temp­ta­tion and try them all. A grown-up Vavi­ola is to­day a healer who hails from the Naobeka clan at Na­mamo­to­moto Vil­lage, Nadi. As she greets guests to the is­land she has just one prom­ise - her child­hood ex­pe­ri­ences of a mag­i­cal day of heal­ing is­land food and drink is now avail­able for ev­ery­one to share.

No pro­cessed or im­ported chips, just our root crops

Head but­ler Bobby Isimele of­fers the ex­clu­sive Pure Fiji dilo choco­late for the skin

Seared Fish Kokoda is in­spired by the Poly­ne­sian tech­nique of cur­ing

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