This amazing Tolai chef is showcasing Papua New Guinean food.
It’s hard to believe that a village boy from Nonga in the East New Britain Province of Papua New Guinea would be cooking for one of the country’s highest rated establishments, the Sanctuary Hotel Resort and Spa. But when he tells his story, it seems the stars aligned for the village boy who found his destiny in the haus kuk (house kitchen).
Chef Donald David, now better known as the Tolai Chef, is a master of the culinary arts. Seeing him behind the kitchen counter, gracefully working on a meal of creamed fish with corn and vegetables, one could be forgiven for assuming that he has undergone years of training in the best culinary schools in Asia or Europe. He meticulously steams the fish and vegetables and dresses the plate like a painter with a canvas.
But the Tolai Chef neither trained to be a chef nor planned to be one.
While a young man in Nonga, he was a regular at his local church, faithfully attending crusades and fellowships and aspired to a career in IT.
It wasn’t until one fateful day that an announcement in church turned his life around. The church leaders were looking for kitchen hands to cook at the church’s haus kuk and he happily volunteered.
“I wanted to go into IT when I was going to school, but it didn’t work out,” says
the Tolai Chef. “It was when
I committed myself to the church kitchen that I realised cooking came to me easily, I didn’t face any difficulty.”
His church elders soon realised his potential and wrote him a reference letter to look for work at the Rapopo Beach Bungalow in Kokopo, and the rest is history.
The owners of the Rapopo Beach Resort, East New Britain’s Pang family, noticing his natural talent, gave him the space to develop it. He was quickly promoted from a bar waiter to a kitchen hand and then a chef.
When the family opened the resort and spa in Port Moresby’s North Waigani, it didn’t take long for the new head chef at Rapopo to move down to the big city and occupy the kitchen. It was a giant leap of faith but after three years in the province, he had made it to the proverbial ‘Rome’.
The Sanctuary Resort and
Spa is breaking barriers by promoting local dishes, using local ingredients, a feat that the Tolai Chef excels in.
“When people travel in from overseas, they eat fish and chips there, so why serve them fish and chips here? I like encouraging our customers from overseas to try the aigir (an East New Britain traditional way of cooking with hot stones and coconut milk). Maybe they like it, and when they go back home, they can tell the story of how they ate a dish called aigir, cooked for them by a chef from the province it comes from,” he says smiling.
The Tolai Chef first fell in love with food as a child growing up, when his bubu (grandmother) would cook him kaukau (sweet potatoes) smothered in coconut cream, teeming with local herbs and spices.
A satisfied customer of his once encouraged him to open up an Instagram account and show the world what PNG kaikai (food) looks like.
The Tolai Chef now has a rapidly growing international following on Instagram.
You can find the Tolai Chef on Instagram, @tolai_chef, or at the Sanctuary Hotel Resort and Spa,
121 Pipit Street, Port Moresby, thesanctuaryhotelpom.com, tel.
+675 303 7400.