Haute Samoa – Joe Lam’s Scalini’s
Adam and I headed off to Scalini’s Restaurant, Apia to meet chef, owner Joe Lam and his gorgeous family. We were with chef, author, Robert Oliver who is collecting recipes for latest Samoan cookbook.
I was curious about what this would entail as Scalini’s is an Italian restaurant and Robert’s book is all about Samoan soul food, in particular people engaged in the Pacific farm to table, slow food revolution. Little did I know that in four hours we would be at a family meal with the Lam’s eating what Robert describes as “Haute Samoa.”
Joe emigrated from Samoa to New Zealand as a young boy in 1984. He jokes that he was like Crocodile Dundee arriving in New York. One thing Joe knew when he landed in Aotearoa was that he would end up back in Samoa – he just needed to find something to do there.
Fast-forward 20 years and, in a strange twist of fate, history repeated itself in reverse. Joe, now award winning chef, packed up his wife/business partner Amanda and three daughters and moved them from central Auckland to Apia.
When Adam and I arrived at Scalini’s Joe was standing confidently over a giant clam sharing his first recipe with Robert Oliver. Clam carpaccio with beetroot chutney and wasabi coriander jelly. I was about to get a tutorial in how to cut a clam – a skill I may be pushed to find much use for in my daily life.
Clam sashimi is slightly crunchy which surprised me. Joe had made a firm, jelly-like beetroot chutney that he cut into cubes of fresh sweetness. Next he cubed a tangy, wasabi coriander jelly that was slightly rougher in texture. Finally he garnished it with strips of soft flesh from the inside of a young, green coconut.
At this point Robert Oliver turned to me and said, “This has innovation written all over it. Do you realise the whole dish sits solely within the mid range of textures. It’s very cheffy!”
Next, Joe presented Breadfruit Gnocchi, a signature dish you will find on his specials menu. As we know gnocchi is made from potato but in this case we can see ingenious, import substitution with organic breadfruit. This kind of dish exemplifies how Joe is forging ahead with the farm to table movement.
As Adam and I sat down at the table with the Lam family and ate this extraordinary food I found myself reflecting on the word diaspora. Joe is part of a once scattered group returning to their islands to re-settle. The determination that young boy made as he hit the tarmac in Auckland back in the 1980’s has come to fruition. Here he is, not more than 100 metres from his family village (Tanugamanono), with the successful Scalini’s restaurant trailblazing Haute Samoa.
Robert, Adam and I are in awe of you Joe!
Blog by Anna Marbrook
Video Director Anna Marbrook
Photography Adam Jones
Editor Phil Brown
Music thanks to Joe and the Gaualofa Crew