Q&A with James Raukete – Cook Islands Real Pasifik Chef
Has the experience of working on Cook Island recipes with Robert had an effect on the way you’re cooking?
Definitely! Working with Robert opened my eyes to what the possibilities are for Cook Islands cuisine. Robert made me recognise what was right in front of me this whole time. I would really like to thank him for that.
Have you been able to introduce any new Cook Island dishes or ingredients into your dishes where you work?
Yes and no. Our resort offers an Island Night Themed Buffet so we’re already cooking island dishes. But as it was developed to cater for foreigners’ taste buds it wasn’t really authentic Cook Island food. Since the show, I have been working with my chefs to try make the dishes more authentic. It’s a work in progress as we have received very mixed feedback. It’s tough sometimes.
Have the management of your workplaces been enthusiastic about encompassing new local ingredients or recipes?
Yes. After filming I went on a mission (with full support from management) to source local ingredients. I was surprised with what I found. It really made me think outside the square of ingredients I can use on my menus. I now have a regular supply of locally grown figs, passionfruit, lemongrass and pineapples. I also have a more steady supply of tropical fruit and veg from the outer Islands as well as crayfish. And I’ve even managed to get a hold of some less commonly used seafood. Management is happy because it’s saving them money, but I’m even happier because I’m getting a better quality product. What’s even better is that I have forged new relationships with local suppliers and I’m glad that the money is staying here in the Cooks and not going overseas.
Have you been dreaming up new recipes?
Of course! A recent one is chestnut risotto. The chestnuts are from Mauke, one of the outer islands. The only trouble I’m having is finding a local producer for cheese. But as soon as I do, that dish will appear on my menu. My chefs and I play around with local ingredients and try and come up with two new dishes every day that we can use as a Special for the dinner menu. It’s fun and it’s teaching them and me more and more about local produce.
What ideas do you have for the future?
The possibilities are endless.
I love the idea of a Pop Up Restaurant. I would want to use solely local produce and produce a mix of traditional Cook Island food and maybe some contemporary stuff at restaurant quality.
I want to write about food, especially Cook Island food. I feel if someone doesn’t do more soon, some of our culture might get lost.
I would also like to go back to Auckland at some stage to study for two to three years at AUT. I heard that they are offering a Bachelor of Gastronomy there soon. I would love to do it. It might help me discover more about the history of Cook Island food and I might possibly be able to contribute to the cause somehow.
How do you see Pacific Island food now and how do you want to use it in the future?
Young. Huge. And with a lot more to showcase to the world. Outside influences are a major concern. I don’t want to lose the authentic cuisine that we have, but also, I don’t want it to lose its relevance with today’s society. If people lose interest in what we already have, it will be gone.