Q&A with Paula Pokino – NZ Real Pasifik Chef

Has the experience of working with Robert had an effect on the way you’re cooking now – and how?

To be honest, the way I have been cooking hasn’t changed dramatically, as opposed to what I am cooking.  Meeting Charles Royal and cooking with Robert has shown me to appreciate the produce we have available within New Zealand and has also helped me to appreciate what our country’s forests, seafood, and farmlands have to offer. 

Have you been able to introduce any new local dishes or ingredients into your dishes where you work?

Paula cooks up a storm as Robert looks on in the Auckland Sofitel kitchen.

Amazingly yes, during early September I had the chance to use Kawakawa and Pikopiko for a dish that I was planning on selling for a special for my job for the week. That was awesome and I was extremely proud to see pretty much a dish that I came up with that portrayed me and my heritage, also knowing everything on the dish were all New Zealand based ingredients. It’s an amazing feeling when you get to see yourself in a dish that personifies who you are and where you come from, it’s not everyday you get to have or even share that experience, and I am just lucky I got to do both.

Have you been dreaming up new recipes? What ideas do you have for the future?

Actually some of my work mates didn’t have any idea of some of the ingredients I wanted to use for my special (which I previously mentioned). Some had either never heard of, or even tried Kawakawa or Pikopiko, so their facial expressions were totally funny when they got to try them for the first time, some thought they were interesting and some seemed a little apprehensive to try them, by the end of the week they had a open mind about the dish and realized that, in the dish itself was my way of expressing my background, and showing to the public that Maori food is not just the typical hangi, but Maori food can also be portrayed in so many other ways.
I currently haven’t really thought to much about the future as much, but I do know I want to experience more, I want to learn more, and I definitely want to experiment more with New Zealand produce and see what I can come up with.

How do you see Pacific Island food now and how do you want to use it in the future?

Prior to the show I will admit, yes I knew and had often eaten Pacific Island foods, but following the show my perceptions changed somewhat.  I always knew what was available produce-wise but never took the initiative to try cooking them the way we did on the show.  I always saw Pacific Island and Maori food as a straight forward, everything had coconut cream brought in a supermarket.  Never had I really tried it fresh from an actual coconut, gosh I never tried Koura until I met Charles Royal.
So I see that Pacific Island food to be a challenge I guess, but in a good way. It’s food that has a chance to be re-introduced to the public again to show what we can do with the food and that our preconceived notion that it’s all the same and unhealthy is not actually entirely true. I want to see it in a restaurant, I want to see it more frequently on offer to the public. And I am sure they will enjoy it as much as I have.

Paula soaks up the knowledge shared by Charles Royal.

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