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Famous Chefs Gala Dinner

18th April 2017

Famous Chefs Gala Dinner

By Geoffrey Tama

Photography by Dani Keral

We were lucky enough to be invited to the 'Famous Chefs Gala Dinner', hosted by La Chaîne des Rôtisseurs and Cook Island Chefs Association, where the finest chefs in the country and abroad, combined efforts to provide a gastronomic delight for all. Yum!

5:20pm - With the night due to kick off at 6pm, Weez and I set out to pick up Dani, a Spanish blogger visiting the Cook Islands to write and share our stories with his compatriots back in Spain.

5:27pm – Being ambassadors of our wonderful destination, we happen upon 3 German backpackers hitch hiking their way to Pacific Fish & Chips, which, fortunately for all – was on the way to where Dani was waiting. We head on our merry way discussing their motivations for visiting and what they had gotten up to in their 2 weeks, here in a little paradise; suffice it to say – they were loving the Cook Islands and looking forward to a day trip to Aitutaki at the end of the week, *envy ensued by Weez and I*

We get to Pacific Fish & Chips, unfortunately they were closed, as it was the School Cultural Festival on that night, and the owners being parents themselves, were attending this festival to watch their children perform for their schools.

5:40pm – Dani was waiting roadside in Betela, under the Highland Paradise sign, on the western side of the island. We were meant to be here at 5:30pm – oops… I plead ‘island time’. Our new friend’s wave goodbye as they disembark the van and head to their accommodation, definitely hungry since their dinner plans fell through. We’re heading to a fancy 5 course meal, but get over the guilt when we recall they will be sipping fresh coconuts in Aitutaki in a couple of days, karma is a b****.

5:58pm – We arrive at the Islander Hotel, across the road from the International airport, where the dinner is hosted, there are cars everywhere and have to relegate ourselves to parking 60 metres from the door… bear in mind, if we can’t park on the doorstep of a venue – it’s too far!

6:05pm – We check in and the pleasantries ensue, “Kia orana!” in every other breath as we make our way to the welcome table, where 3 waiters are daintily filling champagne flutes in anticipation of our arrival… and the arrival of other guests.

6:10pm - We round the pool that is centre piece of the Islander Hotels restaurant, so that we are on the opposite side of where the ceremony for the induction of new members to La Chaîne des Rôtisseurs; a community of food and wine lovers. The ceremony involves some very specific protocols, it begins with a recitation of their oath, which is led by the head Pooh-Bah of the community, raising his right hand and member’s current and to be inducted mimic his actions and parrot his words. A brief history of the group is shared for those like me who do not know the genesis of the group, nor the history of La Chaîne des Rôtisseurs; I will let you read up more on them, at your leisure.

With the oath read and hands returning back to their proper places, new members queue up to step forward and go through the ritual of accepting their Chains. This fascinated me as it involves the head Pooh-Bah taking a sabre in his right hand, then the president of La Chaîne des Rôtisseurs for the Cook Islands chapter gathers up the chain and places it over the head of the smiling inductee, who is also given a sabre and is guided to stand before the head Pooh-Bah as he places the sabre on their left shoulder, then recites some words, which were inaudible from where we were standing. This is repeated for each new inductee, as they step forward a common person, and return part of a 769 year old community, I wonder if the Free Masons have been around as long?

7:10pm – After the ceremony, we claim a table at the edge of the deck, where we are joined by Marcelle and her husband; more Tourism staff, and are also joined by Sophie and James; Sophie is a new inductee into the La Chaîne des Rôtisseurs, so I enquire into what membership entails, and I am let down as my top questions of whether you get your own sabre, or access to a limitless pool of funds to travel the world are both met with a solemn ‘no’… at least the Chain looks cool.

7:20pm – Waiters begin the first run of free-flowing-wine, three words I truly believe can be combined in any manner, but still impart the same meaning – bottomless wine. Our initial wine offering is Montes Sparkling Angel white wine to accompany the 1st course “Iced oysters, cold smoked marlin, citrus / young coconut / green onion, champagne & broad bill jelly.” – A stellar dish that had me wishing the company at my table were vegan… they weren’t.

7:45pm – Waiters clear the tables and then begin serving our next wine, is the Tohu Sauvignon Blanc to complement our 2nd course “Octopus Carpaccio, chilli, lemon, ginger pawpaw, bush basil micro green coconut EVO”. I am a big fan of Octopus, and this did not disappoint.

8:15pm – 3rd Course, we’re dispatching the food and wine with little effort, conversation and merriment flowed effortlessly, I am sure we were the envy of the neighbouring tables. “Herb crusted line caught tuna, fire roasted breadfruit (kuru) & goats cheese mousse, braised rhubarb, fennel & grapefruit, mushroom soy reduction, citrus saffron glaze, herb oil, crisp fungi & baby hers”. This was my second favourite course of the night, with the fish perfectly prepared and the flavours were incredibly refreshing – yum! This was paired with a Tinpot Hut Pinot Gris.

8:40pm – 4th Course, filling our glasses with Montes Alpha Pinot Noir, this red delight went well with the “Oven roasted rack of lamb, rukau tart, local chestnut puree, grilled pawpaw & Scallions, organic local vine spinach, fresh allspice leaf, local berry & pinot reduction.” I am a big fan of lamp, and these rack cutlets were tender and so flavourful, that with each bite we got closer to the end of this dish, savour each bite as it were the last… this has never resonated so deeply with me until this moment.

9:30pm – 5th Course, Dessert! With bellies nearing their limit, we are served the “Dark chocolate mousse with mango sorbet, walnut soil, raspberry & glass wafer”, a great little dish to finish the night and allow our tummies to some respite after a wonderful night. The dessert wine that was served was Lawson’s Pioneer Gewurztraminer – sweet and delicious, this course was.

9:50pm – The Islander Hotel, being great hosts, treated the diners to an impromptu dance show, with the talented Akirata dance troupe performing fast paced numbers and their ever exciting fire dancing. The crowd, well fed and sated thanks to the culinary expertise of the 5 great chefs that prepared the dishes that graced our tables and ultimately our tummies – well done, I doff my 'pare' to you.

Sign me up for next year.

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