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Interview with Chef Mo Arun of the Grand Pacific Hotel

Arguably one of the most influential chefs in Fiji, Chef Mo Arun has become well known in recent years as a practitioner of the “Pacific Rim Authenticity Cuisine”.  A native of Nadi, he began his culinary career at the Fijian Hotel (now the Shangri-La) and Regent of Fiji (now The Westin Denarau Island Resort & Spa). He subsequently moved to New Zealand and moved up the ranks in some of New Zealand’s best known hotels and restaurants.

Vudi Vakasoso

In 1997 he became Executive Chef of one of Auckland’s most fashionable restaurants, Iguacu in Parnell, prior to a stint at the respected Stamford Plaza Auckland in 2007.

Chef Mo has been the recipient of many honors including the New Zealand Culinary Fare Kitchen Team awards, the 2010 New Zealand Beef and Lamb Hallmark of Excellence Gold Plate Award, the 2008 New Zealand Metro Top 20 Restaurant awards and, for three consecutive years, the “Entertainment Gold Award” for best fine dining restaurant.

After an absence of twenty three years, Mo returned to Fiji to join the Grand Pacific Hotel in December 2015.

I believe Fiji Guide readers will enjoy the following Q&A with Chef Mo.

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Q:  Can you pick three of your favorite dishes?  I’m particularly interested in something that influenced you to be a chef when you were young.

A:  River fish Vakalolo with bele leaf , Jackfruit Curry, and Raspberry lemonade sock sponge cake and custard.

This was our Sunday treat, where mum prepared these dishes and we all got involved in helping her in cooking. This was our family day. The love and aroma was glowing from the plates.

Seaweed Fish broth

Q: Is there something at the GPH that you serve reminiscent of those days?

A: At the GPH I have created Kava and Jackfruit Granita, on the menu which is still my favorite dishes. Kava, an extract of the yaqona root, has been used throughout the South Pacific islands for centuries, primarily as a relaxing and ceremonial drink. We have taken the very best ground kava powder and combined it with a light Jackfruit puree, lemon zest and a touch of chili to make a unique semi frozen palate cleanser.

Another favorite is Ika Vakalolo Kei Na Uto Vavi.  Fish (Ika) fillet is marinated in coconut milk, vine tomato, diced onion and fresh squeezed lemon, then placed in a bamboo basket for steaming. Breadfruit (Uto) is seasoned with red pepper and baked with fresh cream and leak. Smoke Salmon and bele leaf is moulded in thin pasta dough and tossed in butter and served with charred tomato, warm coconut flesh Miti and Rosella chutney which enhance the tangy zest aroma.

Red Emperor Fillet (Kacika) Dusted with Citron and Plantain

What I’d like you to do is provide me with a few sentences explaining why the dish is important to you and if it’s impacted your cooking in some way. If you choose you can talk about how you prepare this dish. What ever you want to discuss is fine. I wouldn’t worry about providing me perfect prose. I would prefer if it’s easy to understand and in your own words.

Q: You mentioned the “Pacific Rim authenticity cuisine” that is your creation? 

What I meant was my style, creation and cooking ethic, combines pacific island food, Asian touches and host of other culture and culinary guidance.

Vakalomavinaka

Q: Can you talk a bit about how this cuisine came to be and why it’s important to you?

A:  My childhood dishes are very close to my heart where all my family and child memories are attached. The Pacific Rim authenticity cuisine I create as a chef is a complete reflection from my family values. The mother of all the flavors, which I have in my bag since my child age have helped me in fusion style of cooking, throughout my career.

Q: What got you interested in this endeavor?

A: The freshness, healthy and tropical ingredients

Q:  What are the main ingredient in this?  Do you source produce from all over Fiji?

A: Lemon grass, Sea salt, fresh Tumeric, garlic, galangal, coriander, basil and so on.

Q:  Do you source produce from all over Fiji?

A:  Yes, the produce is very local.

Rob Kay

Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism Award winner Rob Kay wrote the original Lonely Planet Fiji Travel Guide, and is Founder of Fijiguide.com.

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