I was lucky enough to be invited to help judge the Chaine des Rotisseurs Jenues Chef competition held in Rarotonga this year held as part of their national Salon Culinaire. So reluctantly and with a heavy heart I boarded my Air NZ plane and left the nice cool windy, rainy climate of Wellington and headed into the sunny temperate climate that is the Cook Islands. As always when going to the islands, when you step off the plane you are hit by the heat. Now Rarotonga is not the hottest place in the world but you can expect temperature in the high 20’s with high humidity which makes it feel like it’s in the mid 30’s. And for someone who has well acclimatized to the Wellington “summer” this can be a bit of a shock. Pack your stubbies and singlets.
The Jeunes Chef competition itself is a global competion organised by the Chaine for young chefs who compete first in regionals before then competing in their national finals to see who will represent their country. The Cook Islands finals were held in conjunction with the Cook Islands Chef’s Association Salon Culinaire held at the local training institution. It has been over 11 years since I worked and lived in the Cook Islands and back then there was no formal hospitality training set up on the island with the only qualified labour coming from overseas so I am really happy to see how things have changed and progressed over the years through the efforts of many people including Sam Timoko and the Cook Islands Chefs Association. The competitors put our some good dishes in very trying conditions which were challenging even for us judges who had to only stand up for the 3 hour competition let alone pull finger and actually cook under pressure.
I was booked into the compact Castaway resort on the eastern side of the island (it takes about 40mins there or there abouts to drive around the island at the 50km/hr speed limit) and you get decent value for the price your paying. The owners are the face of the business and are very friendly, helpful and I had a good stay with everything I could want. The air conditioning was most welcome! I met up with fellow chefs Jaqui Brown (Brick & Vines) and head judge Marc Soper (Wharekahau) at The Islander Hotel which is located right next to the airport. The beer is cheap and cold, the hospitality excellent and we were lucky enough to experience an island night there with a local food buffet and awesome show put on by one of the local dance troupes. The Islander was also the location of our Chaine Gala dinner where myself, Marc, Jaqui, Tua and Phillip put on a course each.
The Bailli Délégué (president) of the Cook Islands Chaine is Phillip Nordt, owner and chef at On the Beach (OTB) at Manuia Beach Resort so we were lucky enough to spend some time there before and after the competition. They have an infinity pool, a bar with cold drinks and some excellent food. Their Sous chef Tua was the winner of the Jenues Chef’s competition ( global young chef’s competition) and we had a most excellent dinner there so if you’re looking for somewhere to have a nice meal and in the area I would recommend popping over.
Another thing you should do is go check out Captain Tama’s lagoon cruises. The guys are an absolute crack up and I can’t think of anything much more special and relaxing than sitting on a boat watching the sun go down.
For a bit of night life there’s Rehab bar and if you like loud music, cheap bourbon and want to challenge yourself to a local experience there’s the fun but Jungle bar. On the way home you can grab a chicken pocket from the food cart outside of Rehab Bar or stop at the food cart down past the markets and ask for a “Wet Cheese”, it’s a burger not on the menu and I’m not sure if it was a joke on the Pakehas or not but it hit the spot for a midnight snack!