A slice of life

Fiji One TV’s popular cooking series returns to our screens on October 19 in a new one-hour format. Now in its third season and seen in more than 13 countries across the South Pacific, Chef Seeto gives readers a sneak preview into the philosophy of Taste of Paradise: A Slice of Life.

I remember recording the very first episode of Taste of Paradise at Suva markets back in 2011. Armed with my high pressure wok stove, a wok and ladle and a myriad of sauces and spices, a crowd gathered to see what this kai jaina chef was doing in the middle of the market.

Suddenly a woman, who was watching from the side, decided to walk on to the set and asked me a question that has remained with me until this day, “Do you use garlic?”

What seemed like a strange question at the time, it reminded me of why the show was commissioned by Fiji TV in the first place.

The broad knowledge of cooking is still in its infancy in Fiji, having being stalled by this country’s limited contact with distant civilisations and made worse by the introduction of processed, manufactured foods.

Unlike nearly every other developing nation, Fiji is only now beginning to enjoy the delights of new flavours, strange foreign dishes and creative new ways to cook the local produce.

An increase in travel overseas; exposure to more diverse cultures through tourism and immigration; and a willingness to learn healthier cooking to combat non-communicable diseases is driving a whole new generation to cook. But it is one medium that has had the most impact; television.

TV demystifies cooking

If it wasn’t for the likes of MasterChef Jamie Oliver, Gordon Ramsay, Anthony Bourdain and a plethora of celebrity TV chefs, Australians would probably not be able to cook as well as they can today.

Junior MasterChef has inspired 8-year-old children to prepare and cook classic European dishes I would not have been able to pronounce at their age, let alone have the desire to eat.

Television has helped demystify cooking and has introduced us to a world of other cuisines and cultural flavours without getting on a plane.

Watching Gordon Ramsay telling it straight is entertaining but it also raises our own expectation of food a little higher as we learn what is acceptable or not to a professional chef.

Watching home cooks on competition shows like MasterChef and My Kitchen Rules prepare restaurant-quality dishes in less than an hour, gives the audience confidence to try the same at home. You start thinking, “if they can do it, so can I”.

Television cooking shows are the fastest growing genre on the small screen, with entire channels overseas like the Food Network dedicated to just one entertaining topic that is common to us all — cooking.

Fiji loves Asian flavours

Throughout the world, the influence of Cantonese cuisine has touched every country and nearly every town and city where the Chinese have migrated including Fiji.

Our love of chop suey is not unique as it was also the gourmet food of 19th century America and Europe, but it has long been wiped from the modern Asian menu, but oddly not in Fiji.

One of the most common questions Chinese shops like Yon Tong and Lazy Chef in Suva are often asked is for chop suey sauce in a bottle. But unlike tomato, barbecue or chilli sauce, there is no one sauce that will replicate the flavours of a Joji’s chopsuey as it’s a combination of different Chinese sauces that is unique to each chef.

Fijians’ love affair with Chinese foods and flavours is born out of being completely different to iTaukei or Indian foods, the major cuisine of this country.

And this is the reason Asian flavours will play an enormous role in the advancement of cooking at home in Fiji.

For the same reason the ancient Chinese and other Asian cultures developed so many different combinations of sauces to eat their abundant seasonal produce, the inquisitive Fijian palate is ready to do the same.

The South East Asian cuisines of Thai, Vietnamese, Malaysian, Indonesian and Singapore all offer their own distinct use of the same tropical produce found in Fiji.

Northern Chinese dishes from Sichuan are also in tune with the Fijian palate, although the heat of chilli needs to be toned down considerably. Although Asian flavours will not be the only foreign cuisines that viewers will embrace, they best suit the produce, palate, ancestral diet and communal way of eating of most Fijians.

A slice of life

Season One of Taste of Paradise was about introducing the basics and raising the awareness of NCDs and poor diet and lifestyle. Season Two highlighted the foods of life; the key foods that all humans need to stay in optimum health.

When Fiji TV producer Kurt Petersen and I sat to talk about the theme of Season Three, the September elections were fresh on our minds.

We hoped it would usher in a period of unity and national pride. But I wanted to know if fresh foods were still in abundance after eight years.

Are the markets hiding undiscovered culinary treasures? Is the connection to land and sea just as strong as it was in days gone by? We soon realised the theme was staring at us, right in the face.

In post-election Fiji; it had to be about you and your world in 2014.

Season Three gives the viewer a glimpse into a civilisation that tourists travel great distances to experience and learn from.

Food is a window into other cultures and Slice of Life is a colourful journey of antiquity, story, places, people and of course, food.

The new one-hour format has a catchy new jingle, brand new recipes and incredible panoramic images. It’s time to get the whole family together and get ready to blockout 7.30pm Sunday again.

It’s not just a cooking show; it’s Fiji on a plate. With some added garlic too!

P.s. Like last season, there’s no need to write the recipes down. They’ll be right here in The Sunday Times!

* Lance Seeto is the executive chef, author and food writer based on Castaway Island. Taste of Paradise: A Slice of Life premieres Sunday 19th October, 7.30pm only on Fiji One.