TUIMASI Goneyali has mastered the art of teriyaki cooking and when it comes to Japanese cuisine, this young lad sure knows how to leave your tastebuds tingling for more.
He's employed at Shabu Shabu Japanese Restaurant located on the ground floor at Ramarama House, along Gordon Street in Suva.
Teriyaki is a cooking technique used in Japanese cuisine and delicacies where foods are broiled or grilled in a sweet soy sauce marinade.
The shy yet confident young man introduced himself as Tui, presenting a range of mouth-watering Japanese dishes on the lunch menu before working the electric griddle in a starry navy blue and white chef's attire.
Originally from Vatukarasa Village in Tailevu, Tui had earlier plans to pursue a career in architecture but his underlying passion for cooking emerged soon after studying at then Fiji Institute of Technology.
"I was brought up in Nadi and attended Swami Vivekananda College then joined FIT to study architecture," said the 24-year-old.
"I later turned my interest to cooking — my mom and sister taught me how to cook.
"At first, I had no knowledge of cooking Japanese dishes but I soon found a job at another Japanese restaurant where my sister and her husband worked. There was no requirement about having a diploma or certificate in culinary cooking. It was all on-the-job training."
Tui spent almost two years at the other restaurant, trying to master the art of preparing and cooking traditional Japanese meals. He expanded his experience joining Shabu Shabu a year ago.
The opportunity not only meant learning a new culture but he was able to turn his love for cooking into a profession.
The up-side to all this was meeting distinguished customers — some he hopes to cook for in the future.
"When my mom moved to the United States, I lived with my sister, aunt and uncle. When they're at home, they (aunt and uncle) would cook for us but when they were out, we were left to cook for ourselves," said the youngest in the family.
"My sister and her husband moved from the other Japanese restaurant to Shabu Shabu.
"I also followed them here and I've have definitely learnt a lot in terms of cooking style and methods.
"The job enabled me to learn some Japanese words and I've served dignitaries like the President Ratu Epeli Nailatikau.
"The other person I really want to cook for is the Prime Minister. When I was at the other restaurant, the PM would come there to dine but my supervisors never allowed me to cook for him; they said I wasn't ready.
"I've worked hard to learn different Japanese cooking styles and can confidently say that I'm ready to cook for the PM one day."
Tui says he had to overcome challenges like nervousness when standing in front of customers working the griddle with assorted sauces and spices.
Over time, he has learnt to put his heart and soul into delivering aromatic and one-of-a-kind dishes for customers from all walks of life.
"I'm planning to pursue further studies so I can become a qualified chef because I've already gained some experience in this field," he said.
"The best part of my job also is when customers make a request for me to cook for them. It's a great feeling knowing your work is being appreciated."
Tui says it's never too late to follow your heart's desires.
As long as you're strong-willed and confident in your talents, Tui says anything is possible.