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PETER KURUVITA takes it to the limit

Felix Chaudhary
Sunday, January 27, 2013

PETER Kuruvita has a love for cooking and a passion for preparing good food that was borne out of a spirit of restlessness.

This edge is all tied to a six day road trip from overcast England to the sub-tropical paradise of Sri Lanka as a child and followed by the journey from his childhood home to Australia. He said this whole experience helped him capture the essence of contrasting continents in his cooking - and he used this fusion of styles to make his mark in the culinary world. Perhaps it is this same spirit that drives the English born Sri-Lankan to constantly break barriers and challenge what many in the culinary industry consider the 'norm.'

From his first forays into the world of fine dining at Mortdale on the outskirts of Sydney, to presenting new and exciting twists of traditional restaurant fare on Australia's State Broadcasting Service, Kuruvita continues to recreate and innovate.

It is against this background that the renowned chef, author and television presenter has launch his latest undertaking, Steakhouse by Peter Kuruvita at the Westin Denarau on February 6.

Those familiar with The Steakhouse from when the restaurant operated under the umbrella of The Regent, will notice more than a few changes to the menu.

"One thing I've realised is that over the past few years the owners of The Steakhouse weren't culturally aware that a lot of people here did not eat beef. To have a restaurant called Steakhouse is fine but you need to be able to welcome everybody while being very aware of religious and cultural niceties. That's my biggest challenge and we hope people will notice that the biggest change that we're making to the Steakhouse is that we will have something for everybody," the renowned chef explained.

"If you don't eat beef or pork, don't worry. When we cook vegetarian food, we're going to make it vegan, we won't be using beef or chicken stock. We're very culturally sensitive and dietary aware and we want this restaurant to be a new and improved version of what it was before.

"We'll have modern cooking techniques but also be culturally sensitive- so anyone can come in," he promised.

Kuruvita takes cultural sensitivity very seriously. Every chef he has introduced to his first eatery at the Sheraton Fiji Resort, the Flying Fish restaurant, has had to undergo a traditional ritual.

"They have all had to be presented to the traditional chief. We take some kava and I explain who the new chef is, where he's from and what his intentions are. This makes a big difference to both the traditional landowners and the visiting chefs. The landowners give us their blessing which makes our work easy and visiting chefs get immersed in the huge significance that Fijians place on culture," he said.

Michael White, Kuruvita's newest find, was psyching himself up for his pilgrimage to the local landowners when The Fiji Times caught up with him.

"I've tried a little bit of kava, just low tide and it was alright but I don't know how things will go when we get to meet the chief," he shared.

Apart from embracing culture, Michael is also keen on experimenting with local fruit and vegetables and incorporating as many local ingredients onto the menu as he can.

"This is something that I picked up from Peter. Apart from the local fruit and veggies, we will also be presenting traditional Fijian meals like kokoda because I really believe we need to have some items on the menu that locals are familiar with and that tourists will want to try for the first time," the country Queensland native said.

Giving protégés a free reign is not confined to the kitchen. Kuruvita extends the courtesy to all staff under his care, including restaurant manager Rosa Bobo.

The Tailevu native has spent the past few years at the helm of the Flying Fish and is looking forward to playing a similar role when the Steakhouse by Peter Kuruvita opens for business on February 6.

"I have learnt so much from Peter and from my experiences at his restaurant in Sydney, Australia. The biggest lesson and something that I have tried to introduce here is time management and work ethic. It was a real culture shock to find out that restaurant workers easily worked for up to 60 hours a week. While I wouldn't encourage that here for obvious reasons, I think we have to improve our time management and utilise our time better," she shared.

Peter Kuruvita wants the Steakhouse that bears his name to be a place where locals mingle with overseas guests. The celebrity chef believes that while Fiji has a lot to offer the culinary world, locals also need to open up their minds and palates to the diverse array of tastes and cooking styles that eateries like the Flying Fish and Steakhouse have to offer.

"I urge locals to come and visit us and enjoy the experience at least once in their lifetime. Just like how people save up for a vacation, I believe it is equally important for people to save up and immerse themselves in a fine dining experience at least once," he said.

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