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It's 'a slice of life' Not just a cooking show anymore

Ernest Heatley
Saturday, October 18, 2014

Chef Lance Seeto's Taste of Paradise series is back, and viewers and readers will be treated to excellent food ideas and recipes on Fiji One TV and The Sunday Times newspaper beginning this Sunday. Reporter ERNEST HEATLEY asked Chef Seeto to give our readers a little taste of what to expect in this exciting food series which is more than just a cooking show.

Times: Our readers and your fans throughout Fiji are brimming with excitement on what you have lined up for Season Three of Taste of Paradise. Could you give us a hint of what to expect and what sort of new focus or "flavours" you will be bringing this time around?

Chef Seeto: We wanted to give viewers a look at life in Fiji in 2014 and themed season three as "A Slice of Life". It's not just a cooking show anymore but a journey of culture, history and unknown tropical flavours. The show has also moved into the primetime slot of Sunday 7.30pm, a recognition by Fiji TV that Taste of Paradise has a wide audience from the young to the old, and even Fiji's President. There's a new music track and with the help of new camera technology, we're able to bring viewers panoramic images of Fiji below and above the sea.

Times: Readers by now are no doubt familiar with your unique cooking style. How challenging is it for you to come up with exciting new recipes while trying to incorporate Pacific ingredients and styles into these creations without the risk of becoming bland?

Chef Seeto: Most of the recipes are created on location, even I don't know what I'm going to cook until we look at what ingredients are available. In this way, the dishes are totally unique and very, very local.

In a recent conference with South Pacific chefs I told them that the key to creating new flavours and dishes to suit the local palate is to look at the South East Asian countries of Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam, as well as regional India, China and Samoa. All of these countries, except for China, have similar climates and produce, but have been developing their foods and flavour combinations for centuries. Rather than reinvent the wheel, it is easier to borrow dishes that work some and adapt them to suit. Really spicy hot foods don't suit the palate of most locals, but tone them down and people are willing to try it. We've only touched the tip of the iceberg as far as new flavours go, as Fijians are only now beginning to experience foods from countries like Korea, African and Indonesia.

Times: We understand that visits to Lautoka, Taveuni and Savusavu are also a part of season three. What can our readers and viewers anticipate from this focus on the Western and Northern divisions?

Chef Seeto: I learned from my time as a writer for The Fiji Times that the different provinces and districts have their own distinct foods and cultural history.

Lautoka not only has the influence of the Indian labourers, who helped build that town, but it is a lasting reminder of how the different cultural groups are living together, side by side. The daily fishing wharf is an incredible testament to the importance of connection to the sea, and locals have unenviable access to seafood every day.

Taveuni has always been a mesmerising place for me and reminds me of that movie Jurassic Park. We visit an amazing group of local women who have got together to write a cookbook to help educate more people to experiment in the kitchen. The island also provides awe inspiring views of the volcanic island and its natural waterfalls.

I think Savusavu is one of the most under-rated destinations for tourists, mainly because of the lack of regular access by air and sea. We hook up with a new adventure safari operator in Savusavu who has given me a real wild and raw look at life up there.

Times: How challenging will it be for you for season three to explore new recipes that are tasty while at the same time being healthy and nutritious? How fulfilling is this for you?

Chef Seeto: My assistant chef has gotten used to my quick changes of mind once we get on location. Like an animal in the wild, my eyes will be attracted to the colour signals of the food from Mother Nature. I'll see something that I had not thought of and my mind will race to create a new dish. I always have my base Chinese sauces, so it's just a matter of thinking on the spot.

I've learned to develop a technique of combining all of the ingredients in my mind, and being able to taste them before I even switch on the stove.

Times: You have also found inspiration in our country's history for your amazing culinary creations. What can we expect from this as part of season three?

Chef Seeto: I've been surprised at how little most people know about the ancient history of Fiji, before it became a British colony. I'm equally surprised that most Fijians of Indian descent don't know where their grandparents or great grandparents came from.

There is so much to learn from the past as it explains why Fiji is how it is today. The early iTaukei nearly suffered the same fate as their Polynesian cousins in Hawaii, potentially losing the land to the Americans. Fiji's cannibalism past should not be hidden as it was the reason that kept away the early Dutch, Spanish and Portuguese explorers, leaving the iTaukei to develop at their own pace. The history of the American massacre at Solevu on Malolo Island and the subsequent burial of the war dead on Bounty Island provides a fascinating and colourful history of the country. Our visit to Bau Island helps explain how the Tui Viti was able to consolidate his power with the help of one Irishman and a boatload of musketry.

The ancient history of Fiji helps explain why the food has been so underdeveloped, yet in 2014, a renaissance and a renewed love of cooking is finally underway. And I truly believe that the TV show and the growing NCD issue have been instrumental in sparking a change and a rethink to eat differently.

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