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A canecutter to a restaurateur

Avinesh Gopal
Tuesday, February 14, 2017

HE could not serve "two masters" at the same time.

One was his education or pursuing his studies and the other was harvesting sugarcane in his family farm.

While attending primary school, he also harvested sugarcane in his father Narayan Singh's farm.

His father was also known as Pelwaan.

Born in Tunalia, Nadi, Chandar Kumar Singh went up to what was then class eight at Korovuto Indian School.

"I couldn't choose to serve two masters so I left school and chose to harvest sugarcane," he said.

"When I was 15 years old I walked out of my house because I wanted to look for my own destiny."

Today, Mr Singh, 64, is the proud owner of Akash Pacific Cuisine located at 102 Moore St in Liverpool, Australia.

I met up with him last week during a personal trip to Australia after my uncle David Yankaiya suggested that we go there for lunch.

Mr Singh took time out of his busy schedule to talk to me about his life and also how he converted to Christianity.

After walking out of his family house, he said, there were many "ups and down" in his life.

When asked, he did not say where exactly he lived after walking out of his home, only that "it was here and there".

"I was about 16 years old or so when I left Nadi and went to my elder brother in Sigatoka as he was looking for me," he said.

"I started working in the construction side in the old Outrigger Resort but I didn't like the job.

"So I then moved to Suva with my brother and I started working in a Chinese bakery at night, earning $8 to $9 a week.

"After that, I worked for a construction company and since I had a bigger vision in life, I moved to Century theatre.

"From there, I managed to get work as a cleaner at the Tradewinds hotel in Lami in 1969.

"I worked as a cleaner for one year and I was moved up as a cook. I knew that my destiny towards success had started."

Mr Singh said while working as a chef at the hotel, he did some courses in cooking through the support of his boss.

During his 15 years at the hotel, he had the pleasure to cook for some prominent people from overseas.

He got married to Saras Wati Singh in 1973 while working at the hotel and they now have four children and eight grandchildren.

In 1983, he resigned from work and took his daughter Sangita, who was a baby then, to Australia to repair two holes in her heart but the surgery did not proceed because she had high blood pressure.

They returned to Fiji and Mr Singh opened a grocery store in Qauia in Lami and lived adjacent to it with his wife and then three children.

"In 1987, the coup happened and I had a very rough time from the villagers. I was attacked in my shop and whatever groceries I had stocked up were taken," he said.

"A police officer told me that the place was no longer safe for me so I left for New Zealand with my daughter, who was six years old then, while my wife and two other children stayed in Fiji.

"I had only $350 when I left Fiji and after about nine months I called my wife and two other children to New Zealand and we rebuilt our life.

"I started as a vendor at the flea market and through the moral support of an European man, I then started my company Raja's Enterprises Ltd.

"I then bought my house, a three-storey building and lived in it for seven years. I stayed in New Zealand for 15 years and then moved to Australia as I had a bigger vision in life.

His three children — Desmond, Joshima and Sangita live in Australia while Akash lives in New Zealand.

Mr Singh said in 1989 while in New Zealand, he took his daughter to a miracle healing crusade conducted by a Christian group.

He said the Christians prayed for his daughter and after some time the two holes in her heart miraculously closed, saying that checks by doctors later also confirmed this.

His daughter had been healed of a life-threatening condition through prayers and it was the turning point in his religious life.

In 1999, Mr Singh moved to Liverpool and saw a vacancy for a chef at the Defence Ministry and was lucky that his application was approved.

He worked there for about two and a half years and decided to start something of his own.

He managed to get a cafeteria in Liverpool and while still managing it, he started his restaurant business which is named after his son who lives in New Zealand.

Mr Singh said he sold the cafeteria and was concentrating only on the restaurant now which is quite popular in Liverpool.

He pays about $A5500 ($F8720) monthly rent for the space, which has a capacity to cater for 100 people.

Apart from serving food from his restaurant, Mr Singh also does catering for weddings, birthday parties, engagements and other events including the Fiji Day celebrations there.

There are several dishes in the menu but what captures the eye are the boards saying "Fiji style chopsuey" and "Fiji style pickles" plus some Indian snacks.

"The Fiji style chicken chopsuey is the signature dish in my restaurant and people from all countries who come to the restaurant often order that. It's high in demand," said Mr Singh.

"Some people have even asked me for its recipe but I can't give it because it's something special and I don't use monosodium glutamate in whichever food I cook.

"I do everything in the restaurant with my wife, who is behind my success and my pillar of strength.

"When I have catering orders in the weekends or in the evenings, then only I hire some extra hands."

Mr Singh said the restaurant business was a way to spend his time as his four children, their spouses and children live a happy and good life on their own.

He is also heavily committed to his religious work with Assemblies of God Inspired Church.

He has participated in healing crusades in India, Nepal, Malaysia, New Zealand and Fiji, where he shared his testimony about his daughter's miraculous healing and how it converted him and his family.

He has a brother and a sister who are alive in Fiji and he visits them whenever he gets the opportunity from his busy schedule as a restaurateur.

Mr Singh said he had only Australian and New Zealand citizenship but he would accept a Fijian citizenship if given to him.

"Fiji is still my motherland and I would say that the 1987 coup was the turning point in my life as the situation there made me leave for New Zealand and then here to Australia," he said.

Akash Pacific Cuisine is wellknown in Liverpool mainly because of the Fijian style food that it serves, especially the chicken chopsuey which costs $A18 ($F28) a serve.

It has also been rated by various organisations and was last week awarded with a five-star rating for hygiene and food safety.

Mr Singh hopes to keep the restaurant in operation for as long as he can to provide people in Liverpool and nearby areas with a taste of Fijian food.

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