Peniasi our master chef

Peniasi Rabuka serves breakfast. Picture: MELA KATONIVUALIKU

COMING on board the government vessel Bai Ni Takali for my one-week work trip to Southern Lau, I was expecting the unexpected.

The trip was organised by the Ministry of Fisheries as they had a scheduled visit to eight villages in Southern Lau.

We boarded on Sunday morning, August 26, at the government wharf and as soon as we set sail, I did not exit my room for the next 26 hours because of my severe sea sickness.

Monday morning as we berthed at Vatoa Village, I was up, showered and with my grumbling stomach made my way to the kitchen. I was so hungry, I could eat a cow.

The sight of my ‘naita’ Peniasi Rabuka, 47, towering over the stove frying eggs had me thinking if we were had to cook our own breakfast. I was about to dash back to my room when he greeted me good morning and handed me my plate of breakfast.

“Yadra naita! Ni mai gunu ti. Sobo iko sega ni mai vakayakavi na bogi. Au a laki tukituki yani na rumu. (Good morning Naita! Come have breakfast. Too bad you didn’t come and have dinner last dinner. I came knocking on your door.),” Mr Rabuka said.

After telling my naita my seasick episode his advice to me was to keep eating as the stomach is used to digesting food three times a day and if I didn’t eat, I would feel weak especially one-week on board the boat.

Other ministry officials on board assured me that I would not be disappointed with the meals my naita was going to whip up on board during the one week trip.

They were right and my taste buds were stunned with the delicious and mouth-watering meals that the Naivakacau Villager from Buretu in Tailevu was dishing out.

Our meals included a full breakfast fry-up of two sausages, two eggs, spaghetti with cassava, bread or rice. Cereal such as Weetabix was readily available and it was your choice if you wanted to have some or not. For lunch we would have curry lamb with rice or cassava and dinner of soup chicken with moca.

My favourite dish was the honey roasted lamb shank with cabbages that I had on Tuesday in between lunch and dinner.

I had requested my naita for his lamb shank recipe, but he wouldn’t give it saying it was a secret recipe.

We were at Ogea on Tuesday morning and the villagers had prepared lunch consisting of fish in lolo.

I had sat down to dish my food when one of the crew members came to sit beside me. I asked him what was naita Peniasi cooking on board and the mention of roasted lamb shank made me push my plate of fish away.

Upon reaching the vessel ready for the journey to our next village, I was in the kitchen munching away on my honey glazed roasted lamb shanks.

Other government officials on board also came to try out his secret dish and even though they had already eaten lunch at the village, they ate again on board.

Being a chef was not planned.

The father of six was a gate man or watchman for government shipping working day shifts before the sound of clanging pots and pans in the kitchen.

“I was just a gate man or watchman for government shipping and three years ago, I was brought in to cook after the chef resigned,” Mr Rabuka said.

“I had taken a one-week cooking course and attained a certificate level in cooking and that is all the cooking qualifications I have, other than that, what I cook on board is entirely what I think government officials would love to eat,” Mr Rabuka said.

Mr Rabuka said he is always happy when government officials enjoy their meals on board and it encourages him to have more passion for his work.

“I am always happy to see government officials enjoy their meals. They come on board to serve the people and leave their families behind and it is my job to keep them well fed on board.”

Mr Rabuka said he loves cooking and even when he is at home, he assists his wife in the kitchen.

“My cooking doesn’t stop here on the vessel. I continue to help my wife cook at home,” he said.

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