Chef, caterer and international hospitality consultant with a BBA In Travel Industry Management from the UH at Manoa, Colin has a wealth of experience in all aspects of hospitality. His career has taken him throughout the vast industry in Hawaii, the West coast of America and throughout the South Pacific. Moving to New Zealand from his homeland Hawaii in the 1980s, Colin settled in Raglan on New Zealand's West Coast. From there, he has opened and ran several several successful operations: restaurant, café, bars, including the legendary Vinnie’s in Raglan, while travelling frequently to the Pacific Islands as a hospitality consultant and most recently operating a successful gourmet home catering service. Throughout his career, Colin has assisted many of the world's most famous hotel brands with their operations, whilst cooking for some of the globe's most famous names - think Nicole Kidman, The Rolling Stones and Justin Timberlake. Whatever the assignment, Colin takes it all in his stride, bringing his trademark Pan-Asian flavours and the gracious hospitality of his Hawaiian heritage to everything he does.
How did you become a Chef and how you got interested in cuisine?
Both of my grandmothers had a lot to do with this. My Chinese “Popo” who lived with us in Honolulu, owned and operated an American restaurant in Chinatown with her US Army chef-husband, but cooked Cantonese “Hakka” cuisine at home. I was her protégé and enjoyed learning and mastering her techniques and dishes. During my long school summer breaks I would go up to Maui where my Hawaiian “Tutu” was a farmer, gatherer and weaver. She taught me how to raise animals for food, vegetables and fruits for eating, drying and preserving and during our weekly sojourns to the ocean to gather “lauhala”, pandanus for weaving, I learned the ways of using raw gathered shellfish, seaweeds and other edibles from the ocean. We often would go into the forests to find wild fruits, medicinal herbs, fern shoots, bamboo shoots, wood ears, etc. Both of these great ladies, not only left an indelible impression on my food pysche, but also lived healthy long and fruitful lives: Popo lived to 95 and Tutu till 107.
You have promoted for a long time the use of local ingredients in local hotels and link agriculture to the tourism industry to promote local sourcing. Have you seen many successes and advancement in the Pacific islands? What still remains to be done to ensure quality to those demanding markets?
I began my sojourn into the South Pacific in the mid-70s and even way back then I tried to get hotels and resorts to use more local ingredients and stop importing foods, but most GMs and Executive Chefs were expats and not only unfamiliar with the local produce (identity, use, taste and availability), but also of the opinion that tourists wanted their own food on holiday and that local produce should be only served to the staff, except for the token “ Island Night”. This attitude still exists somewhat today, but through the persistence of innovative local chefs who are now in charge of some notable kitchens, better awareness of the use and availability of local produce by all chefs, the realisation that importing the majority of our foods to feed our overseas visitors is not only costly, but also not supporting our own farmers and our own economy, whilst also not good for the planet or eco-friendly I.e. having to process, refrigerate or freeze then transport, these food stuffs from a long distance. We are still some ways from being really successful in making this connection really work. We definitely need more government support with training, technology, infrastructure for quality control,(grading and sorting) delivery (pickup and storage) growing techniques and seed varieties are needed for this industry. We also need to be connecting with education in schools to teach awareness and the use of local produce in daily home and school menus in new and contemporary ways, as these students are our future. The other big factor, is teaching locals and chefs, contemporary ways to use the best local produce to create island cuisine and acknowledging that local cuisine doesn’t just have to come out of the lovo or umu or must have coconut cream or taro leaves in it. The use of Pan-Asian flavours and techniques to take traditional foods and dishes to new levels, creating popular Western dishes made only with local ingredients, and finally creatively showcasing our best local fruits, veggies, seafoods, meats and specialties at their prime and in season in new contemporary ways will all be the new taste of the islands. I’m doing a lot of consulting work for individual hotels and resorts, along with chefs training courses supported by NGOs, but it doesn’t seem we are moving fast enough. I’m also just ready to print my new book, Kana Vinaka, which is about creating contemporary island cuisine, using mainly local produce. This should help greatly to educate the public, locals, tourists, and especially the hospitality industry about the importance of doing this.
Can we brand the Pacific islands as a food tourism destination?
I believe that this in not only possible, but essential as a selling tool and as a bonus to their island experience. As is the current trend in western societies today, going locavore (eating food sourced not further than 100 miles away), farm-to-table, organic if possible and all fresher and healthier from your own backyard or neighbourhood, sourcing locally and creating contemporary island cuisine is the way to promote the islands and elevate our local economies.
Supporting education and building awareness are critical for you. Are your efforts paying off?
They are starting to. On this current trip to Fiji to finish off photos and recipe vetting for my new book, I was able to conduct one day Masterclasses for both APTC and Pacific TAFE, both tertiary training programs for chefs, and presented a power point presentation and demo on the concept, philosophy and techniques to the Ministry of Education’s Technical College and TEST (Technology and Employment Skills Training) departments, to help train their trainers to get this message across in their high school and post high school programs, as well as in their home economics programs. I was also hired by two other hospitality operations, a resort and a premium dive boat operator to train staff in using local produce to create contemporary island cuisine. I also have a 3-day chefs training, supported by the Ministry of Tourism, coming up in the Sun Coast area in November and assisting other Coral Coast operators looking at creating local theme restaurants on their properties utilising this concept and philosophy as well as substituting local produce throughout their whole operation whereever possible, plus connection to local growers, and even assisting in setting up their own gardens and farms for items that farmers can’t or don’t want to grow. This is all really good news.