Starting Out (Young Chefs)

Chris Cocker, Chief Executive Officer, South Pacific Tourism Organisation (SPTO)

Mr. Christopher Cocker is a Tongan national and is the CEO of the South Pacific Tourism Organisation.

Culinary Training in the Pacific

Culinary Trainings are boosting Food Tourism in the Pacific Region

  • Participants visiting the Culinary training workshop and speaking to chefs

The South Pacific Tourism Organisation (SPTO) based in Suva, works with 17 Pacific island countries to market and develop tourism in South Pacific region and is actively supporting linkages between agriculture, cuisine and tourism to provide the tourists with a unique experience when visiting the Pacific Islands.

The growing food tourism boom worldwide illustrates the economic and social potential of destinations offering unique culinary experiences to visitors which lessons can be learned from. By encouraging qualified chefs in the region to work with local communities to source local food resources for their menus and use greater innovation and creativity in food preparation, more employment opportunities will be created and increased resilience provided to rural communities.

Culinary trainings for young chefs, promotion of local products and strengthening relations from farm to table are some of the priorities in this area of SPTO.

The latest example is the two-day Chefs Culinary Training workshop held in Apia, Samoa in the context of the 2nd Pacific Agribusiness on Linking the agrifood sector to local markets for economic growth and improved food and nutrition security held on 29-August-1st September 2016 as a joint collaboration between the South Pacific Tourism Organisation (SPTO), the Pacific Islands Private Sector Organisation (PIPSO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) and the Samoa Tourism Authority (STA) aimed at promoting links between agriculture and other productive sectors (such as tourism) in the Pacific islands and set up a regional initiative to drive plans for developing agribusiness and agritourism.

The Culinary Training aimed at improving the knowledge and skills of culinary business owners in the South Pacific region as well as chefs from small and medium sized hotels in Samoa.

The culinary training run by South Pacific celebrity chef ambassadors Robert Oliver and Colin Chung trained 25 young chefs preparing 20 new recipes which culminated with a diner Celebrating Pacific Islands Cuisines “Chefs for Development: Contemporary Island Cuisines” where participants in the Agribusiness Forum will be served meals prepared by the chefs based on organic ingredients supplied by local agribusinesses.

An inspirational menu showcased a range of the region’s most delicious products and demonstrate the capacity for Pacific foods to not only delight the senses, but also teach important lessons on quality, provenance and preparation. The Programme will culminate with a dinner under the theme of “Chefs for Development: Contemporary Island Cuisines” where participants in the Agribusiness Forum will be served meals prepared by the chefs based on organic ingredients supplied by local agribusinesses.

  • Young Chefs receiving Culinary training certificates with Chefs Colin Chung and Robert Oliver

SPTO Chief Executive Officer, Chris Cocker, believes that strengthening the agribusiness sector to better serve tourism markets and proposing plans to brand the region as a quality food destination is the future for many Pacific islands.

“It is important that there is a strong link between the tourism, agriculture and fisheries sectors. Tourism is like a “new kid on the block” linking up with backbone traditional sectors of the Pacific economies of agriculture and fisheries” says Chris Cocker.

“If the Pacific’s local agriculture and fisheries sectors are able to service the local demands of their respective tourism industries, we would have achieved a milestone in our efforts to encourage import substitution in the Pacific.

“Seeing the potential of the Pacific cuisine as a niche tourism product, SPTO had conducted a series of regional culinary trainings last year and this year as pilot projects” explains Chris. “The success of these workshops, as attested to by hotels and local chefs, and the delicious meals produced from local ingredients called for more than just a re-visit.”

  • Dinner: Chefs for Development: Contemporary Island Cuisines

The development of agribusiness in the Pacific depends on local products being able to enter into new markets and expand their growth in existing ones. The regional tourism market presents a particularly lucrative opportunity for Pacific agribusinesses due to the high visitor numbers enjoyed by the islands and the spending power of tourists. Additionally, achieving sustainability in the tourism and agriculture sectors depends on the promotion of local sourcing, in order both to decrease the reliance on imported goods, and also to stimulate local production and protect the unique heritage of the traditional Pacific food culture. Food and gastronomy play a major role in the tourism experience, and can significantly enhance the gains derived from stronger linkages between the agricultural and tourism sectors. As a result, chefs as champions and ambassadors of local foods and cuisine are also receiving greater recognition from policymakers and the development community. It is in this context that CTA, PIPSO, IICA, SPC, SPTO in collaboration with various partners, are developing a platform on Chefs for Development, which will enable deeper engagement between value chain actors and chefs in support of a greater contribution to local cuisine from local agribusiness products.

 Biodata of trainers:

 Chef Colin Chung

Trained in hotel management, Colin has a wealth of experience in all aspects of hospitality. His career has taken him around the globe. 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 run several successful cafe’s and bars – including the legendary Vinnies in Raglan – while travelling frequently to the Pacific Islands as a hospitality consultant. 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.

 Chris Cocker –  CEO, South Pacific Tourism Organization

Mr. Christopher Cocker is a Tongan national and is the CEO of the South Pacific Tourism Organisation. He has over 20 years’ experience and expertise in Pacific trade, investment global tourism marketing and promotion. Before joining SPTO in June 2016, he was a short term consultant with the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) based in Suva, Fiji, the Project Manager for the EU-funded Pacific Regional Tourism Capacity Building Programme (PRTCBP) administered by the SPTO (2013-2015) and prior to SPTO, he was the Marketing Officer for the EU-funded Increasing Commodity Agriculture Trade (IACT) project administered by SPC. His previous work posts based in Auckland, New Zealand, include Trade Commissioner of Pacific Trade & Invest (PT&I) and Senior Programme Manager, Pacific Cooperation Foundation (PCF). Earlier in his career he was the Marketing & Memberships Services Manager at SPTO promoting regional tourism in global markets.

 Chef Robert Oliver – Chef

Robert Oliver is a New Zealand chef who was raised in Fiji and Samoa. He has developed restaurants in New York, Miami, Las Vegas and Sydney, “farm to table” resorts in the Caribbean and food programs feeding homeless people and African immigrants with AIDS in New York City. Robert returned to the South Pacific from the Caribbean to write his first cookbook with Dr. Tracy Berno and Fijian photographer Shiri Ram. Written with a development mission to connect Pacific agriculture to the regions tourism sector, “Me’a Kai The Food and Flavours of the South Pacific” stunned the food world by winning top prize, “Best Cookbook in the World 2010,” at the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards in Paris, considered to be the Oscars of cookbooks, beating the books from NOMA (the world’s best restaurant) and The New York Times. In 2015 “Me’a Kai” was deemed by the Frankfurt Bookfair to be the 3rd best cookbook in the world in all categories for the years 1995-2015.In 2013, Robert released “Mea’ai Samoa: Recipes and Stories from the Heart of Polynesia” (Random House). In May 2014, this book won the “Best TV Chef Cookbook in the World 2013” at the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards in Beijing in association with his television series REAL PASIFIK. REAL PASIFIK is the Pacific’s first regional food television series and travels across the Pacific Islands connecting chefs to traditional cuisine and local agricultureRobert is Chef Ambassador for Le Cordon Bleu and is a judge on the hit prime time cooking show “My Kitchen Rules” and is host for the Maori reality cooking show “Marae Kai Masters”.