Rainal Sahai is the Executive Chef for four properties in Fiji - three in the Yasawa Islands (an island group approximately 3 - 5 hours by boat from the main island of Viti Levu) and one property on the main island Viti Levu. The properties comprise:
Paradise Cove Resort (upmarket, family oriented, FD$900-$1,200 per night for accommodation) – peak occupancy 110 gusts;
Blue Lagoon Beach Resort (target backpackers FD$35 per night to high end FD$1,100 for family view) peak occupancy 110 gusts;
Octopus Resort (target backpackers FD$35 per night to high end FD$1,100 for family view) peak occupancy 110 guests; and,
Oasis Palms Hotel – a transit hotel located near the main gateway airport in Nadi with a peak occupancy of 100 guests.
There is a total of six restaurants across the four properties and Rainal oversees 20-25 kitchen staff per property (a total of 100 staff). Although there are designated storemen and purchasing officers, all food purchase orders must be approved by Rainal or one of his head chefs.
Since he initially started with the resorts, Rainal opted to focus on local cuisine. This was not a choice based on necessity with the resorts being located on the outer islands. Rather, it was Rainal’s vision to utilise local produce and infuse it with modern cooking techniques. This vision is reflected in menus that highlight local produce in a high-end cuisine which differs from that at other properties on the mainland, “Our properties emphasise and sell local cuisine. I want to be different. I don’t want to copy chefs from the mainland. I also think our guests from overseas eat what they eat at home every day. They didn’t spend thousands of dollars to come to Fiji to eat what they eat at home. They come here to experience Fiji” (Rainal Sahai). Rainal has taken inspiration from Chef Robert Oliver, co-Author (with Tracy Berno) of 2010 Gourmand World Cookbook winner, Me’a Kai; the Food and Flavours of the South Pacific. He credits Chef Oliver and the book as being “key ingredients” in the success of two of his signature dinners. Rainal is also a fan of the TVNZ Real Pasifik programme, which he and his chefs watched while sitting around the grog (kava) bowl. He credits the show as having had a catalysing effect on food in the South Pacific.
Training for staff includes going through the menus with servers so they have and understanding of where the food comes from and the stories linking it to the community,
The local nature of the menus is an important part of the brand of the resorts and the restaurants that Rainal oversees. Training for staff includes going through the menus with servers so they have an understanding of where the food comes from and the stories linking it to the community, “They don’t have to memorise everything but enough for them to explain to the guests what a food item is. When we have a fish special they say this is the fish of the day, it came from our village and was caught at this time and they can point out to the lagoon where the fish was caught” (Rainal Sahai).
With six restaurants to provide for, a reliable supply chain is essential. Some products are imported, such as carrots, potatoes and onions, as well as top quality beef. Rainal has the budget to import whatever else he wants however he chooses to allocate that part of the budget for transportation so he can travel to the mainland to find farmers that can grow just for the properties, thus creating his own supply networks, “We try and buy from the village but they grow on a small scale. We need at least 20KGs of English cabbage per day but they can’t supply that much. We try to find farmers that can just grow for us and cut out the middle man because they are too expensive” (Rainal Sahai). Rainal also makes use of growers in the outer islands, but along with this comes many challenges. As a result the supply relationship with the villages is casual - bad weather, drought and other factors that cannot be predicted or controlled have led to informal arrangements. Rainal advises the farmers as to what is needed so they can start planting and asks that they let him know if they can’t supply so he can source elsewhere. Rainal also spends time with the local farmers to monitor their agricultural practices and point out ways to improve their crops, “I have to tell the villages when I want something and how much and they tell me what they can supply. We have given a quota to the village – because they are so remote and are surrounded by the sea so the air and land are salty and they can only grow so much. We try to help them grow more of what can grow and buy from them so we can get fresh produce and they get some income” (Rainal Sahai). Rainal also spoke of the recent drought in Fiji and the effect that this was having on the availability and cost of local products. To address this, he has introduced inherent flexibility with none of the menus for the restaurants being fixed and descriptors left unspecific (for example “greens” as opposed to “beans”). These local supply chains have contributed to economic development for the local villages, “The living conditions in the villages have improved. Everyone has a mobile phone now. I see the villagers going to the mainland on their fibre boats to do shopping for the family. Their clothing style has improved, things for the house, generators, better fishing equipment because they have constant income now” (Rainal Sahai).
Sustainability and caring for the environment also underpins Rainal’s approach to food. While building relationships with the neighbouring island villagers he educates them at the same time about resource management, specifically not to over-fish the local endangered, “Not only does Chef Rainal care about the quality of our products, but the integrity of their sourcing as well. He and the resort continue to do everything they can to make sure everything the resort buys is produced with respect for the environment, the growers and their communities” (http://www.paradisecoveresortfiji.com/dine/executive-chef.htm).
“Sustainable sourcing means having a relationship with the people who supply us with our products, built on integrity and trust regarding the environment, social values, product quality, and information sharing — a relationship that can become an honest and long-lasting partnership. We create an ethical, and mutually beneficial business association that also allows for improving the local community’s social conditions and environment — while providing the highest quality products” (http://www.paradisecoveresortfiji.com/dine/executive-chef.htm).