Shailesh Naidu

Chef Shailesh Naidu
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Name:
Shailesh Naidu

Currently working at:
Outrigger Hotel, Fiji Islands

Bio:
The Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort is one of the largest resorts in Fiji. Opened in 2001, this 252 room resort caters primarily for families, weddings and honeymooners. During the Antipodean school holidays (their busiest times), the resort caters for up to 800 guests at a time, including up to 200 children. There are six restaurants on site and approximately 85% of the guests eat in-house. The resort hosts a large commercial production kitchen in which 120 staff are employed. Shailesh started as a sous chef at the resort in 2001, becoming the Executive Chef in 2007. He is the first Fijian Executive Chef in Fiji.

The Outrigger has been at the fore of the local food movement for close to 15 years. All fruit for the breakfast buffet is local, jams are made in-house, local starches (kumala and taro) are used instead of imported potatoes and different varietals of locally grown spinach are offered on the menus, “Promoting and utilising the local cuisine is a win-win situation. We’re supporting our local farmers and it helps us to maintain our costs. We have never had complaints or demands for non-local food. We have at least 5-6 varieties of local fruit and I have never come across a guest who has requested an apple” (Shailesh Naidu). 

The demand for the locally grown products is met through both direct supply through a few farmers as well as through middle men who deal with farmers. Not only does the resort support and utilise local farmers and produce, they also nurture local employees who quite often come into the industry with no experience. Up to 80% of the staff at the Outrigger had never worked in a kitchen before and have been trained on site. Shailesh has also facilitated a range of culinary workshops to enhance the linkages between Fiji’s producers and the tourism industry and to educate growers in the concept of “farm to table”. Training is grounded in local culture, “In our kitchen, and in many Pacific kitchens, we have no hierarchy. We all help each other. We bring the village in to the kitchen. I want to encourage them and boost their confidence. It’s like developing pride (Shailesh Naidu). This approach extends to local suppliers as well, “We have a supplier who used to be extremely quiet. He was a humble farmer who didn’t say much. However, working with us, he learnt confidence which resulted in him being able to go to other local hotels and present his products. He has gained more of a business education from dealing with us” (Shalesh Naidu). Supply chains for local seafood however have not been as successful, with Shailesh expressing concerns that they are not enough local suppliers or fishermen to keep up with demand.

The Outrigger, and Shailesh’s support of the local community extends beyond the local supply chain to projects from which the local community benfits. As head of the Fiji Chefs’ Association, Shailesh is a role model for all chefs in Fiji. Despite the Association receiving no external funding, members, under Shailesh’s leadership, engage voluntarily in a range of professional and community-oriented activities. Recent initiatives he has initiated include a hospital kitchen clean-up in which Shailesh and his team strip-cleaned the kitchen and serviced the equipment, cooked for the patients and catered for the special needs school. Shailesh also led a local high school master chef competition that involved 12 schools and five categories. This was implemented to encourage school children to get in the kitchen and have fun cooking. The students were expected to use local ingredients for a locally inspired dish. Similarly, Shailesh’s involvement with the Fiji Chefs’ Association was motivated by his desire to give back to his community and to inspire the next generation of local chefs. For Shailesh, cooking is not just about putting meals on the tables of the Outrigger, it’s about focussing on “Our Restaurants, Our Home and Our Markets” for the good of the community and country.