Well organised Tonga wins healthy TVOne Pacific Cook off

TVOne’s Good morning Pacific Cook off show judges said Alex Kaihea “gave a spectacular presentation” in his taste of Tonga. Alex Kaihea responded by reminding his New Zealand wide audience that Tongan food can be healthy.

Pele Lautala – a Tongan spinach based hapuka fish dish – was featured on TVOne’s Good Morning programme on Friday 31 August 2012 by Auckland Tongan chef Alex Kaihea. His judges looked for the healthy approaches he used in his selection of products and cooking methods.

Three judges with some Pacific experience joined the Tongan chef, then the Fijian chef, in the TVOne kitchen studio. Prawn mango and avocado salad was the Fijian chef contestant’s presentation. The dietician judge commended his mix of textures and flavours.

Opening the show a judge said “at the end of the day, it is flavour that wins”. Another judge with wide Pacific experience – Tahitian, Niue, Rarotongan and Samoan – “wanted to be taken back to the islands”.

In featuring Pele Lautala Alex Kaihea showed silver beet as a substitute for leaves from Tonga. His fish was hapuka, alternatives could be mahi mahi or snapper. He wrapped the fish in the leaves, then wrapped in aluminium foil, preparing to poach. One judge had not seen such wrapping “sushi style” in the Pacific. Dietician judge Mafi Funaki liked the mix of leaves in lemon juice   She liked its colour. Viewers were told the appetising look encouraged healthy eating. Alex Kaihea talked of discouraging people from eating a whole big taro.

Mafi Funaki, trained as a dietician in Otago University, highlighted the impact of heart disease amongst Pasifika and Maori. She spoke the Heart Foundation message. Judges noted the substantial use of coconut cream can be a health issue. Alex Kaihea used limited coconut cream as a flavour, not as a full food.

In the islands people tend to be more physically active than in New Zealand. Mafi Funaki noted the risks in convenience and fast foods – they tend to be higher in fat and salt.

The dietician said it was good more use was being made of healthy vegetables – such as pele and spinach. Some vegetables are food and medicine, she said.

One judge liked use of traditional ingredients such as banana leaves. Another commented on colourful presentation, and that the dish was not overcooked. A judge liked the hapuka, with its flavours. Judges commented favourably on Alex Kaihea’s nori roll wrapping. The judges liked the idea of ingredients available in home backyards.


More healthy detail

The judge with wide Pacific experience noted much could be learnt by young chefs from the internet – but more could be learnt by going to the islands to learn more from older people with traditional knowledge.  A chef’s job is a passport to the world, a judge said.

After the fast moving steps involved in making his two television appearances Alex Kaihea, owner of two Auckland restaurants (Esplanade and BeachHouse) will be able to spell out the healthy ideas he demonstrated in becoming a winner in the Good morning week long Pacific Cook off programme.

Alex Kaihea and Tongan Advisory Council chair Melino Maka and TVNZ representatives had spent Thursday afternoon planning Friday’s winning presentation. On Thursday morning TVNZ’s opinion poll voters gave the Tongan presentation top score – and led to the invitation to show more tastes of Tonga.

Tonga was to be shown with Fiji in front of studio judges. Earlier in the week Samoa and the Cook Islands also presented in the Good morning TVOne show.

Auckland importer Fresh Direct had supported the Tongan team, showing products importable this season from Tonga. www.tonganz.net initially backgrounded taro and breadfruit produce and recipes from the Fresh Direct Tongan range. Chef Alex Kaihea presented baked pawpaw in his Tuesday presentation seen by voters who chose him to return to the TV kitchen studio on Friday morning.

Tonga’s presentation was sandwiched in between intense advertising of TVOne’s clients – and its interviews targeted at the state owned broadcaster’s New Zealand wide morning audience.

Tonga’s success in the opinion poll was helped by friends of Tonga spreading the word – and encouraging viewers to vote. The New Zealand Tongan Business Council chair Rachel Afeaki-Taumoepeau vowed to tell its members the presentation was coming up. Former VSA in Tonga, Wellingtonian and training consultant John Faisandier urged his more than 2000 Facebook “friends” to vote for the Tongan candidate. www.tonganz, which typically gets more than half a million hits per month, backgrounded and updated readers. Destinations Tonga had contacted Tongan food exporters and tourism sector stakeholders from the private and public sector about the opportunity provided by TVOne. Nuku’alofa shipping and travel oriented businessman Derek Leonard and Auckland based Tonga Visitors’ Bureau representative Angela Afeaki encouraged the initiative.

Giverny Cootes, a member of TVOne’s Good Morning production team had contacted me for help, having found my writing about tastes of Tonga – much of it published here at www.tonganz.net.

As Alex Kaihea planned his presentation he emphasised produce available from Tonga in New Zealand – this month Fresh Direct’s Jeff Turner and John Hunter emphasised the importer could supply coconuts, chillies, taro, tarua, breadfruit, yams and watermelon into Auckland from Tonga.  Alex Kaihea, with ten years experience building up his two Auckland restaurants, also thought about techniques and substitutes New Zealand home cooks might use. He tells home cooks they can use their normal home blender for chopping up the flesh of coconuts. He says pele’s New Zealand substitute is spinach.

The three judges gave their verdict at the end of the week long show after the Tongan and Fijian chefs had presented.

The result was close. “Alex Tonga”, the presenter said, had won!

From Anthony Haas, Asia Pacific Economic News representative in the NZ Parliament’s Press Gallery, publisher DecisionMaker Publications/ Destinations Tonga; Publisher 1984 edition of “A Taste of the Tropics”, Director Centre for Citizenship Education,  and author of the forthcoming memoir “Being Palangi: My Pacific Journey”. ahaas@decisionmaker.co.nz

Alex’s winning ingredients

4 mins before its goes live…..

judges tasting time…..

scoring time…..

Alex with host Rod Cheeseman….

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