Island News

A tough road to success

Written By : Nandika Chand . A person cannot get to a top position in a company or in a profession in just a stride. They have to work hard,
12 Jul 2008 12:00

image Written By : Nandika Chand . A person cannot get to a top position in a company or in a profession in just a stride.
They have to work hard, shred their sweat and blood and face all the challenges they are in the path of their dream or goal.
This was the same for 40-year Saimoni Bakata, the chef of First Landing Resort in Vuda.
Saimoni said she has been through many ups and down in his line of work but is up for the challenge.
He said he started off as a kitchen hand 14-years ago and has worked the ladder up to the position of a chef.
“I am originally from Kadavu from the village of Nabukelevu-i-ra in the province of Nabukelevu,” Saimoni said.
“I stayed on the island for most of my childhood and enjoyed every part of it. We used to have lots of fun and carefree as if there was not a worry in the world,” he said.
“My parents thought of our future and we moved to the mainland to have a feel of life away from the relaxation under the coconut trees and soothing breeze of the sea,” he said.
“We moved to Suva where I completed my education at Lami Primary School and till form five at Lami High School,” he said.
“I loved cooking and after school I used to go home quickly and cook up a small meal or a light snack for myself,” he said.
“I also cooked for my family and loved to cook stew, curries and a special lovo. I was the cook of my household and my interest of cooking started to develop from there,” he said.
“After high school I joined a church youth group and spread the word of Jesus Christ,” he added
Saimoni said the experience with the youth group was one of a kind and the best as he got to spread the learning and teachings of the almighty and also got an opportunity to go overseas.
He said he jumped at the opportunity which took him for the first time out of Fiji to New Zealand and Tonga in 1987.
“My New Zealand experience was very great and interesting as I got to know about foreign lifestyle, their culture and tradition,” Saimoni said.
“One amazing and astonishing moment was when my friends invited to go eel fishing with them,” he said.
“Eel fishing in New Zealand is very different compared to how we catch it here in Fiji and I had no idea of the difference,” he said.
“We threw our fishing nets into the river and waited for the eels to be caught but I was getting restless,” he said.
“I could not wait any longer and jumped into the river to catch the eels with my hands rather than depending on the nets,” he said.
“Little did I know that the temperature of the river water in New Zealand is very much colder compared to that of Fiji river water,” he said.
“No sooner had I jumped into the river that I came out shivering and my friends were laughing at me,” he added.
Saimoni said Tonga is very much like Fiji. He said the climate and the people were very much similar.
He said most of all he liked to go for bus rides in Tonga because it was very much spacious.
“I returned to Fiji and started working as a kitchen hand in new Raffles Tradewinds Hotel in 1991,” Saimoni said.
“I just worked into the hotel and asked if there was a vacancy in the kitchen and I was given the position of a kitchen hand,” he said.
“I thought my work as a kitchen hand at the hotel would be very much to what I did at home in the kitchen but it was different,” he said.
“I cleaned and scrubbed cooking pots and frying pans, sinks and floor and I had to have the pots and pans clean and sparkling for cooking another set of menu,” he said.
“If the frying pan was not clean enough for the chef then it used to come flying at me!” he said.
“There were times when the senior cooks bullied us around too much but we could not do much and just got along with it eyeing for a better position in the kitchen,” he said.
“All these did not put me down as I got more determined to reach my dream of becoming a head chef one day,” he added.
Saimoni said after six months I was promoted to the position of the salad cook.
He said it was a whole new world as he no longer had to see to the cleaning of plates, pots and culinary.
“I was excited and was told that salad was an important aspect of food presentation,” Saimoni said.
“With salads you have to be very gentle with the lettuce and the tomatoes keeping in mind not to break the order of the cutting an the chopping and slicing. With salads a sense of creativity and art applies and one has to be patient,” he said.
“I was then promoted as a breakfast cook. This was a big challenge as I had to cook in front of guests and have the meal ready for them as there were other guests waiting in the line,” he said.
“After that I closely worked with the head chef John Randel whom I very much grateful to because he taught me a lot about this field,” he said.
“I worked for two years with the hotel then joined a fast food restaurant as their head chef,” he said.
“This was a big difference because I was in charge of so many people and I was in charge of the day-to-day running of the restaurant kitchen,” he added.
Saimoni said after the fast food he joined Morris Hedstrom (MH) food court in Suva as a chef part of their promotional team upgrading their food courts in the country.
He said he later joined as a Sous Chef for the New Grand Eastern Hotel in Labasa.
“I was second to the executive chef and was the head in his absence. I liked this work a lot as I got to learn a lot of new things and also shared my knowledge with the cooks,” Saimoni said.
“I specialize in Thai, international cuisine, Fijian motivated-international presented dishes, Italian, Moroccan and Sri Lankan cooking,” he said.
“I lovemaking Fijian dishes the most as I get the chance to make the dish traditional and present it in an international manner using local products,” he said.
“I was also a chef at Bekana Garden Island Resort in Lautoka and Tokatoka Resort in Nadi and loved my experiences there,” he said.
“Currently I am a chef at First Landing Resort in Vuda Lautoka for the past five years,” he added.
Saimoni said he was longest at First Landing Resort because it was into seafood and was very interesting.
He said First Landing Resort was the only place which maintained the style-the traditional style of cooking seafood and traditionally presenting it in coconut shells, coconut and banana leaves.
“The food made using local and some international ingredients and is presented in a local style which the tourists love and are a big fan of,” Saimoni said.
“I have been as far a Malolo and Mana resorts but none has maintained the nature of coconuts and dalo,” he said.
“I have 14-years of experience in this field and have a certificate in food and beverage and the rest of my qualification and experience is through field training,” he said.
“The local cooks and chefs should be given an opportunity to show their skills and talents rather than just giving attention to the expatriate chefs,” he said.
“The local are up for the challenge and are as experienced and skillful as the expatriate chefs but unfortunately they are not given an opportunity,” he said.
Saimoni said his family, especially his wife Savaira Wati Seru has been supporting him through his live and profession.
He said his advise to the upcoming cooks and chefs was grab opportunity they get and do not loose hope.

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