A pacific man at heart

Written By : SANDRA AH SAM . Robert Oliver was born and bred in New Zealand, he spent most of his life there before he and his family later moved
22 Aug 2008 12:00

image Written By : SANDRA AH SAM . Robert Oliver was born and bred in New Zealand, he spent most of his life there before he and his family later moved to Suva, Fiji
While living in Fiji, Robert’s father set up a social work network for the Young Men’s Christian Association of the South Pacific.
As a result this had the Oliver family interacting constantly with local village communities. During this time, Robert developed his passion for the flavors and foods of the South Pacific, and found his own identity as a Pacific Islander.
Over the past 20 years, Robert has worked as a Chef in Fiji, New York City, Miami, Sydney, Las Vegas, the US Virgin Islands, Barbados, St Lucia, Trinidad and more. He has created restaurant ventures that are tropically concepted.
His cooking product remains firmly rooted in the foods and flavors of the world’s tropical disapora while keeping pace with what is current in the world’s restaurant capitals.
Robert joined China Grill Management (New York City and Miami) in 1998 to develop NOA (Noodles of Asia) on Miami Beach and then he made his way up to Las Vegas to establish another China Grill Management concept restaurant, called the Rumjungle at Mandalay Bay in 1999.
Las Vegas’ Rumjungle restaurant is one of the US’ largest restaurants. The restaurant offers a blend of cuisines of the world’s tropical zones.
The Caribbean, Fijian, Brazilian. Rumjungle at Mandalay Bay, is an hugely popular property awarded “Best New Restaurant” by the Las Vegas Review Journal.
In Miami in 2000, Robert opened SUVA, Miami Beach with China Grill Management Chief executive officer Jeffrey Chodorow and actress Marisa Tomei.
The “SUVA” was a modern interpretation of Pacific and Polynesian cuisine – South Seas cuisine.
This restaurant gathered critical national press attention.
Mr Oliver said after the success of SUVA, he was invited by the Fiji Hotel Association to conduct a series of cooking workshops for chefs in Fiji.
“These workshops were aimed at improving the local hotel offerings, and including more local ingredient and tradition into resort property menus.
“The objective was to create menus that were authentically local, and at the same time, appetizing and exciting to tourists. As a part of the workshops, I had asked the chefs bring in dishes from their own villages, their tribes, and their mothers who they considered to be truly local and was the real taste of the “South Pacific Soul Food”,” said Robert.
From these dishes, Robert worked with the chefs to reconfigure the dishes to make them into a product oar for hotel menus.
Robert had also created and taught a series of tropical cuisine workshops at New York City’s Institute of Culinary Education in 2003, 2004 and 2005 and this further helped Robert refine otherwise exotic recipes that are easy to prepare for any cook.
Robert returned to the Caribbean in 2005 for an extended consultancy with the Almond Resort group out of Barbados to develop restaurants for their St Lucia properties.
As a part of this effort, Robert developed purchasing infrastructure with a large group of local farmers for the property.
The programme he developed was a huge success, food costs went down, the food was fresher and better; visitors were eating locally grown foodstuffs, which further enhanced their experience of the island.
He is opening a second SUVA in Port of Spain, Trinidad this year 2008.
Robert’s company “Mai Kana Pacific” is producing a cookbook for the nation of Fiji. The book he says has profiles of the traditional native foods and includes a collection of refined dishes to give local hotels chefs a tool to wrap local food culture into tourism and thus encourage greater use of local agricultural products.
Robert’s special skills includes large personal recipe data base which focuses on the “Island”, a new genre which is also traditional. He has the experience of working with a wide range of hotels and restaurant kitchens and has vast knowledge of diverse global tropical food usage and ingredients.
The restaurants he has developed are well known and are well reviewed; this brings international media presence as he is also a high profile chef.
Mr Oliver focuses on bringing locally grown produce all the way through to the menu by developing and implementing the “farm to table” concept.
His personal commitment is to keep up tourism development and to contribute positively to the community. He is also aware of the upstream and downstream effects of the choices in food different may have and is aware that tourism represents an opportunity to all.
The latest achievement in his life is also publishing a book on the “Food and Flavors of Fiji and the South Pacific”.
“The vision and aim of this book is to produce a high quality South Pacific Recipe book whose use will improve the quality of food offered to Fiji’s and the broader South Pacific regions tourism market.
“It will also offer an innovative, “branded” South Pacific cuisine, formatted for the tourism market with an ingredient base made up of locally grown and produced food stuffs.
“It is a link between agriculture and tourism and offers a world class South Pacific cuisine book as a souvenir item and thus market Fiji and the broader region as a cultural destination, and also increases demand for locally grown foods,” Mr Oliver said.

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