Sheraton's ‘oka’ battle

By Elizabeth Ah-Hi ,

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BRING ON OKA FESTIVAL: General Manager Mark Francis with the teams from Sheraton Aggie Greys Hotel and Sheraton Aggie Greys Beach Resort.

BRING ON OKA FESTIVAL: General Manager Mark Francis with the teams from Sheraton Aggie Greys Hotel and Sheraton Aggie Greys Beach Resort.

The Oka Festival organisers can expect a serious challenge from the teams at Sheraton Samoa Aggie Grey’s Hotel and Resort for the top prize this Saturday.

It follows a Sheraton Hotel versus Sheraton Resort cook-off on Tuesday, used as part of the hotel’s preparations for the Festival.

Two teams from the different properties came together to compete in a friendly competition as a practice run before the annual Oka Festival at Home Café.

There was a stir of excitement running through the feast restaurant at the Sheraton Aggie Greys Hotel in Apia as cooking staff from the two properties prepped before the competition. 

Food and Beverage manager of Sheraton Beach Resort, Jan Winde engaged in a friendly competitive banter with Food and Beverage Manager for Sheraton Hotel Apia, Luckasz Nowakoski.

Both Managers looked forward to the cook off as a way to perfect their teams oka entry for this weekend’s festival.

“Horace at Home Cafe has been doing this Oka Festival for a couple of years,” said Winde. 

“This year we thought for both properties, let’s have a bit of a preparation because we do oka all the time, but it’s good to have a friendly competition between the two properties to prepare ourselves well for the competition on Saturday. 

“It’s nice to mingle together and also to prepare together.”

Nowakoski added: “Actually this is the first time we have done something like this at the Sheraton. Whoever came up with this idea, it was a really brilliant idea for both properties to come together first before we take on the big Oka Festival this Saturday at Home Café.  It’s going to be fun.”

The competition started off with a quick burst as the two designated team members ran to their respective benches and began scraping the coconut flesh to begin making the coconut cream. 

Impressed, onlookers realized that this step actually requires technique and brute strength and that an inch in the wrong direction could probably result in shredded hands.

Lurking over the two teams with intense frowns were head chefs, Jiju Rajappen (Sheraton Aggie Grey Hotel Apia) and Aravindh Subramanian (Sheraton Aggie grey Beach resort). To them any opportunity to showcase their culinary skills was a chance to push their team to do their best.

“I’m always like this, even though it’s a practice run, but still we are going to do the same thing at the competition so for us it’s real,” said Subramanian. 

The winning dish by Sheraton Aggie Greys Hotel Apia.
The winning dish by Sheraton Aggie Greys Hotel Apia.
Sheraton Aggie Greys Beach Resort team entry _ colours were inspired by the sea.
Sheraton Aggie Greys Beach Resort team entry _ colours were inspired by the sea.

“Last year we entered the Oka Fest competition for the first time and we didn’t practice but this year we want to be ready.

“It’s good to come together so that the two teams can share their ideas. Last year we were all separate and now after today, doesn’t matter who wins or loses, they can talk to each other and get some pointers about what we can do better in the competition.”

Not content to just sit at the judges table, was former chef and current General Manager, Mark Francis, who was in and among the action, getting up close and examining the different filleting and coconut milk squeezing techniques. 

“I started my career out as a chef in Canada. I was just saying to the guys earlier that the first time I filleted a tuna, I tried to do it like a salmon and I almost got fired at 17 years old,” said Mr. Francis 

“Crunching down the bones on the side and then having the chef come up to me asking me what I was doing.  Back then the Chefs was much worse, they didn’t just yell, they also hit.”

Managing both Sheraton properties, Mr. Francis said events like this were ideal to keep up their good working relationship. 

“We do events like this on a regular basis to have our two hotels do things together,” he said. “To keep us closer and have a good working relationship because being an hour apart we can get quite separated like any other hotel even though we are all as one so to have these events it’s good to have them to keep the teams close together and a little competition doesn’t hurt.

“They get a trial run before the competition so that’s good. It’s good fun that we can actually practice against each other.”

As the judges convened to judge the oka entries, Nowakowski of Sheraton Hotel Apia gave life to a local rumour that drinking a couple of cold beers beforehand helps bring out the flavours of the oka. 

According to Nowakowski, he doesn’t quite know the science behind it, but he has his own theory.

“It’s something to do with the beer going together with the lime. If you use fresh coconut cream with right lime, it’s fantastic together. And yes you might be right, perhaps beer does clear the palate,” he mused.

In the end, the home advantage was too much for the visiting Sheraton Beach Resort team because the Sheraton Hotel Apia won the friendly cook off with high points in filleting, colour, hygiene and presentation. 

The two groups will compete against each other again and with other hotel and restaurant teams at the Oka fest this Saturday.

© Samoa Observer 2016

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