Palusami Restaurant re-opens their doors

By Sarafina Sanerivi ,

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The new setting for Palusami Restaurant at the Moanalisa Hotel.

The new setting for Palusami Restaurant at the Moanalisa Hotel.

The end of a lease for an existing business has signalled the beginning of an exciting new venue and venture.

The ever popular Palusami Restaurant has re-opened their doors; only now, they have relocated from Matautu to the Moanalisa Hotel in Vaitele. 

Jesse Jr. Lee, Head Chef of Palusami with his wife, the General Manager of Moanalisa Hotel, Vaimoana Hunt-Lee.

Jesse Jr. Lee, Head Chef of Palusami with his wife, the General Manager of Moanalisa Hotel, Vaimoana Hunt-Lee.

Palusami Restaurant and Bar closed at their former premises on the 30th of last month. 

But on Friday night, they celebrated the beginning of another chapter in their business. 

Jesse Jr. Lee, owner and Head Chef of Palusami Restaurant his wife, Vaimoana Hunt- Lee, who is also the General Manager of the Moanalisa Hotel, couldn’t are excited. 

 “It’s a dream come true for the both of us, especially for my husband, since this is his dream.

“Closing was upsetting; it was kind of like an end to a dream that wasn’t fully complete... but we are very excited about what the future holds for us.”

Initially there was no plan to merge the two businesses, said Mrs. Lee.  “But no plan is a great plan right?”  “It wasn’t hard trying to merge our two businesses. It was pretty easy and everything fell into place. There are always challenges in any business venture, but without challenges, there is no fun.

The idea to merge the two businesses was born right after the couple tied the knot at the beginning of this month.

“We’re newly married, so we’re still in the honeymoon phase,” said Mrs. Lee. 

“I think that kind of help us as well. I mean I am very passionate about the hospitality business; I have been in it for five years now and Jesse has been in the industry for nine years now. With anything in life, if you are passionate about something, you enjoy it and you kind of ease into it and try to avoid all the speed bumps. 

“And because we’ve been doing it for a while now, we know the ins and outs and we try very hard. I’m front of house and he is solely in the kitchen, and we’ve agreed that I have no say in the kitchen and he doesn’t mess with the front of house. So we know the boundaries, we know what we do. 

“There was no plan. We both thought that it was a great idea and we both agreed to do it. 

“Like they say, everything happens for a reason. And in our case, it was like it was meant to be. His (Jesse) lease was on the 30th of June, we got married on the 2nd of July. And after the wedding, my parents said to me that if we want, we could take up the restaurant and bar and see where we go from there. So we talked about it and we both agreed to do it.” 

“Like she said, everything fell into place,” said Mr. Lee.

“I mean I wasn’t planning on re-opening the restaurant here, but the idea came after I catered for my own wedding because I cooked everything back at the kitchen here. And everything fell into places.”

Their inspirations are drawn from their parents. 

Jesse Jr. Lee, Head Chef of Palusami with his wife, the General Manager of Moanalisa Hotel, Vaimoana Hunt-Lee.
Jesse Jr. Lee, Head Chef of Palusami with his wife, the General Manager of Moanalisa Hotel, Vaimoana Hunt-Lee.

“I just love food,” said Mr. Lee.

“I started cooking when I was nine by helping out my mom in the kitchen. Because I am the youngest in the family, I always listened to my older siblings and my parents. And that’s how it all started. But I became a professional cook when I was 22.”

“For me, it was unexpected,” said Mrs. Lee. 

“But my parents opened up Moanalisa Hotel I was just coming out of uni, and I think I kind of just fell into it and I loved it. I am grateful, as I said, I love what I do. I draw my inspiration from my parents, and I am grateful that they chose to be involved in the hospitality industry.”

The couple said they owe their success to their parents and families. 

“When we do these things, it’s not just about us; it’s the name of our families and who we represent,” said Mr. Lee.  

“The support of our families is the key to the success of what we do. We thank God as well, because if it weren’t for Him, none of this would’ve happen. We have been abundantly blessed, and we have God, our parents and families to thank for that.”

With the re-opening of Palusami Restaurant, they now offer a colourful menu including local food from local produce and a variety of international dishes. 

“The menu is now different,” said Mrs. Lee.

“When Palusami was in town, it was solely only local food and all local produce was used. Now that we’ve moved here, the menu will now include international dishes. 

“We are not giving up on the dream of using local produce it’s just that at the moment, we also have to cater for our guests who will be coming to stay here.

“Nevertheless, Jesse’s dream is taking our local delicacies from the food that we cherish as Samoans and love to eat and turn it into a fine dining dish that you can serve at five star hotels and restaurants.”

They both welcome the idea of using local produce for food. 

“I have been cooking for a long time now,” said Mr. Lee. 

“I have been working in different restaurants in New Zealand for different nationalities cooking different food. 

“But here at Palusami, the main thing we try to follow is the farm to table project. 

“I talked to Chef Robert Oliver a couple of times, and I like the idea of using local produce and re-designing. So what I do is, I not only cook food, but I also design new recipes, using local produce and other local delicacies. As simple as the luau, which we take for granted most of the time.”

And as for a name change for the restaurant after six years? That’s a no.

“The reason why its call the Palusami was when I was a chef for a restaurant called the Harbourside, my head chef came here for a holiday and he ate Palusami, and he ate Palusami. 

“He kept going on and on about how great the luau was and how much he loved the taste of our luau. And this is one of the top head chefs in New Zealand. But he talked about palusami and described it as one of the greatest dishes he had ever tried. 

“Then I said to myself, well, if it had that effect on him, then I’m pretty sure that every single tourist who comes to Samoa will have the same experience.

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