Pacific reality cooking show like no other

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By Sapeer Mayron, 13 January 2019

The reality television cooking show format has made it to the Pacific: but with a mission to combat lifestyle diseases, and make healthy eating easier.

The Pacific Island Food Revolution, produced by internationally acclaimed chef Robert Oliver (My Kitchen Rules, Real Pasifik), is a 12-episode cooking competition spanning Samoa, Tonga, Vanuatu and Fiji.

For Samoa’s feature, the competition was held at the Taumeasina Island Resort, and co-hosted by local chef and restaurateur Dora Laura Elisiana Rossi.

“A revolution is led by people. That’s our wish for this project: that Pacific people recognise this as theirs and pick it up and run with it,” said Robert Oliver.

The goal is to use entertainment to show viewers how accessible and affordable healthy, local eating can be, and try to reduce rising levels of non-communicable diseases (N.C.Ds) like diabetes, hypertension and kidney diseases.

“There is a lot of despondency about the N.C.D crisis,” said Mr Oliver.

“People feel overwhelmed and resigned to the horrible numbers when they actually don’t need to be.”

Science and medical institutions are not the only answer, Mr Oliver said. Everyone has the capacity to change their eating, one recipe at a time.

Formatted like many cooking shows, teams compete to prepare recipes under time pressure and are judged by the co-hosts on the dish. 

“The challenges in the T.V competition will look to provide solutions that people have identified as barriers to healthy eating such as convenience, taste and affordability,” said Faumuina Felolini Tafunai, the global communications director of the show.

Mr Oliver designed and produced the show funded by the New Zealand and Australian Governments and worked with behavioural scientists to integrate positive messaging about food into the show. One of those messages is that “traditional” food shouldn’t mean old, boring, or slow to prepare.

“Cooking local food quick easy local food is very possible,” he said.

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“I think people get tied up in the idea of the umu being the traditional food format but there are lots of ways of cooking traditional food quickly at home and that emerges through the show, and in the recipes.”

As for affordability, none of the ingredients are imported. Everything the chefs’ use is found on the island they cook in.

Mr Oliver, like many before him, wants to emphasise that locally grown food often has the medicinal answers to basic ailments.

“The whole idea behind the project is that these dishes that belong in Pacific heritage are extremely valuable and have all the kind of things societies need to sustain themselves.

“When food is fundamentally based in nature and heritage that you can’t go wrong from a health perspective,” he said.

Filming the show in the cooking competition format was a way to include voices that don’t necessarily get heard on the big screen, like older people with generations of cultural knowledge.

Contestants were selected from auditions based on how they would present on television, but also on their love of cooking, Mr Oliver said. 

Importantly, the Pacific Island Food Revolution differs from other reality cooking shows in one way: kindness.

“It’s a very emotional show but it’s very kind,” he said.

“Those big shows can be a bit emotionally manipulative; we don’t have any of that, it’s all very positive.”

Mr Oliver, who has been working in television for over ten years, said he’s proud of the quality of the show, which stacks up against other mainstream reality television. 

“We could get all caught up in the health mission of the project but at the end of the day it’s gorgeous television, with fantastic people and fantastic food. 

“It’s the first time the Pacific has seen TV at this level about the Pacific,” he said.

The pilot season is funded to the tune of AUD$7 million, and ideally will run for three years. It will screen across 27 television stations around the Pacific, including TV1 and TV3 in Samoa, all for free. Episodes will also be available on pacificislandfoodrevolution.com (site not yet launched).

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By Sapeer Mayron, 13 January 2019

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