Fine Dining

Chef Monique Fiso Showcasing Maori Cuisine At Hiakia

New Zealand Restaurant @hiakai_nz

With a recent trip to New Zealand, it can be hard not to be drawn back in to the intense connection I feel to this country, it’s land, and it’s people. I learnt Maori throughout college, and I have always respected the culture, connection and sense of community, so deeply ingrained in who we are as Kiwis.

New Zealanders have a kindness and inclusive nature that invites anyone in. It’s this warmth and connection I have deeply missed living in Australia.

I came across the food Innovator and Chef Monique Fiso during a visit to MOTAT with my son. If you go to Auckland, this is the Museum of Transport and Technology. It is full of New Zealand history and well worth a visit to delve deeper into the innovative spirit of Kiwis. I watched a brief documentary about her inspiring journey as a chef, working in Michelin Starred Restaurants in America. After seven years she returned home to her roots to start her our unique culinary experience Hiakia.

What makes Monique’s approach so unique is her use of authentic ingredients and traditional cooking methods, fused into a fine dining experience. She has deeply connected with her Maori and Pacific Island heritage to offer a culinary experience like no other. You will find that New Zealanders are eternally humble, and while there are certainly reasons to be proud when you accomplish something incredible. Kiwi’s internalise their accomplishments.. Made evident when you look at Monique’s career successes, she remains forever humble despite her incredible talent.

I was born in the King Country of New Zealand, in a small town called Otorohanga they say this means food for a journey. Maybe this is why Monique’s work resonated immediately, I am forever on a journey and I am always hungry for something more from life. Monique created her pop up Restaurant in Wellington called Hiakai which essentially means “I am hungry’.

Looking back Maori and Pacific Islanders were incredibly innovative when it came to food, and they developed a cooking style well known to New Zealanders as the Hangi. Maori people were known to be hunters, gatherers and crop farmers. They harvested their food from the forest, nearby streams, the ocean and their own personal gardens. The traditional diet was based on birds, like the muttonbird, local fish, whitebait and supplemented by wild herbs and roots, including the potato, taro, yams and Kumara.

A Hangi involves digging a hole in the ground, lighting a fire and placing stones inside, which will then retain their heat when the fire goes out. Food is wrapped traditionally in flax baskets and usually consists of Kumara, root vegetables, seafood, chicken or pork. Foliage, followed by soil, which is placed on top of the food to cook for up to three hours. The food from a Hangi is like nothing you have ever experienced before. The Hangi’s effectiveness for cooking food for larger family gatherings and traditional celebrations made it a staple for bringing together a community of people to share in the experience and connect.

Any food was considered a gift from Tangaroa, (the God of the Sea) and Tane Mahuta, (the God of the Forest). Fresh, earthy and natural flavours form the very essence of Maori cuisine, with a focus on seasonality. It is this traditional method of hunting and gathering that must be preserved. The work Monique is doing is incredibly important, in order to maintain the traditional knowledge of edible plants and herbs for the next generation. In order to maintain the rich culture that makes New Zealand so unique.

Monique was well known for her Hangi, but she wanted to take New Zealand Cuisine to another level by showcasing it’s potential for fine dining. Through extensive training in hunting and foraging for traditional foods and learning from the most knowledgeable elders. Monique has gone to great lengths to provide the most authentic culinary experience. You can see the love and connection to her culture, so beautifully presented on each plate.

Monique has most certainly achieved phenomenal success with her restaurant Hiakai in Wellington and if you would like to learn more about Monique’s journey as a Chef follow her on the links below.

You will also find Monique on the Netflix Series, The Final Table.