Fiji Friday: Peter Kuruvita and Flying Fish Restaurant at Sheraton
Flying Fish in Fiji has always been one of those dream destinations I’d drift off fantasizing about. I’d close my eyes and would wander into the sparkling sea; I’d imagine myself eating the most luxurious seafood feast… and sometimes, I’d even secretly picture my wedding there.
Coincidentally, with me recently attending the South Pacific Food and
Wine Festival, it meant I was able to finally dine at Flying Fish in
Fiji. Like, for real.
The best part about this experience is how the reality of eating there actually surpassed my expectations.
Chairs and tables are casually but meticulously arranged on the sand, the dining space is surrounded by a glistening pool and tall shady coconut palms, and the seamless integration of its glass enclosed kitchen, set up against the backdrop of the beach is entirely stunning.
I couldn’t have been in a more beautiful restaurant!
But to top it off, I had the delight of spending some one-on-one time with the mastermind behind Flying Fish, Peter Kuruvita.
Peter, nowadays a celebrity chef (and star in My Sri Lanka with Peter Kuruvita), is an extremely passionate, driven and humble restaurateur. What you may not know, is that beneath his charming and talkative personality, Peter has an ingenious spark about him.
He has consulted and worked at restaurants around the world, and seems to have a midas touch everywhere he goes.
Back in the 80s, under Peter’s leadership, Barrenjoey House in Palm Beach was awarded a one chef hat rating in the Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide. Throughout his stint at Bilsons, the restaurant received a two chef hat rating, and he also led Hayman Island Resort into receving a series of awards including Tourism + Leisure (US) magazine ‘Best Restaurant, Australia and South Pacific’ World’s Best Awards 2002. But most impressive yet, was when Flying Fish (where Peter is a co-owner) in Pyrmont was awarded two chefs hats just nine months after opening.
Peter puts his success down to getting it right behind the scenes – hiring and training the right people, sourcing quality ingredients, and maintaining consistently high standards.
Flying Fish at Sheraton on Denarau Island in Fiji was established four years ago under a licencing deal where Peter is responsible for setting the standards, recruiting and training, and Starwood Hotels manages the property and pays the wages. Michael McCann of Dreamtime Australia Design designed both Flying Fish restaurants (in Sydney and Fiji) so there’s an honest synergy between the two restaurants that goes beyond sharing signature dishes.
The kitchen staff at Flying Fish in Fiji are all local Fijians except for the head chef, Jason Carroll, who was previously senior sous chef at Flying Fish in Sydney. Peter says there’s a great allure in being able to send chefs between restaurants, although it is not without its hurdles. However, incentives like giving chefs the ability to earn the right to go to the Sydney restaurant on an all-expense paid for training have helped reduce sick leave from 55-60 days to a bare minimum.
Aside from his intuitive HR talents, Peter’s involvement in Fiji has also seen him working with local producers on educating them about consistency and sustainability practices. He acknowledges that he’s lucky to have access to his wife’s godfather’s fishing business in Suva. While they typically catch and export their fishes, Peter striked up a deal to get regular shipments of their best catch sent to Flying Fish at Denarau Island every few days.
He clearly loves building restaurants and is driven by empowering locals. In his own words, “I get to travel and embrace other cultures like a soldier… Except I don’t have to kill!”. So what’s next for the Flying Fish brand?
Peter says he is open to opportunities and has been looking all over the world in places like Bali, Indonesia, Beijing, Asia and even the Middle East! At the end of the day, it’s all down to being proud of what he’s put up and his continued pursuit for perfection – and currently, Peter is no doubt, very proud of his achievements.
From a bigger picture perspective, Peter recognises that there aren’t enough standalone restaurants in Fiji, but with more local chefs getting trained by Michelin starred chefs, there’s no reason why more good restaurants can’t spring up in Fiji’s 300+ islands in the near future!
So with the South Pacific Food and Wine Festival day passes, signature lunches were complimentary at participating restaurants. I thus dined at Flying Fish twice as the menus changed daily!
Day two’s theme was A Taste Of Flying Fish Sydney. Main course (pictured above) was de-boned and pressed spatchcock with morsels, water chestnuts, prune, preserved lemon and verjus, and dessert (pictured below) was a 70% Amedei chocolate torte with peanut brittle, banana and oat muesli with cookie dough ice cream.
The following day, the theme was The Island Feast. Main course was local Fijian game fish, Wahoo, served with red onion soubise, snake beans and papaya salad.
Dessert was sago pudding served with fresh coconut cream and mace.
Both meals were sensationally sumptuous, and the plating up of all the dishes were absolutely impeccable!
Of course, I also attended Peter’s master class at the Festival Kitchen Theatre that following afternoon.
Don’t you love how chefs can make such intricate dishes appear so achievable for a home cook?
I frantically took notes on the ingredients that make up Flying Fish’s chilli salt, and wrote down all of Peter’s tips for creating the best crackling and the juiciest pork… But whether or not I give it a go or just pop by Flying Fish in Pyrmont, is another story! Nonetheless, Peter has provided me much inspiration in business and in the kitchen!
The master class and signature lunches were inclusive in the festival day passes. The 3 day pass was $777 FJD ($420 AUD) and the 1 day pass was $333 FJD ($180 AUD) and included daily signature lunches at designated festival restaurants, access to all guest chef presentations in the festival kitchen theatre, access to all culinary workshops and master classes, and daily themed coffee breaks and morning teas.
Find out more about the South Pacific Food & Wine Festival 2012
JENIUS travelled to Fiji and attended the South Pacific Food & Wine Festival as a guest of Tourism Fiji with special thanks to Mike Parker-Brown