Our recent cruise in the Lau Islands of Fiji included an unexpected opportunity to meet and observe Chef Lance Seeto, the South Pacific’s answer to Jamie Oliver. Both chefs are famous (although Chef Seeto’s fame hasn’t yet covered the globe as Jamie Oliver’s seems to have) and both work to encourage people to eat healthier diets by enjoying flavorful, whole foods. (This would be a funnier story if at least one of the chefs encouraged people to eat large quantities of processed foods but, unsportingly, neither does.)
Chef Seeto was on the Captain Cook Fiji cruise with his small crew so they could go to several of the rarely visited Lau Islands and, using locally available ingredients, cook meals. Chef Seeto would create a recipe, cook it on a fire on the beach and his crew would film it for his next season of A Taste of Paradise.
The chef is from Melbourne, Australia but his career seems to be focused primarily on Fiji. He is Fiji Airways’ Culinary Ambassador. (We’re trying hard to fathom this and assume they failed to implement anything he suggested as they truly have the worst airline food in the world.) Chef Seeto is a regular columnist in the Fiji Times and has won two of Fiji’s top culinary awards, the AON Fiji Excellence in Tourism Award and the Best Fine Dining category for his menu and restaurant at Castaway Island.
The early rumor on the ship (one we may have started after a little wine) was that each day he would make a dish that we would get to enjoy on the ship. Um, not true. He gave the food to the curious islanders who gathered around to watch him prepare it.
Chef Seeto is a very friendly, approachable guy (when he isn’t cooking) so we wanted to learn a little more about why he was taking this challenging approach to producing a cooking show. He explained that he works with the Health Department to try to influence Fijians to eat the foods their ancestors ate as a means of lowering the rapid increase in diabetes and cancer that has occurred in just one generation of Fijians.
The first season of his show focused on the basics of cooking, cutting, frying and the other things that no one under the age of 40 in America can do. The second season focused on the message that people were dying of non-communicative diseases that could be prevented entirely or greatly reduced by dietary changes. Season Three’s intent was to connect the people of Fiji to their pre-colonial diet. (This is code for before Indians were brought in as slaves who, over time, became chefs in Fiji and introduced the joys of curry. Fijians started to eat an Indian diet and abandoned their ancestral diet.) Chef Seeto is now into his Season Four and the fun part of things with recipes that create a new, tasty but simply executed Fijian cuisine.
The villages of the Lau Islands aren’t full of homes with Wolf ranges and Sub-Zero refrigerators owned by people who go out to eat at high-end restaurants while finding smug satisfaction in knowing they have “chef kitchens” at home. The people here have the most basic cooking equipment and there aren’t any restaurants so no one frets about a change in the practices of Open Table. (Why don’t they ever have the time Blonde requests?? It can’t be a coincidence.)
We were surprised to learn that people on such remote islands could be eating processed food. Each island might get a delivery a month of food from cargo ships. Were these people with very low, if any, incomes buying junk food at the first opportunity? Yes. Does this surprise you? Are you completely unfamiliar with Honey Boo Boo?
We hope Chef Seeto gets his message and his love of cooking across to Fijians because we don’t want to see some of the friendliest people on the planet have a poor quality of life or die young. He told us the show’s ratings are very high with children, so there’s hope.