Food festivals have potential to boost island economies


Food festivals have today grown to become a platform to showcase a country’s authentic cuisine and to raise the profile of super foods, writes Teremoana (Mona) Mato, Pacific Islands Trade &amp; Invest (PT&amp;I) NZ Trade Development Manager from Rarotonga, Cook Islands.<!--more--> Last week Mona represented PT&amp;I at the inaugural Kai Maori Festival, a collaborative effort between PT&amp;I and the Cook Islands Business Trade and Investment Board (BTIB) through funding from the Pacific Integration Technical Assistance Programme (PITAP) funded by the European Union.

In Mona’s words…

[caption id="attachment_7607" align="alignleft" width="400"]<a href=""><img class="wp-image-7607 size-full" src="" alt="One of the many exquisite culinary creations at the festival." width="400" height="267" /></a> Some of the many exquisite culinary creations at the festival.[/caption]

The landscape of New Zealand’s food and beverage industry is now slowly shifting with an increasing number of health and social conscious consumers making their preferences for natural, healthy foods known. Research shows that the light is now beginning to shine on our Pacific Islands as a source of super foods.

Consumers are now interested in the stories behind the product, the origins of the product, who is involved in production, the growers and planters stories. Yesterday, we had a showcase of Cook Islands culinary talent with eight contestants competing and it was good to hear of the stories behind the dishes. Therefore, we do need the Cook Islands food and beverage products to be positioned well in niche markets of superfoods in the international marketplace.

Celebrity guest chefs Aaron and Heather Freeman, the runners-up in the <em>2014 My Kitchen Rules</em>, a New Zealand TV cooking series competition, who are also Cook Islanders were invited to judge the food competition. They joined co-judges Sam Timoko, President of the Cook Islands Chefs Association and President of the World Chefs Association as well as Jose Rattle, International award winning chef and Cook Islands chef graduate.

On behalf of the Trade Commissioner of PT&amp;I, we are very pleased to be supporting the first Kai Maori food festival in the Cook Islands I’d like to acknowledge the business trade and investment board’s trade and marketing team of Piltz Napa and Nicholle Ama for making this happen and for realising the potential of our Kai Maori as a platform to showcase food and beverage ingredients with a view to developing this into a niche export industry.

Thanks are also due to Tourism Cook Islands and the Ministry of Cultural Development. A special mention Sam Timoko of the Cook Islands Chefs Association and the Cook islands Tertiary Training Institute for helping build the culinary capabilities of young chefs and for putting together a fantastic menu that showcased our winning signature dishes from the festival competition.

Also a special acknowledgement to Aaron Freeman and his wife Heather for his contributions to the event and the hours spent with the Cook Islands Tertiary Training Institute in assisting with the preparations of the Gala Dinner showcasing the winning signature dishes and also sharing his knowledge to Cook Islands chefs.

PT&amp;I ran a similar food festival called Kai Niue last year, an event that received wide media coverage in New Zealand, adding to Niue’s growing attraction as a tourism destination.