The celebrity chef makes a South Pacific debut with a pop-up fine-dining experience, writes Joanna Tovia.
When you have a passion for fresh, locally sourced produce and you’re invited to source and cook that produce in beautiful Fiji, you say yes. That’s exactly what Australian restaurateur and celebrity chef Matt Moran said when he was invited to craft a five-star menu for foodies and fans visiting Fiji.
It’s fitting that the dinners kick off at Sheraton Fiji Golf & Beach Resort, which has its own organic farm before a second evening unfolds at the beautiful Fiji Marriott Momi Bay. Three of Moran’s best chefs have flown over a few days before to prep and refine the menu for the evening ahead. Still, I join Moran at the farm to pluck a few extra ingredients from the fertile soil – mint, lemongrass and rows of other herbs, salad greens and vegetables grow here in abundance.
Sheraton guests can have their own farm-to-fork experience here, complete with coconut water sipped straight from the coconut. After a farm tour and fire dance, local dishes cooked in a lovo (earth oven) are shared at communal tables.
Moran himself is a fourth-generation farmer and says his love for quality, seasonal and locally sourced produce is what drives him to keep creating exceptional food experiences.
“I always say that you might need a doctor once or twice a year, but you need a farmer three times a day – for breakfast, lunch and dinner,” Moran jokes. “If it wasn’t for the farmers and the producers, I definitely wouldn’t be the restaurateur or the chef that I am today. I’m very passionate about that side of it.”
He isn’t the only one. “The sustainable food movement is gaining momentum, and I think everyone wants to know where their food comes from,” Moran adds.
The full food package
But it is more than sustainably grown ingredients restaurant guests are now demanding. “They want the full package: the great wine list, the great ambience, the great service, food and location; the great acoustics and the great chair to sit on – I think if you roll that all up and you deliver it, you’ll do alright.”
Moran is delivering that in spades at his restaurants (Aria, Chiswick, Chophouse and Opera Bar, among them) along with juggling television shows, cookbooks, a Singapore Airlines deal and a partnership with the Art Gallery of NSW. And now, a pop-up dining experience in Fiji.
One of the other reasons Moran has said yes to Fiji is to reward his hard-working chefs. Moran travels a lot (“It’s always all about the food when I travel”), but his chefs do so much less often.
Unless a kitchen at one of his restaurants is short-staffed, Moran oversees rather than cooks these days and is the first to admit that he relies on his carefully trained chefs to make him look good. “I just kind of wave my hands over it, and there you go,” he says.
As well as a signature starter dish (pickled cucumber, yellowfin tuna and wasabi) which will be on menus at Sheraton Fiji Golf & Beach Resort and Fiji Marriott Resort Momi Bay for the next six months, guests are treated to lime-compressed honeydew melon with chilli salt paired with Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label NV. The chilli salt is handcrafted in Fiji by South Seas Salt, a local business launched during the pandemic in the absence of tourism and is now a runaway success.
The following dishes are just as mouthwatering: snapper ceviche (caught earlier that day) with young coconut, shiso and lime salt; roasted lamb loin with pommes dauphine, mushroom ketchup and silverbeet; and delectable white chocolate and rum pineapple dessert.
Not bad for a farmer’s son who applied for a restaurant job just so he could get out of finishing school.
These days, when he’s not overseeing restaurants, working on his own farm (it supplies beef and lamb to Moran’s restaurants) or running The Rockley Pub (his latest acquisition), he’s fishing in Iceland (an annual trip), riding motorbikes or cooking in his kitchen at home.
“I have a pretty good kitchen at home, and I actually really enjoy it; I find it therapeutic,” Moran says. “I need 20 chefs around me to help me get it all out at the restaurants, but whenever I’m home, I don’t want anyone near me in the kitchen – it’s one of those things I draw the line on.”
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