While here in Fiji my wife and I decided to take a half day class at the Flavours of Fiji cooking school. It is located just outside of where we were staying at Denarau island it was a easy hop over from our hotel to the industrial estate.
The cooking facility was pretty impressive, they had cooking stoves setup for up to 16 people (one instructor 15 students). It was a large hall that had two primary vents in the ceiling and two massive AC units to help keep things cool (towards the end when we had our curries going it did get a bit hot).
Our host Ethee start off showing us the best way to pick between drinking and cooking coconuts. Ethee explained that you want young green coconuts (that you must pick off the trees) that don't actually slosh around when shaken (meaning there's no air space in the nut so it was full of jelly and water). Alternatively for cooking you want a brown coconut with plenty of flesh (just fallen off the tree would be good).
Next Ethee was showing us how to actually crack open a coconut. I just assumed you hacked at the thing or drilled into one of the three "eyes", i've been apparently doing it wrong. Ethee showed us the three "seams" that meet at one end of the coconut and terminate near the "eyes". You go around in turn and hit the middle of each seam perpandicular to the seam with the back of a cleaver. One of three seams will give and crack the coconut in half.
Then came the demo of the scraping of coconut meat out of the shell using both a more modern scraper and a traditional sharpened tree branch.
We learned about the traditions of Fijian villages. For instance the chief of the village is always served his food "whole" (e.g. the whole pig etc) and portions are separately prepared for everyone else. She also explained the importance of the family gathering and dining together as well as ingredients and influences (such as Indian cuisine).
The class was divided into two sections: Traditional Fijian cuisine (three course) as well as Indian cuisine (four course). We stopped after each section to dine on our meal. The flow was really well prepared we started each section with "shopping" where we collected and learned about our ingredients (all pre-portioned) and then we cooked along with the instructor. (I wasn't able to catch the name of our Fijian instructor)
All of the pots and pans were collected under our workstations and every step well rehearsed that even beginners would have no trouble following along. Every step that required new utensils were perfectly arranged and we were instructed between steps to grab the right implements.
We cooked a coconut curry mahi mahi over bok choy, braised taro leaves (which she referred to as fiji spinach), and cassava tapioca balls cooked in coconut caramel sauce. I'll skip all the details but you can see the collage of the various preparation steps. Every step was well explained and with an interesting narrative about the ingredients and their use in daily Fijian cooking. As we cooked the other instructors that weren't actively teaching helped each student as well as helped collected and keep our mise en place clean and orderly.
Here's our finished three dishes. Yum!
Next was our Indian cooking instructor Arti. We cooked a Dal Shorva (lentil soup), Murghi Aur Aloo (chicken and potato curry), Roti, and a dessert of caramalized shredded coconut (I didn't hear a name for it).
Again, a very thorough and well timed conversation and cooking demonstration. She explained everything as we waited for things to simmer and had us simultaneously prepare three of the dishes
We finished by rolling out and pan frying our roti. Arti explained she had to make 50 of these everyday for her family for their breakfast and lunch. (That's some dedication right there.)
Here's our wonderful Indian "second lunch".
In the new year Flavours of Fiji will be offering a market shopping tour (which we might try attend). I highly recommend checking out this class, we had a great time!