Monique Fiso never imagined she'd be digging a six-foot hole with Gordon Ramsay on the hottest day on record in Stewart Island.
The Wellington chef behind fine dining restaurant Hiakai and star of The Final Table, Fiso puts Māori cuisine on the map. Now, she's teaming up with Ramsay in a New Zealand episode of culinary travel series Gordon Ramsay: Uncharted. And what better way to introduce him to our country's native cuisine than a hāngi?
"I really put him to work on the hottest day on record on the island," she laughs. "It's not an easy task and not usually something I would do with a beginner. But Gordon was game-on, he was great. He followed the instructions – and you can really hurt yourself doing a hāngi – he was super respectful, took it on board and didn't mind that I had to yell at him. I don't care how famous you are at that point, it is a dangerous cooking method."
"Everything I hadn't done before, I wanted to do," Ramsay adds. "Understanding hāngi and just what it meant, making the most amazing oven. What we dug and the pit we made and getting those rocks super hot - you actually baked in there," he says to Fiso.
"I did. I actually baked a pudding and I think you thought I was a bit bonkers too," she replies.
"Resourceful. That was the most important thing. In an ever-changing world and food evolving the way it is – getting back to that kind of rawness," he adds. "Having that kind of oasis on your doorstep was incredible."
In Uncharted, Ramsay travels to some of the world's most incredible and remote locations including Peru, Morocco, Hawaii, Laos and Alaska. The New Zealand episode heroes local seafood, foraged native herbs and root vegetables and the hunting and cooking of a mountain goat in the hāngi.
Filming took place not long after 31-year-old Fiso first opened Hiakai, her innovative tasting menu restaurant that incorporates native ingredients and indigenous cooking methods. The concept began as a series of pop-ups in 2016 after Fiso returned home from a stint in New York working in Michelin-star restaurants.
While this series presented an opportunity to showcase modern Māori cuisine to the world, Fiso was initially unsure how working with Ramsay would go. Now she's quick to reveal he was honestly – and surprisingly - "so nice" and a long-standing personal inspiration.
"One thing I noticed about him back in my teenage years was that he had a lot of women who were his head chefs and sous chefs, which for me, even though they didn't look like me, meant a lot because that was the career path I wanted to take," she explains.
"I said that to him while filming: 'I don't think you realise how important that was for me when I was 17, deciding to get into this career. Seeing that you have women running your kitchens.'"
Ramsay says: "One young lady, Clare Smyth, just finished working with me and we set up a new business. She ran away from home to come work with me, and then after 10 years we put her into France and she became an absolute thoroughbred. She came back and held the reins and now is standing out there independently. It's about finding those experts, [like] Monique revolutionising that Māori DNA."
Now attracting international attention and acclaim, Fiso has already blazed the trail in Aotearoa. She works exceptionally hard to challenge the status quo of Māori food. Her next project? A 10-course tasting menu, inspired by a Māori myth.
"We're always evolving and thinking about how we can do it better and not just incorporate the ingredients, but also more of the culture.
"When Hiakai started, it was pretty much just me. I think there was one guy up in the North Island who would occasionally do a hāngi. But over the past 24 months, I've seen seven other eateries open that are focusing on Māori cuisine. It's been really cool to do that for my country," she says.
What: Gordon Ramsay: Uncharted
When: Monday, 8.30pm
Where: National Geographic