WHEN ROBERT Oliver grew up in the Pacific people ate food they grew or they bought from the markets.

Good healthy food that their ancestors had been brought up on.

"Unfortunately that is not the case today. These days many of the people in the Pacific Islands live on noodles and fizzy drink. It's cheap but it's also very nasty," Robert says.

"When I was a kid fizzy was a treat. Unfortunately it's been highly marketed and presented as a glamorous lifestyle choice. Plus some people are having noodles three times a day, there is absolutely no nutrition in them.


"As a result there is a health crisis with so many people presenting with heart disease, diabetes and obesity."

Robert, who is an award winning author, chef, television presenter and was a judge on My Kitchen Rules, is devoted to helping these people make better choices when it comes to food and drink.

He believes that "Kai (ethnic cuisine) is not just food - it is a matrix of connections to culture, community, to health and farm economies, to the natural and supernatural worlds. If you raise the kai, you raise it all."

He is not one to simply sit around and talk the talk and decided to do something about it.

"I had just been a judge on My Kitchen Rules and that made me understood the glamour of the show. I knew just about everyone in the Pacific watched television so I thought why not do a show that the people in the Pacific could engage with."

After "years in the making" and with the support of the Australian and New Zealand governments, the Pacific Island Food Revolution - Season 1, Episode 1, based on his work and the food culture of the South Pacific hit the screens and Robert couldn't be more proud of everyone involved both in front of and behind the scenes.

The first screening was December 21 but don't worry if you missed it, it is available on TV ONE On Demand.

The aim of the show is to raise the awareness of the Pacific cuisine. There are teams from Fiji, Samoa, Vanuatu and Tonga. Each country has three teams and there are two episodes in each team.


"It was easy to cast in the Pacific. The people are great communicators and so good on camera. It is of course much more than just a cooking show, it's about bringing back the local cuisine and getting energised about it.

"It's entertainment to educate and I basically just worked with what I knew would work."
He says the Pacific Island people tend to think of diabetes with some kind of shame.

"It's just a physicality and needs to be pulled out of the shadows so it can be dealt with. In reality if we don't do something about this health crisis it will end up on New Zealand and Australia's back door. My aim is to flip things on their head and get people excited about cooking their indigenous food again."

Robert hopes to do five to eight series. Pacific Island Food Revolution screens on TV One, Saturday at 10am and is available on demand.

The final episode of the first series has an emotional theme - who feeds us first.

Robert says everyone relates to the person that first fed them and that's most often their mother. So Robert's mother Jean was invited onto the judging panel for the final.

Jean, who lives in Havelock North, says being in front of a television camera didn't faze her at all.

"Speaking was the only nerve-racking thing about it and luckily I didn't have to do too much of that," she laughed.

"It was fascinating to see the process of the filming. You had to be careful you had the same clothes and shoes on as it's not always filmed in sequence.

"The people were so nice and friendly. I enjoyed the entire experience."
Jean says she is proud of all her family.

"They have all worked hard and done well for themselves."

She is no stranger to the indigenous food of the Pacific.

"My husband Dennis, who has passed away now, was the executive director of YMCA in New Plymouth. In 1971 he applied for and got the job of executive director of YMCA in Fiji.

"So with three kids in tow, Robert, 14, Shelley, 11, and Richard, 9, we moved to Fiji. When we arrived there was a wharf strike so no food was being imported. I had no choice but to cook with the local food I bought at the markets. Robert loved the markets and we went every Saturday morning."

Jean said cooking with the local food was just part of life.

"Living in a country is certainly not like being a tourist."

The family lived there for six years with Robert returning to NZ to go to university.

"We came home for 10 months and then Dennis got the same job in Samoa. We lived there for five and half years. I wouldn't say it was easy and we certainly didn't live the ordinary life. We had to make our own way.

"I wasn't allowed to work but did things like food programmes and I volunteered a lot at the YMCA.

"I had a lot to do with the Samoan people and I love going back to visit. Shelley works with Samoan people in our community in Hawke's Bay now.

"It was an amazing experience. We all came back having different views on life."