When it comes to looking for inspiration for her dishes, chef Monique Fiso "goes bush".

"A lot of people think I run around planning dishes in the bush," Fiso said.

"I mean, it is that, but it is also a spiritual connection and mindfulness. It's good to get out of the city and the kitchen, to take a step back and breathe."

Fiso led a foraging walk through the Puketoki Reserve on her recent visit to Tauranga for the Escape! Arts Festival.


She said sourcing ingredients in the wild gave her a deeper respect for her ancestors.

"There are so many things you can talk about while in there, not just in regards to food but also about culture. Understanding this was the environment they were in and then recognising they would have had to try and survive in this."

Fiso won an award at the New Zealand Innovation Awards last year for her unique blend of fine dining and traditional Māori cooking techniques.

"I think it's interesting to see what direction you can take Māori ingredients and give it a new perspective - just changing people's ideas on how these ingredients can be used."

Fiso spent several years working at the Michelin-starred restaurant The Musket Room in New York.

She returned to Aotearoa to start Hiakai, a pop-up dining experience she hoped would dismiss any suggestion Māori cuisine could not be fine dining.

"If there is anything I've learnt through Hiakai, it is that every iwi has their own story to tell.

"If someone was to do Māori cuisine and do it based on the Bay of Plenty, it would be completely different to someone taking on Māori cuisine in say, Stewart Island."


Fiso hoped the next generation of Kiwi chefs would follow her lead to incorporate our national identity into their cooking.

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