Foodies know New Zealand’s Chef Monique Fiso. In Gordon Ramsay Uncharted, her dynamic food conversation engages beyond the screen.
New Zealand may not be instantly recognizable as a foodie destination, but Chef Monique Fiso is enticing foodies from around the world with her impressive food. As seen in this season of Gordon Ramsay Uncharted, the talented, introspective chef offered Chef Ramsay and food TV viewers a broader, deeper conversation about food and culture. More importantly, she is engaging others to continue that food conversation beyond the plate.
In this season of Gordon Ramsay Uncharted, the culinary adventure show on Nat Geo Channel sought to highlight regions, cuisines and chefs. As the food world evolves, these particular locales pushed the food conversation further. Whether it was a different method of cooking, sourcing ingredients or just seeing food in a new way, these moments were meant to push the global food conversation forward.
For Monique Fiso, this Gordon Ramsay show offered an opportunity not only to highlight her native New Zealand but also put her passion for her food on display. While the one hour show might have just given a glimpse into the diverse New Zealand food world, it hopefully excited viewers to explore it further.
After the Gordon Ramsay Uncharted New Zealand episode aired, FoodSided had the opportunity to chat with Chef Monique via phone. During that conversation, we discussed a myriad of topics. From her impressions of Chef Ramsay to her hope that people are more conscious about their food choices, the conversation left me feeling more optimistic about the future of modern cuisine.
Chef Monique Fiso started cooking at a very young age. Introduced to food through her grandmother, that desire to learn, explore and develop her culinary point of view has evolved throughout her career. From working in Michelin Star kitchens to her highly acclaimed Hiaki restaurant in New Zealand, food is a meaningful expression for her.
In discussing how certain dishes arrive on her menu, Chef Monique shared that each dish has a purpose. The food is more than a visually stunning plate or a perfectly composed bite. She mentioned that each dish needs to answer “what is the purpose of this.”
While that question might seem simple, it has large implications. As a hugely talented chef, everyone knows that she and her team can create delicious food, but her goal is higher than that standard. She wants to push the conversation forward.
Chef Monique mentioned that she wants to create dishes that can discuss “multicultural New Zealand culture or Polynesian culture.” Or taken from another angle, “how much of the impact is it going to have on the environment.” In a way, it appears that she wants to create a dining experience that lasts much longer than the lingering flavors on your palate.
That desire to engage people made the Gordon Ramsay Uncharted program a wonderful collaboration and opportunity. While she had been featured in Netflix’s The Finale Table, this Nat Geo Channel program focuses more on the how, why and what next, which seems to appeal to her sensibilities.
When asked specifically why she wanted to be involved with Gordon Ramsay Uncharted, Chef Monique mentioned that the concept fit with what she has been doing. The idea of highlighting and exploring sometimes overlooked cuisines and destinations is important to her.
She said, “the past three years of my life, I have been trying to get modern cuisine showcased as much as possible across the island and internationally. It was just kind of the perfect marriage.”
Of course, the prospect of being on television with Gordon Ramsay did come with a few nerves. While many food TV fans see Chef Ramsay’s fiery personality on screen, her experience with Chef Ramsay showed how much he is invested in the people he works with.
Chef Monique was thoroughly impressed with how much time and effort Chef Ramsay put into this experience. From doing his homework about her, her career and New Zealand to offering mentorship and advice within the culinary world, the softer side of Gordon Ramsay was definitely on display.
In many ways, that softer side is why this type of culinary adventure and food conversation works. Even on the New Zealand episode, there was banter about the certain ingredients. Sure, Gordon couldn’t eat a insect, but he saw how that ingredient was transformed into something delicious in another dish.
That type of food transformation exemplifies the Maori culture and approach to their cuisine. Food that is harvested from the forest, stream, sea and garden celebrates the life that the earth gives.
That connection to the earth and the passion to protect it comes through in Chef Monique’s culinary point of view. She is very passionate about the environmental impact that people’s choices are having. From smart consumption to climate change, everything is interlinked.
During the New Zealand episode of Gordon Ramsay Uncharted, there was a scene about hunting goats. Chef Monique explained how goats can be harmful for the New Zealand ecosystem because they are overpopulated. Since some Kiwis cannot afford to purchase lamb and beef, goat can be a viable protein alternative.
Again, she shows that her approach to food is a broader concept. There is a sense of responsibility and a desire to do more with her platform. Whether it is educating people on their heritage or introducing people to new concepts, her voice is as powerful as the food on her plate.
Fostering that connection is clear at her restaurant. The idea isn’t just to make “nice food.” She wants the diners to be involved in the discussion, to push the conversation forward. Whether that food is provoking, polarizing or thought inducing, her food “tells stories and creates discussion.” In today’s evolving food landscape, this concept is becoming part of any chef’s life.
Although some foodies might be able to explore New Zealand’s cuisine, culture and visit her restaurant Hiakai, everyone can infuse much of Chef Monique’s philosophy in their own home cooking. Part of this Gordon Ramsay series is taking those lessons discussed in each episode and finding the personal application. In a way, everyone can push the culinary conversation forward.
While Chef Monique understands that some of her native ingredients might not be found on typical grocery store shelf, food can be the universal language. Food is her form of expression and is an outlet for her creativity.
The same can be said of any cook, both the home cook and the professional. Just look at the visiting chefs who have partnered with her at Hiakai or the final feast on Gordon Ramsay Uncharted.
The two chefs can take the same ingredients yet have a totally different approach. One is not right, wrong, better or worse. It is all interpretations, shades of grey and elements of the same conversation.
The food world needs more chefs like Monique Fiso. While she and her food continue to evolve, she calls on her heritage and culture to guide those decisions. It is a great reminder that without the past, the future might not be possible.
My biggest takeaway from my conversation with Chef Monique was that a chef can speak volumes in a subtle way. More importantly, a chef can inspire others to push herself forward, both on the plate and in life.
While I might not get on a plane to New Zealand this year, I can think differently about the food that I serve my family during our Sunday dinner. There is a story to be told about that plate of food and that story doesn’t end when the table is cleared.
My hope is that Chef Monique Fiso continues to be a strong voice, story-teller and culinary point of view in the food world. And, I hope that Gordon Ramsay Uncharted continues to give chefs, cultures and regions a platform and keeps inspiring others to embrace their next culinary adventure.
How did Gordon Ramsay Uncharted inspire you? What is your next great culinary adventure?