Monique Fiso has championed the food of Aotearoa as a chef, through her restaurant Hiakai and her book. Monique Fiso serves up gourmet menus featuring ingredients like muttonbird and kawakawa, has rubbed shoulders with chefs like Gordon Ramsay, and her Wellington restaurant has even been recognised in Time magazine.
After initially training in New Zealand, Fiso worked in New York for seven years, including with Michelin-earning chefs Missy Robbins, Brad Farmerie, Matt Lambert and celebrity Gordon Ramsay. Returning to Wellington, she started her Māori-Samoan inspired restaurant restaurant Hiakai, with a focus on bringing native ingredients back into the kitchen.
In 2019, Hiakai was named as one of the world’s 100 most important places by Time magazine. Her focus on Māori cuisine was supercharged by a trip to show a friend from overseas the South Island, which highlighted how difficult it was to find Māori and Pasifika cuisine in restaurants.
The restaurant has garnered rave reviews and both established chefs and young chefs have written to tell her they are inspired by what she was has done and it has prompted them to consider how to present Aotearoa’s foods themselves.
In 2021, Fiso won the illustrated non-fiction section of the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards for her book Hiakai: Modern Māori Cuisine. New Zealand cooks and diners have also become much more knowledgeable and adventurous in the kitchen in the last ten years, she says. Running a set menu allows her to respond to what she collects foraging and to present a menu that is “hyperseasonal”.