Meet Hiakai’s Monique Fiso, one of Wellington’s leading culinary talents

Attica's Ben Shewry talks sustainability with chef Monique Fiso from Hiakai in Wellington.
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Press play on the video above to watch Ben Shewry’s visit to Hiakai in Wellington.

Growing up on a farm in Taranaki on the west coast of New Zealand’s North Island, Attica chef-owner Ben Shewry was exposed to fresh produce and seafood from a young age. This early ambition sparked his culinary curiosity and ambition to pursue a career as a chef. “To me, the best food always tells a story,” he says. “It speaks of country, time and place.”

On his most recent trip to Wellington, the city where his cooking career began, Shewry had the opportunity to meet with like-minded producers, chefs and restaurateurs who share his quest to source produce for their restaurants sustainability.

Shewry and chef Monique Fiso share such a philosophy, with the latter’s Hiakai restaurant attracting diners for her experimental approach to foraged native ingredients. Like Shewry, Fiso’s culinary ambitions began early with a stint in a sandwich van before progressing to the kitchens of New York. From those humble beginnings she’s returned to Wellington and risen to the challenge of cooking with ingredients that until now, have been relatively unexplored in New Zealand’s restaurants – a goal which has also given her an opportunity to explore her Maori heritage.

“When I first started cooking like this I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I needed to see how far I could take these ingredients because we don’t have a book telling us what to do. It’s a blank canvas, really,” says Fiso.

Fiso’s move from a series of pop-ups to her own restaurant Hiakai in Wellington has earned her awards and accolades in an incredibly short space of time, but it wasn’t without a fight. “I think it took people a lot more convincing at the start [to see] that Maori ingredients had a place on today’s culinary scene,” she says. “We’ve been able to prove that, not only is there a market for it, but there are lots of possibilities with these ingredients.”

Fiso hopes to pass on these possibilities with New Zealand’s emerging culinary talents. “You know you’re making new discoveries that will help the next generation of New Zealand chefs understand our ingredients a little bit better than my generation of chefs understood our ingredients.”

Press play on the video above to watch Ben Shewry’s visit to Hiakai in Wellington.

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