The Cook Islands are special for many reasons – the secluded, white sand beaches, the crystal clear ocean waters and of course, the waterfall infused rainforest interior. But what makes this country truly unique is its culture.
The local people are always eager to demonstrate their cultural heritage through song, dance, art, and of course, food. Like in most lands, food plays a major role in the national flavour, and on Rarotonga, you’ll find dishes that are based on the many fresh, home-grown island ingredients.
Perhaps nowhere is the exotic essence of the Cook Islands felt as strongly than at a special dining event – one usually held just once a week. The Plantation House on Rarotonga is a special place where the delicious foods and magical settings conspire to form the perfect evening.
The Plantation House is one of the oldest structures in the country. Built in 1853, this peaceful veranda wrapped colonial home is situated among beautiful tropical gardens, and guests are encouraged to tour the lovely fertile grounds. In fact, most of the ingredients for the organic three-course dinners come from this very garden.
Minar and Louis are the owners of the historic plantation. The two foodies excel at producing delectable dishes from the blending of their own fresh tropical ingredients in the contemporary Pacific/Asian style of cooking for which they’ve become so well known. The end result is nothing short of extraordinary.
We recently asked the two restaurateurs about their historic property and the special dining night that has become one of our favourite experiences in the Cook Islands.
Travel Associates: Your beautiful colonial homestead provides an amazing surrounding for your weekly dinners. Can you let us in on the history of the place?
Minar & Louis: The house was originally built by a Canadian by the name of Williams. He shipped all the native timber, Canadian Douglas Fir, and constructed the Colonial styled house with the wrap around veranda. The house and its limestone walls are of identical design to the churches found on the Island. It really has great character and is one of the other reasons we wanted to return to Rarotonga to make this fantastic house our home.
Q: Did you always have this unique dining experience in mind?
A: Our "Plantation Dinner" evolved through our passion for good food and the ability for us to produce a fantastic setting within our restored 1853 home. It wasn’t something we planned, but after we hosted a couple of functions for close friends and family, we realised there was a demand for just such a venue – one with fresh local foods, served within an historic, tropical setting.
Q: Can you describe the Plantation Dinner experience in a nutshell?
A: Our food has a fresh Island/Asian influence and the explosion of flavours come from the fact that the ingredients are so fresh. It really is a sensation that few dining experiences can offer. We host the exclusive “Plantation House Dinner” for people who really appreciate great food and good company.
Q: What produce will people find when they walk through your garden. Do you open the Island Living store for them and what will they find?
A: As part of the dining experience we have a guided tour of our gardens explaining the benefits of the many fruits and vegetables that we grow. We are organic growers and do not use pesticides. We really grow for the benefit of our family, children and guests.
Minar is also an artist and we have what we call the Island Living store. Minar has been able to let her creativity flow through her quality art pieces, and we also stock other local arts and crafts along with moisturisers and soaps.
Q: Do you follow a particular food philosophy or style?
A: Minar’s background is in great local food with an Asian/Malay style of cooking and she has been very successful in owning and operating outlets in New Zealand and Australia. She is also a very keen reader of quality cuisine publications and has the ability to improvise with recipes and create a flavour that becomes amazing with the ingredients that she has at her fingertips.
Q: Could you describe a couple of dishes from a recent Plantation Dinner?
A: One recent dish was especially popular, a coconut honey glazed pork belly with local figs then slow cooked in coconut juice. Another that springs to mind is the freshly made pork, prawn and water chestnut wontons with kaffir lime dipping sauce.
Q: For Travel Associates clients who are interested in this wonderful dining experience, how often do you host dinners and what is the best way for them to book?
A: We host anywhere between 1 – 4 dinners a month, depending on the demand and our family schedule. As is often the case, we can add individuals/couples to potential bookings. We often host special functions, and with a few minor conditions, we can block out the restaurant for groups of 20 – 28. Interested guests can contact their Travel Associates consultant for availability.