Lee Acriman, the chef at Taste of Fiji : a catering and wedding cake company as well as a trendy cafe in Nadi. He has kindly accepted to share a little bit about his journey, passion for food, catering and wedding cakes…
You can read or listen (and hear the sounds of the Taste of Fiji cafe in the background) :
Anais: Good afternoon Lee. Thank you so much for agreeing to answer my questions, all aimed at helping a few brides getting married in Fiji find their way around catering and their wedding cake…
First of all can you give me some information about your journey, how you became a chef and ended up in Fiji?
Lee: I’ve always wanted to, I was always interested in cooking while I was young. So
I always wanted to become a chef.
Not necessarily pastry, but just to be a chef. So I went to Exeter College after school. I was in school for three years back in UK.
Anais : That was a serious journey! For how long have you been studying?
Lee: Yes. I just, I always loved food.
I ate a lot of food! I was always into my food so yeah, I went on to Exeter college and also got a side job. So I was working at school from 8am till 4pm and then I was going straight on to a job trying to do part time in the evenings and in the weekends to gain more experience.
Anais: Back in the UK?
Lee: Yeah, back in the UK in Exeter, Devon, which is Southwest of England.
Anais: Was that a big change from Fiji?
Lee: Yes. Once, I was actually on work experience that used to send us out to different restaurants and hotels for work experience: while I was still here at college. I went to a restaurant, which is within a hotel, which is a 15-bedroom manor house : the Comb house. It was a big manor house : a massive place with a big great hall in the middle. It has 73 and a half thousand acres of woodland. So we had our own deers there, Arabian staff horses and pheasants. They had cattle reared there as well. We went to pick our mushrooms in the woods.
Anais: That’s fantastic!
That chef taught me that we should cook food with local ingredients. So that’s been my philosophy since basically I’ve worked there, and carried that on as a chef. So now that we are in Fiji I try to use local produce as much as possible. It even applies with the wedding cakes.
We need to use fondant which is imported for our icing and things, but a part from that,
today’s cakes are mostly white chocolate, passionfruit, chocolate, dark chocolate, mango and coconut. So all local flavours.
Anais: Local and fair trade then?
Lee: Yes. All that chocolate is from Fiji as well. It’s from Adi Chocolate, which is growing naturally in the island of Vanua Levu.
They have 500 acres of land where they grow cane sugar and Trinitario beans. They are growing these beans and then process them here to make their chocolate. So butter, chocolate and sugar are locally made. We try to get everything from Fiji.
Anais: That’s a great philosophy. It’s a really beautiful thing to do. How often do you get to cater for weddings?
Lee: We are catering for a wedding tomorrow. Fifty people. The venue is the sleeping giant, by the zip lines in Nadi. Then we’ve got another wedding next Thursday for a hundred and sixty people.
Anais: So do you cater about two weddings per week?
Lee: Yes, though it depends on the weeks. At the moment (-August-) is quite a busy time for us for catering. We have done probably ten this year. Though we have made over a hundred wedding cakes this year.
Anais: Great! What different packages do you offer in terms of catering and wedding cakes?
Lee: It is mostly bespoke catered to the clients’ needs.
We have a company, as well, apart from Taste. We are joined with a photographer and the magazine Bula bride. Created a business called Dua Tani which means ‘one and only’.
We have always done events catering, but not necessarily wedding catering. So it all came by chance really. We had a bride and groom that came to us for a cake and they had looked at booking a hotel first. But hotels have food packages which are all the same. There wasn’t much variation. If you wanted for exemple a red ginger instead of a pink ginger then you can’t. It’s just the red ginger and this is the cake and it’s nothing more. So it’s very kind of “sand and stone”. They wanted something a bit different and we can always make that happen for our clients. We have exclusive use to areas, venues in Fiji. Gardens, being one of them, which are very beautiful.
So, that was basically the first wedding that we catered. So we organised everything through, from the transport of the food, to the venue, the flowers, and just basically outsourcing for what we needed for them during the catering, the cake and bringing it all together basically.
Anais: Great. So you offer something which is more personalised.
Lee: Yes, that’s it. We do whatever the bride and groom want rather than saying “No”.
Anais: And is there a deadline to book you? How long before thier wedding should the couple get in touch
Chef Lee: We try to get booked as far in advance as possible because obviously, we’re very, very busy with cake and catering, the restaurant and all the bits going on. For the cake it depends on what people want. Sometimes people want something special such as gold leaf, a special colour, or certain things to go on their cakes. We need to sort those. They are not always necessarily available in Fiji. There is a company in Suva doing cakes where we can get a few things. But sometimes we still have to get some ingredients from overseas.
Anais: So you need a bit of time to get organised.
Anais: Fair enough.
Lee: Yes, at least four days for a cake.
Anais: Which is short, four days is not that much notice.
Anais: Is there a budget that people should expect?
Lee: I would say for a random thing, yes, a small one tier kind of looking at anything from a hundred and fifty dollars upwards. Then it is depending on what you want. And it is not all about the size only.
It depends on how many guests you are having, of the flavor of the cake, the kind of icing you want, the type of decorations… If you want to get fresh flowers or iced flowers or just some wall icing kind of decorations. Ruffled, again, is another different technique.
It all depends on the different techniques and bits and pieces that they want. The cake toppers and things like that will vary the price as well.
Anais: Can you give me a little bit more detail with regards the different flavours or different decorations? Different colours and anything else that your customers can get?
Lee: Again, you know, we try to do anything that anyone could want. So a lot of people come to us with designs and then some people come to us with designs from us that they have seen before. Some people see things on the internet and they say “Can you do this?”. But we actually don’t want to allow this, in fact. We want to do at least slight changes to keep it unique.
Anais: Is your website the best source of information to start from?
Lee: Yes. Go on the website, have a look and also access us through Facebook or send us an email to get more information.
Anais: Do you have any special stories, or funny story; something that happened that you would like to share?
Lee: I think
I have done a lot of weird and wonderful wedding cakes. Not everyone goes for the traditional white wedding cake.
Obviously there are a lot of different colors. We try to again, do what people want. Sometimes we are not too sure if that is going to work. We obviously give our opinion because at the end of the day we won’t want them to be upset with the result. So obviously we try to give our experience and knowledge. Our first cake, which was for the venue Cloud 9 which was a little bit different. It was a couple from France. And it was only the two of them with a witnesses. They had a square wedding cake, with a rainbow and clouds. And it had “I was married on Cloud 9” written on it. Then the guy suddenly come out and said “Oh, and can we have a T-rex, tyrannosaurus rex dinosaur as well in the right hand corner
with laser beams firing it up into the clouds?” So yeah, of course I did that!
Anais: I can imagine that it was a funny cake! I would have loved to have seen it.
Lee: A lot of people have different ideas of what they want for their wedding cake. You know you don’t have to be traditional.
Anais: Yes it can get very personal.
Lee: Yes it is whatever people want really at the end of the day.
Anais: Before I finish, do you have anything you would like to add? Where can people get in touch with you? Do you have a Facebook Page, website?
Lee: Yeah, we are on Facebook. We post a lot of wedding cakes and bits and pieces up there… Or I would say actually we get probably 90% of our wedding cake business from Facebook. You can see what we have done there. We have redone our website so we actually get a lot of work through the website as well. You can even email us on the website : email@example.com
Anais: Sure. I will write that at the end of the interview with the “useful links notes”.
Lee: No worries. Thank you.
And Lee actually had something to add :
Anais: Can you tell me a little bit about the delivery process?
Lee: All our cakes are hand-delivered.
So the wedding cakes go down to the resorts either by car in Denerau (and mainland) or to the islands, we can deliver it by boat. We set all the cakes up personally. We take them in tiers so if we have got a free tiered cake that goes separately in tiers we will send the chef to put them together. Usually myself. And then we will put decorations, flowers and everything. So it is all hand-delivered and we can guarantee that it arrives in one piece at the venue how we want it to be, and how the client wants it to be.
Anais: How far can that be? All over Fiji?
Lee: We have been to Suva.
Anais: Suva is three hours from Nadi.
Chef Lee: Yes. It is three hours we’ve got a couple of cakes in Suva. We’ve sent cakes to Taveuni. We haven’t actually been to set one ourself off yet. We often go out to Musket Cove, Lomani…
Anais: Did you have cakes flying?
Lee: We’ve flown cakes over to Taveuni, and just before to Savu Savu.
Anais: It is kind of exotic to have a wedding cake that has been traveling before the wedding!
Lee: Even by helicopter. Yes!
Anais: Lucky cake.
Lee: Yes. Lucky cake!
Anais: Yes it is very special.
Lee: We are sending all over Fiji.
There is nowhere really in Fiji where we can’t go. Obviously there’s a cost involved to deliver. But I think most people prefer us to deliver the cakes and set them up. So a small fee there is involved.
But again, it is just that piece of mind that it is the way it is.
Anais: Yes. You do want to have a nice cake in one piece. That makes sense. Thank you for that. Et voila!
Taste of Fiji’s website : http://tastefiji.com/
Taste of Fiji Facebook page : https://www.facebook.com/TasteFiji1/?fref=ts
Bula Bride Wedding Magazine : http://www.bulabride.com/
Phone : +61 04 35 83 07 92FJ : +679 93 210 24