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New Zealand Innovation Awards: Innovation in Māori Development, Hiakai

And the winner of the Innovation in Māori Development is... Hiakai!

One of the most authentic ways to experience a culture, and learn about its traditions and history, is through food. But despite Māori having a rich and unique culinary heritage, you won’t find any Māori fine dining restaurants anywhere from Cape Reinga to Bluff. 

Enter Māori-Samoan chef Monique Fiso, who is looking to shake things up through her pop-up series Hiakai. 

And having worked at New Zealander Matt Lambert’s Michelin-starred restaurant The Musket Room in New York, as well as other fine dining establishments, she knows what she’s talking about. 

Launched in June 2016, Hiakai explores Māori cuisine and innovation, and is devoted to the development of, and research into, cooking techniques and ingredients. 

“Māori were great innovators of food and land, developing their own style of earth cookery (hangi) and successfully adapting plants and vegetables brought with them from Hawaiki to the much colder environment of Aotearoa … over several centuries, these methods have been passed down, refined and still feed people today,” Fiso says. 

With pop-ups having taken place at Merediths (Auckland), Bistronomy (Napier), Bracken (Dunedin), Hillside (Wellington) and Arbour (Blenheim), and collaborations with restaurants across Aotearoa, Hiakai is pushing the boundaries and expectations while also helping play a huge role in keeping traditional Māori food culture alive.

" Guests who come to Hiakai events are able to get up close and personal with Māori cuisine in a way that helps them connect with Māori culture and Aotearoa on a very personal level."

- Hiakai founder, Monique Fiso

“[Hiakai is] helping change perceptions of Māori cuisine and making it easier for others to establish a kai Māori business without having to push through negative stereotypes that were previously in play.”

Hiakai creates a world-class dining experience that is at a level that has never been attempted before with Māori cuisine, Fiso says. 

“Guests who come to Hiakai events are able to get up close and personal with Māori cuisine in a way that helps them connect with Māori culture and Aotearoa on a very personal level.”

By catering to a small number of diners, close attention to detail can be paid to the food being served, and also allows for the team behind Hiakai to explain in-depth the cooking processes and tikanga (customs) behind the meal so that guests leave with a greater understanding of and appreciation for Māori cuisine and culture. 

Fiso says she often receives emails and pictures from diners who have been so inspired by the experience they've taught themselves to weave kete baskets or had a go at putting a hangi down themselves. 

“Food has the power to bring people together and to help us better understand each other better, and Hiakai is proud to be doing this one pop-up at a time,” she says. 

Evaluator comments:

Ka mau te wehi! It's unbelievable that we haven't had awesome Māori food offerings for ourselves and visitors to date, but Hiakai is nailing it! Hiakai has helped develop the ingredient channels and paves the way for future generations to succeed in kai Māori ventures. 

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