Heron's Reef https://lastresortwebdesign.com/heronsreef Holiday Apartments Fri, 14 Jun 2019 06:14:41 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.2.2 The happy chef from Mangaia https://lastresortwebdesign.com/heronsreef/2017/08/10/the-happy-chef-from-mangaia/ https://lastresortwebdesign.com/heronsreef/2017/08/10/the-happy-chef-from-mangaia/#respond Thu, 10 Aug 2017 15:43:13 +0000 https://www.cssigniter.com/vip/andros/2017/08/10/ready-for-the-new-period-copy/ Married to renowned Cook Islands ‘foodie’ and cookbook author Sue Carruthers Brown, Robbie Brown is a humble and proud Mangaian-born man; he is also head chef at Rarotonga’s definitive five-star restaurant, Tamarind House.

Born on one of the world’s most ancient islands, Mangaia, Robbie Brown, who turns 60 in 2019, arrived on Rarotonga when he was four to be brought up by his adoptive mother and father.

Coincidentally, as a child he lived close to where he lives and works today at Tamarind House.

“My adoptive father was a farmer and fisherman. When the land was wet and he couldn’t plant, he would go fishing in the reefs with a bamboo rod looking for octopus”, said Robbie.

“He taught me how to plant and look after the crops. We went fishing together, and he taught me how to hunt octopus; walking out on a low tide around where the Tamarind is now.”

Tamarind House

Robbie continued for years to fish for octopus and would often catch nine or ten in a day, then put them on the menu.

“A couple of years ago I went octopus fishing and noticed they were making a funny noise, like they were crying. I felt bad so, that was it! I stopped fishing for octopus. I can’t even buy them nowadays!

Robbie recalls a lonely life when he first arrived from Mangaia but that improved when attending Avarua School, then Tereora College.

Throughout this time, Robbie fondly remembers competing with his friends in the traditional Polynesian game of Teka, a now defunct game using with sticks or dart-like rods.

“During college holidays I worked in the island juicing factory, working with pineapples that came from Mangaia,” said Robbie,

“My first real job after college was in a duty-free shop in Avarua. I was there for four years, working with Kevin Cook. He left the business to build Cook’s Corner, and I ended up working for him in his cafe as a waiter and barman”.

Robbie said he was beginning to enjoy himself too much and wasn’t saving any money, so it was time to change!

“I went into the building industry with Gordon Murray working on Paradise Inn, which was being converted from being a dance hall into accommodation. I did that for a year, and then moved on to other building work”.

Around 1984, Robbie started working at Portofino Restaurant as a barman.

“For a while I worked in Wellington as an orderly in a hospital. I was there for a year then came back to Rarotonga, and I returned to Portofino”.

In 1988, Sue Carruthers opened Flame Tree Restaurant in Muri. Sue worked in the kitchen and Robbie front-of-house and bar.

“We were there for thirteen years. When we sold in 2000, Sue and I went overseas for six weeks where we attended a cooking school in Italy”.

Robbie and Sue then set up a cafe on the bottom floor of their two-story house at Ngatangiia.

“We did this for a while, but it there were too many negatives having a cafe at our own home, so we started looking for somewhere else. We wanted to have a restaurant in an old colonial house on the beachfront if we could find one.”

After some disappointments, Sue contacted Mike Mitchell, the retiring British Consul, who occupied the old Union Steamship Company House in Tupapa, a grand old colonial residence built in 1909. He was moving and willing to sell the lease.

It was transferred in December 2003, and the next big venture for Robbie and Sue began.

“The building was refurbished and named Tamarind House by Sue, because the name meant a lot to her (having being born in Kenya)”.

Sue had spent years in the kitchen and decided with Tamarind House that she wanted a role reversal with Robbie. She would do front-of-house, and he would do the kitchen. So Robbie took on the role of full-time chef, though Sue continues to be involved in the designing of the food.

“I’ve enjoyed cooking all my life,” said Robbie.

“I am a happy chef, not the swearing type! I don’t panic. I just love it!

Robbie’s self-proclaimed cooking style is ‘Pacific Rim’.

When asked what his favourite eating experience was in recent years, his answer was unexpected!

“Easy! I loved a simple pizza I had once in Tuscany. Way up in the hills, we went to a small restaurant. The pizza came straight out of a wood fire oven, very thin crust with tomato, bruschetta and mushroom. It was so delicious (and memorable!).”

Robbie and Sue both create the menus at Tamarind House.

“We keep the favorite dishes, for example the seafood chowder, the fish curry, and the rib eye steak with mushroom sauce. But monthly we will introduce a new dish, often on our Filipino chef’s recommendations”.

Robbie has cooked for prime ministers, VIPs and celebrities.

“I cooked for Hillary Clinton here a few years ago. She loved our sashimi, and our chicken curry. She came twice. She told us she doesn’t often go to the same restaurant twice!”

Tamarind House

So what about the future for Robbie and Sue?

“We will be downsizing soon to make our life a bit easier”.

Robbie said by the end of this year, they plan to downsize Tamarind House Restaurant to a space to cater for a maximum of 40 diners. They plan to convert part of the existing restaurant into four accommodation apartments.

“We will also sell two of our other eateries: The Rickshaw Cafe, and The New Place. That will leave us with La Casita Mexican Cafe in Muri, and a downsized Tamarind House Restaurant in Tupapa.

“This is much more manageable for Sue and I, and it will give us more time to enjoy our lives!”

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Sue Carruthers, one of the most celebrated ‘foodies’ in the Cook Islands https://lastresortwebdesign.com/heronsreef/2017/08/10/sue-carruthers-one-of-the-most-celebrated-foodies-in-the-cook-islands/ https://lastresortwebdesign.com/heronsreef/2017/08/10/sue-carruthers-one-of-the-most-celebrated-foodies-in-the-cook-islands/#respond Thu, 10 Aug 2017 15:40:01 +0000 https://www.cssigniter.com/vip/andros/2017/08/10/our-first-tripadvisor-award-copy/ Iconic colonial residence, now well-known restaurant Tamarind House, is the indisputable natural habitat for foodie, chef, restaurateur, author and world-traveller, Sue Carruthers.

Tamarind House, Cook IslandsFronted by lawns reaching out to the coral covered waterfront at Tupapa, Tamarind House was built a hundred years ago as a home for the management of the Union Steamship Company, later the home of the British Consul. It was refurbished and opened as a restaurant in 2004 by Sue Carruthers and her husband, Robert Brown.

So established the restaurant had become when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton attended a Pacific Islands Forum in Rarotonga in 2012, the Secretary dined more than once at Tamarind House.

Sue was born and grew up in Nairobi moving to London as a young woman in the ‘swinging sixties’ to work and ultimately take off to the world.

Sue Carruthers

“I went to a business college. It was a great time to be in London. I worked evenings in a Knightsbridge restaurant, the ‘Borsche and Tears’, which belonged to a mad Hungarian. It was here that I realised this is what I really enjoyed doing.”

“From London I travelled to Europe, India and South East Asia. I lived in Johannesburg and I met my first husband Bill in Katmandu. We got married in Australia and settled in Cape Town.

“I borrowed money from my dad and we set up a pizza place called the Pizza Den, and finished up with four!”

But the travel bug was still there! Despite neither being experienced ‘yachties’, Sue and Bill bought an old sailboat, a Nicholson 32. “We called it Rafiki (means ‘friend’ in Swahili)”.

“Bill learned how to navigate from a retired British sea captain who taught celestial navigation, and I went on a sailing course.

“We left Cape Town in 1979; our daughter was seven, so she came with us and loved every minute of it. Now she’s a climate change expert who travels the world. We spent the next few years on Rafiki. We would stop and work”.

They sailed to the Atlantic coast off South America, then up to the Caribbean and Florida, where they stayed a while.

“Finally, we sailed through the Panama Canal spending time in French Polynesia, then on to Rarotonga in 1984. We liked it here and decided to start a restaurant, so we sold the boat in New Zealand and flew back to Rarotonga”.

They bought the Jade Garden in 1984, changing the name to Portifino, an Italian-style restaurant: “We had that restaurant for nearly thirty years. Today, under new ownership, the restaurant has been renamed Bamboo Jacks”.

“In 1988, I opened the Flame Tree with Robert Brown. Robbie and I have been together since then. We sold Flame Tree in 2000 and the new owners turned it into accommodation.

“We missed the restaurant business but said if we are going to do it again, it’s got to be an old colonial house, and it’s got to be on the seafront”.

That’s when they bought the old Union Steamship Company House in Tupapa.

“I called it Tamarind House because the Tamarind tree means a lot to me, as it is a Kenyan tree as well a local tree here. It was like a touch of home.

“Robbie is the chef. When we started Tamarind House in 2004 I really didn’t want to be in the kitchen anymore. I wanted to be out front and involved in the designing of the food. I’d had enough of working over the hot grills. Robbie is a wonderful chef – he is more of a gifted chef than I am – we sort off swapped roles!”

During her travels, Sue had picked up scores of recipes and food preparation techniques. She published her first cookbook The Tropical Garden Cook Book in 1994.

“I was born on the Equator. I grew up in the tropics. I travelled the tropics. Now I live in the tropics, so I wanted a book like this, as there was none! I did a huge amount of research, especially about the vegetables. The book has been reprinted a number of times now.

“Some of the recipes are actually influenced by places we ate in the Caribbean. The mama would kindly give me the recipe. Some have a touch of Africa, which has also been a huge influence on me”.

The New Place Cafe Rarotonga

Inspired by her years living and working with food in the Cook Islands, Sue published another cookbook in 2010 called simply South Seas Cuisine. It features tropical recipes from Rarotonga and the Pacific Islands.

Sue said South Seas Cuisine was really a tribute to the wealth of tropical fruit, vegetables, fresh fish and other foods, found in the Pacific islands.

“I love the name South Seas Cuisine. My favourite recipe is the Fabulous Fish Curry, which has evolved over years of travelling. Like many of the recipes, it is a combination of the best ideas,” said Sue.

In addition to Tamarind House, Sue and Robert also own The Rickshaw Cafe and La Casita Cafe in Muri.

“The Rickshaw Cafe offers Asian cuisine. The Ginger Fish is my recommendation. At La Casita Mexican Cafe, the Fish Tacos are delicious, as are the Fish Chimichangas”.

Looking to the future Sue said: “I’d like to not work such long hours. And, I would love to get into food travel writing”.

“More travelling, more writing, and probably some sort of a cooking school. Having said that, we would like to downsize our lives a little bit!”

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From the school of experience… https://lastresortwebdesign.com/heronsreef/2017/08/10/from-the-school-of-experience/ https://lastresortwebdesign.com/heronsreef/2017/08/10/from-the-school-of-experience/#respond Thu, 10 Aug 2017 15:39:09 +0000 https://www.cssigniter.com/vip/andros/2017/08/10/book-now-for-june-and-save-40-copy/ Robert Brown just smiles when asked why he and partner Sue Carruthers, seemingly content to enjoy a life of semi-retirement after several years in the restaurant business, would even think about stepping back into the kitchen on a full-time basis.

“I guess it’s in our blood,” he says.

Brown and Carruthers own and operate Tamarind House in Tupapa. In 2003, they bought the lease for the landmark colonial house that was once the manager’s residence for the Union Steamship Company, and transformed it into an upscale eatery that opened for business in 2004.

Robbie Brown

“We wanted it to be up-market, with a sort of romantic, South Pacific feel to it,” says Carruthers of the renovations that included extending the verandas on the front and sides of the house. “A sort of Twenties or Thirties’ feel to it, where people dress up.

“The couple knew a thing or two about running a successful business, having built their reputations as a dynamic duo at the Flame Tree. They sold that restaurant in 2000 and retreated from the hectic life that is part and parcel of feeding the hungry masses on a daily basis.

While Carruthers cultivated a botanical garden, Brown kept his cooking skills sharp by operating the Ambala Garden Cafe on their private property. But the idea of working limited hours, while ideal in theory, proved daunting in reality.

“You’re open one night a week, what do you do with your leftovers?” Brown asks. “We were throwing food away. It didn’t work out, so we sort of pushed it aside, thinking we’d eventually get back into something bigger than that.

“It was the idea of coming to work each day in a historical building on a secluded beach that eventually proved too enticing to resist. Brown says it came down to finally admitting they couldn’t stay away from the restaurant business.

“We’ve just found that’s what we’re good at,” he says. “When you find what you’re good at, you stick with it.”

A new business also resulted in new duties. While Carruthers was a force of nature in the Flame Tree kitchen – leaving Brown to patrol front-of-house – it’s Brown who has donned the chef’s apron at Tamarind House.

“Sue got tired of cooking;” says Brown. “So we sort of changed roles.”

Brown didn’t attend a culinary institute with a fancy French name – he accumulated his expertise at the School of Experience.

“I’ve been in the restaurant for so many years, watching the chefs who worked for us,” he says. “And, of course, living with Sue, I learned just from that.”

Unlike other chefs, Brown wasn’t helping in the family kitchen from the time he could walk.

“We weren’t allowed in the kitchen,” he says. “Our parents always did the cooking. It wasn’t the place for kids when I was growing up.”

It was only later, while employed in a relative’s cafe, that Brown had his first taste of his future vocation.

“You start off peeling potatoes and a bit of washing up, and then you get to cook something,” he says of his younger self. “I enjoyed it and, from there, I was cooking all the time. Working in restaurants, you develop a taste for food. And then, when I met Sue, it changed to better food, quality food.”

The Flame Tree may have shifted further down their CVs but there are still echoes of that iconic eatery at Tamarind House.

“When we came here, we still had the Flame Tree in mind, but we just wanted to do something a bit more exciting, a bit different,” says Brown. “There are four dishes that we brought along with us. Some we changed a bit, but there are a lot of new ones as well.”

Also new is the music provided by pianists Garth Young and Rudy Aquino.”We wanted romantic music to create an ambience,” says Carruthers. “We like that nice, soft background music. And people like that it’s live.”

Ask what they’d recommend from the menu and Brown and Carruthers do that aww-thing that marks them as a couple by choosing each other’s dishes. Brown, it’s revealed, makes a seafood platter that “people say is the best they’ve ever had”. For her part, Carruthers has designed a vegetarian lasagne that has proven immensely popular.

“It actually tastes like there’s meat in it,” Brown says.

Location can sometimes make or break a restaurant. Brown appreciates being close to town when he needs to stock up on supplies, while Carruthers explains how having a 2–acre property on a prime beach has allowed them to supplement their income by hosting weddings and receptions.”

If you want a private venue for your function, we’ve got it,” she says. “You’re not sharing this area with hotel guests. I think it’s the best spot on the island for a private wedding.”

Home–kitchen kind of food

Sue Carruthers spent several years assuring friends and fans alike that she was working on her next cookbook.

Seventeen years, to be precise.

South Seas Cuisine will be launched this weekend, with copies available at such locations as Bounty Books and Tamarind House, the Tupapa restaurant Carruthers owns and operates with her partner, Robert Brown, and where The Times sat down with the couple on a recent dreary afternoon.”

Sue Carruthers

All these years people have been asking when I’m going to bring out the next book (after The Tropical Garden Cookbook),” says Carruthers. “It got to the point where I was sending recipes all over the world and I thought, why we don’t just get all of this done in a book.”

While she bided her time, collecting and testing and tweaking recipes, Carruthers also made plans to give her second solo effort a more practical design.

“The idea was that it would be affordable and lighter for people to carry,” she says. “My other book is quite a big book – 260-odd pages – and it’s fairly heavy. This new one is A5 and 140 pages or so. The idea is that it would be a very much easier for visitors to take back to their country of origin, while also making it more affordable for people living on the island.”

The cookbook, brimming with dishes both savoury and sweet, will appeal to a broad range of cooks.

“I tried to make this one useful for the Outer Islands as well as yachtsmen,” says Carruthers. “So it would be suitable for cafes, restaurants and the home cook. It’s all to do with local ingredients, as much as possible. I tried not to use many imported ingredients at all. So, if we had a siege here, we’d get by.”

She says the inspiration for the recipes derived from several sources, including the fact she and Brown are keen travellers.

“I’ve spent a lot of time sailing, a lot of time in the Caribbean and, obviously, I’ve lived in the tropics all my life,” Carruthers says. “It’s old family recipes, some of them. Others have just been accumulated. Some are ones we’ve invented, just coming up with ideas on how to use the local produce because, obviously, imported goods are very, very expensive.”

Carruthers says she has no problem with sharing her recipes, even if some of them do lie at the heart of Tamarind House’s ongoing popularity.

“I think, at the end of the day, people are going to be asking you for recipes anyway,” she says. “Some people say, why do that, because other people will cook what you’re cooking, but it’s not actually that damaging to have them doing that. Most people would still rather come eat in your restaurant.”

The other thing about producing the recipes, Carruthers says, is that she is also creating them with the restaurant’s staff in mind. “Everything that we invent or adapt or come up with, we are actually putting that recipe into the kitchen and writing for the staff to be able to follow,” she says.

But, Carruthers explains, South Seas Cuisine is not all about Tamarind House.

“Some of it is more sort of home-kitchen kind of food, which is good,” she says. “I think there is definitely a market for that because not everybody wants to cook like a restaurateur.”

Reprinted with permission from The Cook Islands Herald, Online Edition

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