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How to Explore Fiji Like a Chef

Executive chef and owner of an L.A. hotspot goes back to his roots

When observing Chef Louis Tikaram in his natural habitat—kitchen of West Hollywood hotspot E.P & L.P.—you can’t help but think of the ways his Fijian culture has not only affected his food, but also affected his style of culinary leadership. He's cool, calm, and collected even in running the three­-story La Cienega Blvd. restaurant, ­­ his first venture in the U.S. ­­ dining. The place feels as if you’re being welcomed into his home. Or, more likely if you know Fijian culture, his backyard.

Chef Louis recently had the opportunity to revisit his hometown paradise, and we had the chance to pick his brain about Fiji tourism, ingredients, cuisines, and the way it has helped shape the roaring success that E.P. & L.P. has become.

On the Yasawa Islands
“I really think one of the best parts of Fiji is the Yasawa Islands, a chain of islands that run up the Western side of Viti Levu. They’re dotted almost like lily pads, and the further out the lilly pads you go, the more beautiful and untouched the islands get. If you don’t have a lot of time you can jump to three, but if you have more time you can jump all the way out to Tevewa, which is the end one. These islands are really accessible, which is the great—­ a boat runs from Denarau Port, a really popular place out on the Western side by the airport.



"[The hotels there are] what people would call eco­-resorts:­­ no power, no water, and everything's run off a generator. They often will have lots of traditional Fijian activities—a lovo or barbeque, hanging out around the fire, drinking, getting the guitar out. The locals on these islands are really beautiful people, you just go and it literally feels like you’ve got family out there. My auntie lives on Tevewa ­and that’s how I got to discover all of these islands when I was young—she ran a resort called Fanny and Otto’s, and I’d see her treat other the guests exactly the same as she treated me.

 

"It’s almost just like a step back in time—no internet, no phone service, just the best way to relax and get out of the rat race for the perfect holiday.” 

On the InterContinental Natadola
“[Staying at resorts in Fiji] is my guilty pleasure while I’m out there, and the one my wife and I go to is the InterContinental Natadola. Natadola Beach was, once upon a time when I grew up in Fiji, an extremely secluded beach that we used to have to walk to from a road along the sugar cane train tracks and over bridges for about 30 minutes to get in. I’ve been to many beaches within Fiji and around the world, and nothing compares to these beaches—the whitest sand you’ll ever see in your life, the clearest water. It’s quite amazing.

"Close to 8 years ago they announced that they were going to build an InterContinental on Natadola and build a road in. I had mixed feelings, but I went and saw that they did a really good job—they really kept the beach as pristine as possible, and kept the resort tucked away and hidden."

On traditional Fijian dishes
“One of the main pillars of Fijian cooking is what we call Miti, which is freshly squeezed coconut cream seasoned with salt, onions, chilis, and tomato. This is really common, almost a dish in itself, but we pair it with a lot of different flavors—you can have nama in miti, which is seaweed in miti, ota in miti, which is the sprout of the fern, fish in miti—lots of different things in miti, and when I think of Fijian cooking that’s what I really associate with it. I have the nama sea pearls [at EP & LP], which is seaweed in miti and is a great vegetarian starter.

"And then we have the lovo, what you always cook for a special occasion. It’s actually a style of cooking under the ground—every home has a lovo pit in the backyard, and we build a big fire in the pit with river rocks. Once the fire burns down the river rocks remain red hot, and we’ll then marinate meats, seafood, and vegetables, wrap them in banana leaf, and then put the banana leaves on top of the fire. We’ll then add soil, add more banana leaves, and cover the pit and leave it like that for 4 or 5 hours. After those hours you then dig up the soil, lay out the banana leaves on a big long table and people just line up with their plates.”

On Kava
“The Kava ceremonies are very, very traditional, but it’s nice that Fijians are so happy go lucky that they’re always willing to share their traditions. You’re always welcome with open arms in Fiji, and always asked to join in on these sacred traditions.”

On his most recent trip
“It was really great to be able to kickstart my inspiration before spring and summer here. I went to a couple of restaurants I grew up eating at—one was in Nadi, called Sweet Laissa's Kitchen. There were a couple of different grilled­­ meats and seafood­­ and it really made me think that this was the direction we needed to go in, with lots of items off the wood grill. [Since returning], I launched the wood­-grilled octopus and the grilled cornish hen, which has a lot of Fijian spices in a peanut curry sauce with a fresh salad on top.

Tikaram with his grandmother in Fiji

On using Fijian vendors
“When I moved to LA, I was really surprised to find that fish markets import lots of their seafood. It’s great seafood, but I figured if it was going to be flown in anyway, I should use the contacts I made during my time in Sydney and Fiji to then see if I could access their beautiful seafood. I’ve brought produce over that I can vouch for: ­­ I’ve swam in the Marlborough Sounds, dove for black abalone, crayfish, and scallops, I know all the farmers, I’ve been to the processing farms.”

On tourist mistakes
“Venture outside the resorts.­ Get out and about. Go to the little towns and visit the local restaurants. The Chinese and Indian influence plus the traditional Fijian food mean the restaurants are great , all with that kind of open, welcoming culture. You’ll never not be welcomed into a small, family­-style restaurant. That’s where you’ll really discover the true Fijian cuisine and hospitality.”

>>Next: An Unexpectedly Romantic Sail Around Fiji