COOK IN THE ISLANDS: Jeremy Steele, of The Pinnacles, demonstrates his conch blowing skills after returning from a year cooking
COOK IN THE ISLANDS: Jeremy Steele, of The Pinnacles, demonstrates his conch blowing skills after returning from a year cooking

Chef tastes an island dream

By EMMA CORNFORD

AS CYCLONE Nancy wreaked havoc outside, Grafton chef Jeremy Steele huddled in a Mormon church eating corned beef out of a tin. It was not the way most people would expect to spend Valentine's Day in a tropical island paradise.

That cyclone was just one of five Mr Steele survived during 12 months as a hotel chef on the Cook Islands; a job he had always dreamed of doing.

Although the Cook Islands may seem like an idyllic tropical paradise, it was a challenging year for the 21-year-old.

Even so, he left with tears in his eyes.

"It was actually really hard and, at times, turned me off what I love doing, which is cooking, because you're working 70 hours a week, some days for 14 hours a day," he said.

Mr Steele, who completed his apprenticeship at Victoria's in Grafton, began his stint on the capital island of Rarotonga.

After three months he was promoted and moved to the smaller island of Aitutaki where he spent the next nine months at a resort which catered for honeymooners.

"I had a lot of trouble for the first couple of months, trying to be accepted, but when they realised I was for real and there for the long haul I made some great mates and had an awesome time."

In particular, it was after he befriended a local named JK that things became a lot easier for Mr Steele and he experienced 'real' life on the islands.

"We went fishing one night and ... his wife and daughter fried up the fish and taro.

"They lived in this crazy 150year-old limestone hut with no glass windows and you ate with your hands, which was something else that took a lot of getting used to. But once I did I was kind of accepted as one of the locals."

Aside from the friendships, the Miss Cook Island pageant was unsurprisingly another highlight of Mr Steele's sojourn, along with beachcombing, fishing and the beauty of the island.

"It was awesome to see the sun rise out of the sea every morning and then watch it set into the sea. That was amazing."

As well as the cultural differences there were a couple of other variations from home, including petrol at $4 a litre and the local take on bar security.

"Instead of security at bars they just have elders sitting there who tell you when you've had enough and have to go home. It all works on respect and they wouldn't dare disobey."

So what's next?

"I think I'll hang out locally for a while, but I'm looking at an opportunity in the Middle East and have been offered a job in Germany. But I think I need to prepare myself to do that all over again."



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