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Xero Gravity: Robert Oliver – My Umukuka Rules

Posted 4 years ago in Xero Gravity by Ludmila Buqeileh

Robert Oliver has a deep rooted passion for Pacific Island cuisine. He was born in New Zealand but grew up in Fiji eating the indigenous curries, coconuts, vakalolo, and other local dishes the island is known for. It’s a cuisine he fell in love with as a child, and one he’s trying to bring more awareness to today. By doing so, Robert hopes to put a spotlight on the connection between food traditions, culture, community, and tourism.

On this episode of Xero Gravity, Robert shares why these connections are so important. Not only for the preservation of culture, but also for the health of future generations. He’s a global restaurateur, award-winning cookbook author, and tasting panelist for New Zealand’s ‘My Kitchen Rules.” But Robert’s incredible success has come with a lot of sacrifices and failures too, and he’s talking openly about those struggles here.

For Robert, it’s all about the food. And a big part of that is the story behind it – the history, where it came from, and the ingredients used. “We need to be immersed in the grandmotherly dishes. There’s so much knowledge in them, and there’s so much health and awareness,” he says.

His objective is clear. “My intention is to create a community of people that can express themselves culturally,” says Robert. And he’s not doing it alone, he’s paying homage to the strong Pacific women who’ve helped him along his journey. “They care about their children and grandchildren and the life ahead on the Pacific Islands.”

xero gravity podcast 90: my umukuka rules

Robert tells the story of a Fijian woman making Polynesian chestnut bread to sell at the market. The traditional bread is made with seasonal chestnuts and locally sourced coconuts. “A foodie would go nuts over this stuff,” Robert gushes. “When she had enough money, she went to the store and bought white bread, margarine, and Fanta to give her kids.”

Unfortunately, it’s a common scene in the Pacific. Greater accessibility to processed foods and hefty marketing budgets are ushering in an unhealthy way of eating. But Robert believes the solution doesn’t have to be complicated. “If we make the local cuisine system, top of mind, it’ll be an absolute celebration of ourselves. I don’t want to terrify people, the solution is joyful,” he says.

Tune into Xero Gravity #90 to hear more from Robert. He’s talking about the inherent arrogance in tourism and gives a response to those calling him a ‘commercial sellout.’ Plus, don’t miss his incredible story of resilience during a recession that left him with $30 to his name.


If you enjoyed this episode, join us again next week. You’ll hear how Sheryl Thai began her journey out of the boys club and into the boss club! She’s the co-founder of a young female entrepreneur initiative called the League of Extraordinary Women as she believes in supporting other young females to follow their own dreams. Be sure to check out all of our previous episodes for more small business tips, resources and insights.

You can subscribe to Xero Gravity on iTunes and SoundCloud.

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