A Special Guest Column to Celebrate Alice’s Birthday
By Samantha Good & Christopher Kirkham
As you can see from the byline above, this is not a blog by Alice but rather her dad (Christopher) and stepmum (Samantha). We thought it would be fun to give Alice a break this week to celebrate her Birthday! We also share her interest in sustainable living especially with respect to how we source and create food. This past week we had the opportunity to see how a small resort island in Fiji can sustain the needs of its staff and guests. While this is across the globe from Alice’s current location somewhere between Israel & Thailand, we hope this exotic location is just as intriguing to you.
We recognize the ridiculousity in talking about sustainability in the same breath as getting on an international flight and flying 11 hours to a small island in the Pacific. And yet, this is something people aspire to, and on balance it is better than shipping in tons of goods in addition to the tourists. So, the question is, how to make the footprint of tourists visiting this exotic island reasonable.
Laucala Island is a small island in Fiji about a 45 minute flight from Nadi. In 2003, Dietrich Mateschitz (Red Bull co-owner) purchased the island from Malcom Forbes. He then set about building a masterful 26-villa resort, considered perhaps the finest resort in the world and the only place in which all Red Bull beverages are available.
What truly distinguishes Laucala Island, however, is that it is over 80 percent self sufficient in food. They farm and breed wagyu cattle, pigs, chickens, ducks and quail. They work in collaboration with Fiji fishermen and source lobster, shrimp, the fresh catch (tuna, coral trout, mackerel, Maji maji) and sometimes guests like us are lucky on a deep sea fishing outing and catch something— we had a skipjack tuna that gave us sashimi for days and a delicious tuna entree in coconut milk.
In the 1800’s the owners built a coconut plantation which the resort now uses to source coconut milk, oil, flesh and water. In addition, there are extensive gardens of fruits, vegetables and herbs and four hydroponic greenhouses. The livestock and gardens not only supply food for the island residents but also for the ingredients for spa and guest room soaps, lotions, hair products and other beauty luxuries.
Laucala island has over 400 staff on island at any given time, all of whom need to be housed and fed. We were there during Christmas week and our count had guests at no more than 25-30. Abundant delicacies were constantly on offer and from the first day we worried about all of the leftover unused food. At our first breakfast, we were greeted with two cake tiers of pastries and then a special side plate of pastries made for Samantha (gluten and dairy free). We barely made a dent. Then they treated us to a special tray of breakfast treats featuring wagyu beef tartare topped with a quail egg, smoked fish, crushed avocado on toast (yellow avocados!) and several other plates.
By the second breakfast we were able to curtail the food slightly by focusing on their fresh fruit and vegetable juices which ranged from pineapple-watermelon-passion fruit through to spinach-mint-ginger-carrot… all grown on the island. But, what about the leftovers??! We decided to mountain bike to the farm to see the source of the food of the island.
While we are both regular cyclists, we aren’t advanced mountain bikers and the staff had warned us of loose gravel, unclimbable hills and steep downhill rides. At the same time they told us that the 27 km circumference of the island could be completed by Mr. Mateschitz in less than 1 1/2 hours on his mountain bike (how many Red Bull’s did he drink prior to those rides??). So, we decided the farm was doable and at worst we could walk parts of it. We were surrounded by beautiful jungle but shaded for most of the ride so despite Samantha’s bicycle brakes squealing loudly on several hills, we made it to the farm sweaty, spotted with mud but absolutely delighted by our progress. And there we saw the largest roosters and chickens we had ever seen playing in the jungle happy as can be.
At the farm we were greeted by Rajesh, the livestock manager. He offered to give us a tour of the livestock operations.
We began with the 14 black wagyu cows (and one lucky steer). They have a huge pasture area within the jungle overlooking the ocean. Rajesh told us that he butchers the cows only when the chef forecasts the need. They need to factor in the time to butcher and age the beef before it will be ready for serving. In 2018 the island used 5 wagyu cows for guests. In contrast, in just one month they harvested 4 “regular” cows for serving staff. They work with a breeder to propagate cows and have a bull who lives on the island to help keep the wagyu population sustainable (basically, the happiest bull in the world living on an exotic island, free roaming in the jungle with 14 gorgeous cows to hang out with — who needs tinder!).
When we visited the pigs we discovered what happens to all the leftovers.
The pigs of Laucala island are true foodies and perhaps the best fed pigs in the world. All food scraps are served to the pigs for their meals. Of the 54 pigs, there are several different varieties, and each of them sure are cute. See Chris with the pigs who were roaming free in the yard. We saw a sow and her piglets as well. While Samantha is a “bacontarian”, and enjoyed some of the Laucala bacon in the first half of the trip, she couldn’t eat it for the remainder of the trip after seeing these cuties. Thankfully, the pigs are only butchered as and when the chef has need for a pig and then the chef butchers and uses the entirety of the animal.
The chickens comprised the biggest livestock operations. There were chickens who lay eggs, special giant heritage chickens who roam freely and a robust breeding cycle of chickens for eating. Over 300 eggs are collected and used each day.
At 6 weeks of age, chickens are slaughtered other than the chicken layers who live until they are 18 weeks. The breeding cycle is constant as the hotel harvests 100 chickens per week to feed staff and guests. While the chicken areas smelled super fresh, were clean and had plenty of open space to roam and be out of confinement, it did feel a bit horrifying to recognize the fairly quick cycle of birth to roam to being eaten by so many different living animals.
On the other hand, the ducks just roam free and lay and raise their ducks completely naturally.
We were the happy recipients of many beautiful foodie creations by Chef Daniel, Chef Matt and the pastry chef who doted on us as the Berkeley “pescatarian, gluten-free, dairy-free foodies and wine snobs”.
They almost delighted in being pushed out of their comfort zones to find delicious combinations of seafood, fruits and vegetables. So while we can say the eggs were incredibly orange and fresh, Samantha can vouch for the delicious bacon and Christopher can advise that the daily homemade butter is spectacular, we can’t really comment on the delights of the livestock program. Rather we can focus on the gorgeous ceviches, salads, fresh fruit and other combinations of nature’s delight.
A Foodies Paradise