A set of lovely glass bottles filled with contents of a deep red colour sits prettily in a line on the kitchen counter. “You came at the right time, I am just finishing bottling,” Kandy tells me as she pushes cork tops into the glass bottles. “What is inside?” I ask, “This is ‘Mum’s Tomato Sauce’, made with my mother’s recipe,” she replies. It looks terrific, thick and bright red, made with local tomatoes from the markets, a ‘gift of nature’ all bottled up and prepared with love, ready to reach other kitchen counters around the island. “Everything is organic, fresh and natural. We use local produce and whatever is in season. We do not use any preservatives, it is made just like your mum would, the old way, using oil, vinegar and sugar as the preserving ingredients.”
Originally from Vanuatu, Kandy moved to New Zealand at the age of five. As a chef, she has worked in many kitchens around the world, from London to NZ and France, refining her fine cooking skills and loving the creative and geographical exploration that many Chefs enjoy through their careers. It was in a restaurant back in New Zealand, that she first started to experiment making different preserves.
About six years ago, she decided to return to Vanuatu and took the position of Head Chef at Ratua Island where she spent the next year getting their menu and kitchen organised. For the past four years, she has been the Head Chef at lovely upmarket Eratap Resort. “I have always wanted to run my own business, so after six years back in Vanuatu, I thought it was time to give it a go.” She took the plunge and decided to start her own catering company and range of deli products. The catering side of Kandy’s Kitchen is nothing if not dynamic. She can cater for four people looking for fine dining and an elaborate five-course meal or for large functions of up to 80 people. “I have catered for small lunch parties, some of them very casual, even BBQ style and others much more formal with high-class cuisine. We can also take care of bigger functions with a selection of hot and cold canapés and mini desserts,” she explains.
Her range of preserves is in its infancy and some of the current products available are lovely ‘Cucumber Pickle’, ‘Mango Chutney’, the spicy ‘Chilli Jam’ and ‘Chilli Paste’, ‘Balsamic Onions’, the popular ‘Mum’s Tomato Sauce’ and ‘Archad’, a mix of curried vegetables which is great with meals such as steak. Her ‘Island Muesli’ is made with local fruit that Kandy dries herself and is regularly sold-out before it hits the shelves. “This is the beginning of the range and we will be expanding and adding many seasonal products. I have just made a great mango coulis and when the raspberry season comes around again, we will be creating some lovely raspberry preserves.” The preserves and deli products are also very reasonably priced, so if you think this could be more than you can afford, think again.
There is a great deal of creativity involved in cooking and making good food and Kandy has drawn a lot of inspiration from a curious little book called “Island Recipes”. The book, published by the British Red Cross in 1947, is a collection of recipes from South Pacific islands. “I love this little book, it has ‘real’ recipes, from the South Pacific, using the best of local ingredients. One of the recipes is from my grandmother, which was how the book came into my hands.” Kandy is fourth generation ‘woman-Santo’. Her great-grandfather was a Japanese man who married a woman-Santo back in the day, and from then on, the Santo blood line continued to the present. I ask Kandy her grandmother’s name. “Lili Stevens” she says, “you know the Stevens in Santo?” I lived in Santo for a few years so I rack my brains trying to think if I know ‘the Stevens’. “No, I don’t think I know the Stevens,” I finally say. Kandy gives me a look of slight disbelief. I feel I should know these people. “The Stevens”, she repeats, “in Fanafo?” she says. I get it then. “You mean the Jimmy Stevens, Stevens?” “Yes, yes,” she says “My grandmother, Lili Stevens, was the sister of Jimmy Stevens.” Well there you are, preserves that are not only delicious but come with a rich historic past! Which reminds me of why I love Vanuatu so much. Wholesome, organic, natural, hand-made and imbued with tradition, just like Vanuatu, Kandy’s Kitchen is a real gem. So what next? Well, if you can keep a secret just between you and I, Kandy has just finished her very own cookbook, which barring any disasters, should be available around now.
Kandy’s Kitchen range of deli products is available at Libation, on Nambatu and at Organic Paradise in the Vanuatu Handicraft Markets. For catering and other info, contact Kandy on [email protected], Ph +678 7735602, kandys-kitchen.com.
Story by Patricia Gil