The Indian Ocean is the inspiration behind Aquacasia, a beautiful new book that unites a love of the sea with the area’s culinary diversity. Curated by executive chef Willibald Reinbacher of 5-star Mauritian resort, Shanti Maurice, and photographed by Lucas Lienhard, Aquacasia takes you on a culinary journey through the countries of the Indian Ocean.
Revealing gastronomic treasures, inspired by resourceful street traders and authentic family recipes, the book captures the area’s unique savoir-faire. In our Nov/Dec 2016 issue, the chef reveals the flavours that have inspired his culinary journey…
What was the concept behind Aquacasia?
The title comes from the Latin words for ‘water’ and ‘spice’, and the notion was to raise awareness around the culinary diversity of the Indian Ocean’s islands by exploring Comoros, Madagascar, Mauritius, Seychelles, Sri Lanka, Reunion, Indonesia, Maldives and Western Australia.
What’s so unique about Indian Ocean gastronomy?
Migration and trade from France, China and India brought culinary influences. Food is an integral part of culture; people tend to visit neighbours or family rather than restaurants, so there’s an encyclopedia of home classics to discover.
How did you learn so much about Indian Ocean food culture?
My wife is from Mauritius, so the cooking culture runs through my own family home. We have access to a vast amount of fish and seafood – we never buy from shops; instead we source straight from the fishermen or buy from the locals on the street.
Food is an integral part of Indian Ocean communities. For Aquacasia, I visited all the islands, ate with families, and chatted with vendors. In Madagascar, a friend put me in touch with their grandmother, who inspired a number of my recipes.
How do you interpret local cuisine at the hotel?
My daily specials are planned around what has been caught that day and what is in season. As a chef, I try to act as a translator of culture and history, integrating each recipe’s story into the dish itself. For example, Mauritian vinday originates in India where it was prepared with pork but, due to the ocean’s bounty, I use octopus instead.
Any current menu favourites?
Usually I don’t have a single favourite – when I create a dish I think to myself ‘would I eat this again?’. If the answer is no, then it doesn’t get included.
There are, of course, certain dishes that were more challenging – and rewarding – to perfect: Madagascan ro-patsa beef, for example. The combination of prawns, potato and meat is not one many would think up. But, properly balanced, it tastes brilliant. After a few tries, we got there!
In terms of ingredients, do you work with local suppliers?
I’m all about supporting local suppliers – fish, vegetables and meat are all sourced locally wherever possible. If we have to source externally, freshness and sustainability are key.
I’ve been working with certain fishermen for years. It’s a real community so, even if someone has a bad day and their nets are empty, they will always point me in the direction of someone who has had a good catch. I buy a lot of meat from St. Felix, just a stone’s thrown from my kitchen. And our garden’s 2000 square metres are filled with vegetables, fruits and herbs.
What were the most unusual culinary discoveries on your travels?
The bilimbi – a super-sour fruit from the starfruit family, which grows on the trees all across the Indian Ocean. It’s typically used in chutneys or pickles, but in the Seychelles they use it to lend acidity to curries, in the manner of tamarind or lime. If you can’t find it, use unripe starfruit instead.
On Réunion Island, I discovered fried wasp larvae. Locals tie a cloth around a long stick, soak it in diesel, then burn it to smoke out the wasps. Once the nest is empty, they shake out the larvae and pan-fry them with onions, garlic and chilli.
To find out more, click here or pick up a Nov/Dec 2016 issue of Good Things – out Thursday 24 November!