Getting to Know Monique Fiso

8th March 2021

This International Women's Day, we're celebrating culinary rockstar, Monique Fiso and her Ockham shortlisted, breathtaking book, Hiakai.

If you're lucky enough to have dined at Monique's Wellington restaurant, HIAKAI, you know we're all in for a special treat. Monique has brought modern Maori cuisine to the world and her book celebrates its traditions, ingredients and tikanga. Monique took time out of her busy schedule to talk about two of our favourite things - books and food. 

Hiakai is one of four titles shortlisted for the Booksellers Aotearoa New Zealand Award for Illustrated Non-Fiction category. The winners will be announced at the Auckland Writers Festival on May 12. You can view the full shortlist here.

This interview was first published in October 2020 just prior to Monique's appearance at Verb Festival, an event sponsored by Vic Books. 

What is your day job?

Owner and Chef of HIAKAI.

What is your connection to Vic Books?

I'm local so I'm super familiar with Vic Books and can kill hours in the bookshops.

What is your latest publication?

My first book, Hiakai, was published on 1 September this year.

What are your latest projects, and what in particular are you focusing on at the restaurant at the moment?

I always have a few side projects on the go. In saying that, during the uncertain times of a pandemic, the restaurant is my biggest focus. 

What are your biggest inspirations - within and outside of food?

The details of things inspire me.

It feels like you've become almost a household name since HIAKAI opened on Wallace Street in 2018 - does "success" feel like it's happened quickly?

Yes and no. Yes, as the last few years have been a whirlwind and beyond what I could have imagined. No, because I've been working in kitchens since I was fourteen. 

Have you always wanted to write a recipe book? How does Hiakai compare to traditional cookbooks?

I've always wanted to write but not traditional cookbooks. Hiakai is a collection of all of the knowledge I have gained since I began HIAKAI as pop ups in 2016. I hope people find it to be a useful resource.

How did the creative process compare from making a book to creating cuisine?

Writing requires you to sit for many hours, cooking requires you to stand for many hours. I really enjoy both but there are also moments of torture. 

Some quick fire book recommendations please!

The Recipe by Josh Emett.

Food & Drink Infographics by Simone Klabin.

A Very Serious Cookbook by Jeremiah Stone & Fabian von Hauske.

Smith & Deli-cious by Shannon Martinez & Mo Wyse. 

What are you reading at the moment?

One book I have become super familiar with recently is the iconic children's book from Aotearoa. Watercress Tuna and the Children of Champion Street by Patricia Grace.

What do you like about it?

Every HIAKAI menu is based on a story and this is the source material for our current menu. The next book on my reading list is The Overstory by Richard Powers. 

Which literary character do you most identify with? Why?

Ennis del Mar from Brokeback Mountain. He's a person of few words.

Favourite coffee?

Espresso stovetop with a dash of milk and half a teaspoon of honey. 

L: Vanessa Rushton Photography for Verb Festival 2020; R: Rebecca McMillan Photography for The Garden Party 2021