By Kite Pareti
As a teenager, Nilesh Chand dreamt of becoming a car mechanic.
But life took a different route when he and his family left his hometown to find greener pastures.
“I’m originally from Tavua. When we moved to Nadi, I joined the hotel industry and started working as a commis [novice] chef,” he said.
That was in 1993 at the Club Fiji Resort. He joined Jack’s of Fiji the following year and has remained part of the iconic group of companies ever since.
From trainee chef to executive chef, Chand has been cooking up a storm, honing his kitchen skills from some of Fiji’s best culinary chefs.
Chand oversees seven different Jack’s of Fiji cafes and restaurants in Suva, Coral Coast and Denarau: Mamacita, Bonefish, Cantina, Indigo, Lazy Beans, Corner Café and Baravi Handicrafts Cafe.
Each of these restaurants has its own signature dishes.
“We have a nice local style [masala crab] in Indigo. And then we have seafood platters in Bonefish, [as well as] fajitas in Mamacita and Cantina,” Chand explains.
“We have something happening in all our restaurants which people love, and they always come back for it.
“We try to always use local products, and we recently launched a few local items in our [weekly] specials.
Chand encourages visitors to check out their restaurants, “especially Indigo and Bonefish because there’s a lot of local dishes that we do like ‘kokoda’ (traditional Fijian dish prepared with raw fish marinated in coconut milk and lime). We will definitely give them a good experience with local flavours.”
Chand says the ability to manage a wide variety of cuisines is all about good planning and having the right people around. “In all our restaurants, we have our sous-chefs who I collaborate with every day in our day-to-day business,” he said.
It also requires keeping fit and being in tune with oneself.
“To be a chef, you need to be motivated, you have to be fit, you need to make sure that you look after yourself well because it will give you a lot of energy when you are at work.
“Every day, I wake up at 6am and take some time to exercise so that my day goes well. Afterwards, I go to work for the whole day, going from one restaurant to another. I spend about 10-12 hours each day at work so that I keep moving, talking to staff and checking on them.
Chand and his team have forged a close bond and have worked on some amazing events.
“I have a couple memorable moments. We have done two big catering events, one at South Sea Island and another at Blackrock, which required working day and night with three hours of rest, to make sure that everything is on top of what is required. Those are the experiences I can’t forget,” he recalls.
Chand also loves to cook international dishes for his small family.
“We eat a lot of curry dishes at home. COVID was a good time for me to teach my wife and kids the type of food I cook at work like grilling fish and chicken with some mushrooms, pepper and salt, and also making mash potatoes, away from the Indian food, you know? I love doing these things with my family and they are enjoying these different foods.
In his leisure time, Chand says: “I love travelling to the islands to see what’s there and see the culture.
This article first appeared in Fiji Traveller, July-September 2023.