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Chef Monique Fiso Shares the Fire

After agreeing somewhat blindly to an adventure not too far from her home and restaurant in Wellington, NZ, Monique embraces uncertainty and the opportunity to camp and cook in a remote, yet familiar destination.
Chef Monique Fiso Shares the Fire

Photographer: Jeff Johnson

Story by: Sarah Guidry

We knew it was going to be a long shot, but with the details coming together for our New Zealand endeavor, we had to ask Monique if she’d be interested in joining us while we are in her part of the world.

Monique was introduced to YETI through our good friend Kimi Werner. They’d recently met at a culinary event in California and it just so happened that when we reached out to Monique, she had actually heard of us thanks to Kimi.

Even if Monique is interested, availability isn’t something she has; her restaurant is booked out weeks in advance. And with her recent accolade from Time Magazine, the restaurant’s reservation wait time is likely soon to be measured in months. And we are basically inviting her to camp with a bunch of strangers in Fiordland for a live-fire cook.

But there’s more to Monique than her recent recognition and experience in Michelin star-rated kitchens. We’re interested in getting to know the chef who is not just elevating her native Māori cuisine – but keeping it alive. She is hand-digging pits in urban areas to bring people together for a shared experience. She’s cooking over live fire and sourcing rare ingredients through foraging and relationships with cultivators. In some cases, she’s even established a supply chain to achieve a dish. She sounds like our kind of person.

We get the news that Monique is in – down to cook and camp with us, and making the time to do so.

We’re excited to get her out here with us, but this isn’t a door-to-door service kind of thing. We presumed she’d be into an adventure, and luckily she is because the instructions for getting to the hut read like a cross-country scavenger hunt:

First, fly into Queenstown, then find the car we’ve left for her (search the wheel wells for the key…), then drive an hour to the heli pad while getting reacquainted with an automatic car (she drives stick). Load up her bags and fly over the Alps and into Fiordland to be dropped at the edge of the jungle to meet us.

We’re there to greet her when she lands, and she unloads with a single backpack. “Well I’ve got two kinds of torches, some wire, knives, thermals, bug spray, and some overnight essentials,” Monique explains of her light luggage.

We gather around the fire watching the chef adjust coals, re-position carrots and kumara, and sear the venison. What’s science for most people is an art here. She’s testing done-ness by touch, managing heat not by knobs but with an iron.

Monique is wearing a hoodie and jeans, but her perfect chef’s form is on display as she chops and dresses the meal and tidies her station – which is the entirety of Warrick’s roughly 60 sq. foot kitchen. Her world-class training is there in her focus and precision, and of course, the meal itself. But what stands out even more is how comfortable she is with the whole thing.  

“It’s nice to make food and just put it on platters and eat it together. No tweezers involved” Monique says, smiling as she joins everyone at the table to eat. Of this whole adventure, it’s perhaps this moment – sitting to eat with everyone during dinner – that’s most out of the ordinary for her.

Chef Monique Fiso Shares the Fire
Chef Monique Fiso Shares the Fire

Monique Fiso is the head Chef at her restaurant Hiakai in Wellington on the North Island of New Zealand. Her restaurant was named in Time Magazine’s list of the Top 100 Places In the World.  

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