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New life for Shangri-La Head Chef

By Holly Shan

Niraj Kumar, affectionately called Nee by everyone who visits the Mercury Bay Club, is looking forward to the following months. At the end of March, his parents will come from Fiji to visit him in Whitianga. Because of Covid, they haven’t seen each other in over three years.

“All my family members are happy about my career here, especially my parents. I always send money back to them, which was very important during Covid. In Fiji, finding a job is hard,” says Nee. “They have no income in Fiji, and I am very proud that I can support my family. The one hard thing is that I cannot see them regularly.”

Nee and his wife, Praveena, with their daughter, came to New Zealand in 2017, and Nee stayed in Auckland as head chef of a restaurant near the airport for almost three years. In 2019, they moved to Whitianga for better pay and a more relaxed lifestyle. At first, Nee worked for different hotels and eating places, and then, one year ago, he saw a recruitment notice for a head chef being offered at The Mercury Bay Club. Nee spoke to the manager got an interview, and which landed him his current job as Head Chef at the club kitchen. Now Nee is managing the whole week’s dinners and lunches from Thursday to Saturday in the club restaurant. Praveena is also very proficient in food preparation and organising and is his constant support. Usually, Nee prepares western foods for the locals. “But sometimes, customers would like to order something special, and I am always happy to satisfy them with food from Thailand, China, Japan, or any other country,” Nee says. It’s no trouble for him, either. Having worked at the Shangri-La Fiji Resort as its Head Chef for several years, he is used to servicing guests worldwide and cooking their food.”

Nee plans to go back to Fiji with the family to visit relatives. I asked the family what they missed the most in Whitianga. “Well, we love seafood,” smiles Praveena, “and it’s perfect living in Mercury Bay for seafood, but we miss fresh taro in the summer.” “We also miss a visit to the temple,” adds Nee. “We are Hindus, but we have a little shrine at home, and that is where we pray.”

Caption: Nee and Praveena Kumar with their colleague, Donald Holzgang.

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