Champion of indigenous food Chef Monique Fiso wins at Wellington Gold Awards

From left to right: Front row:  Jade Fiso, Miah Fiso, Katie Monteith, Serena Fiso, Estelle Fiso, Pro Vice-Chancellor Professor Claire Robinson, Monique Fiso, Siuai Fiso, Elijah Fiso.  Back row:  Emma Wright, Shannah Fiso, Te Ruinga Diamond, Tauke King, Sunnie Kershaw, Maaka Fiso, Clayton Marino, Jontelle Marino, Luke Fiso, Natasha Timoteo, Eleni Fiso.

Pro-Vice Chancellor Professor Claire Robinson with Monique Fiso and whānau.

Award-winning chef and Monique Fiso was named the winner of the New Thinking Award sponsored by Toi Rauwhārangi College of Creative Arts at the Wellington Gold Awards in October 2020.

Monique Fiso is the founder and chef of the award-winning Hiakai restaurant, recognised by Time Magazine as one of the world’s top 100 Greatest Place of 2019. Hiakai was established in 2016 when Fiso was still in her twenties, and she has quickly become a leading innovator in the development of contemporary Māori food culture.

The Wellington Gold Awards in association with The Dominion Post celebrate the excellence and enterprise of businesses in the Wellington Region. Massey University’s College of Creative Arts has sponsored the New Thinking Award for the past five years, and former Pro Vice-Chancellor Professor Claire Robinson says the College was “delighted” to give the award to Monique Fiso.

“It’s wonderful to be able to recognise Monique Fiso’s outstanding success at Hiakai, our neighbour just across the road from our campus on Wallace St. The New Thinking Award celebrates Wellingtonians who think outside the box, who challenge convention, ruffle feathers, do things differently, think differently; people who change the ways others look at the world and what is possible. Monique is all that, and more.” 

When Fiso collected her award at TSB Arena on Wellington's waterfront, her whānau surprised her on-stage with a karakia and haka and gifted her a kākahu made by Kiri Nathan and a pounamu carved by Jason Nathan. 

"It was an absolute honour, and a very memorable night,” says Monique. Her mother Serena Fiso says “it was a truly magical moment” for their whanau. 

“The Kākahu has a distinctive Poutama design running through the base trim.  Poutama has significant spiritual meaning, symbolising levels of attainment, advancement and growth, striving ever upwards and for betterment. Some say they represent the steps which Tāne-o-te-wānanga ascending to the topmost realm in his quest for superior knowledge and religion.

“The Pounamu is called Niho Kawakawa meaning ‘from the jaws of the monster’, an analogy for those who have or are facing life's challenges and have or are in the process of fighting their way through. It represents those with a fighting spirit, determination, perseverance, positivity. Both of these taonga speak so much of Monique and her kaupapa,” she says.

The 2020 finalists were selected from the largest group of finalists in the Gold Awards 22-year history and represent a fine cross-section of the region's business landscape today after the Covid-19 lockdown earlier in the year.

The College of Creative Arts won the Creative Gold and Supreme awards in 2018.

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Toi Rauwhārangi
College of Creative Arts
Wellington, Aotearoa