Former Trail resident cooks up gastronomic success

Tracy Berno’s book wins grand prize at international awards

Winning is a Trail tradition but to succeed on the world stage in culinary arts is perhaps the most unique and satisfying dish of all.

That’s what Tracy Berno did as the former Trail resident’s cookbook took home the grand prize at the prestigious Gourmand World Cookbook Awards in Paris, France, last week.

It was hailed as the major gastronomic upset of the year by European media, a veritable David-versus-Goliath victory for the relatively unknown and unlikely region when it comes to world-class cuisine.

“Me’a Kai: the Food and Flavours of the South Pacific” is co-authored by chef Robert Oliver and photographer Shiri Ram, and was named New Zealand’s Best Book of 2010 in April before going onto the world stage.

The book highlights the cuisine of six Pacific Islands: Fiji, Vanuatu, Tonga, Samoa and the Cook Islands.

“The book is a unique partnership between a chef, an academic and a photographer who share a passion for the people, cultures and food in South Pacific,” said Berno in an email.

Berno grew up in Trail, received her undergraduate degree in psychology from Vasser College in New York before moving to Christchurch, where she completed her masters and PhD in cross-cultural psychology at the University of Canterbury.

“The book is an outcome of a research project I worked on in the Pacific,” she said. “Two of the issues identified in the research included the need to highlight the food in the Pacific in a way that would appeal to the tourist palate and the need for a resource, such as a cookbook, to communicate this.”

After spending eight years in Fiji as head of the Tourism Department at the University of the South Pacific, she returned to Christchurch where she is planning manager for Lincoln University.

Her research focused on optimizing the benefits of tourism by linking sustainable agriculture and tourism in a way that promotes indigenous growers and their products in farm-to-table projects.

“Why buy a juice box with plastic packaging and a straw when there is freshly grown produce right there, or a can of tuna when you can get it fresh out of the ocean, and it’s much healthier,” said Tracy’s father Dr. Ernie Berno from his home in Christina Lake.

Ernie was also born and raised in Trail and was a family doctor here in the ‘70s.

“We’re horribly proud of her,” he said. “Being a Trail boy, I like Trail people to do well, and I don’t care in what or who it is.”

But having his daughter achieve such success is indeed satisfying. She grew up a quiet and inquisitive girl but really “shone” when she pursued an academic career, he added.

Over 26,000 cookbooks are published each year and Me’a Kai beat out submissions from 154 countries including perennial favourites like a submission from arguably the world’s best chef, Rene Redzepi, and his book “NOMA,” and “The Essential New York Times Cookbook” by Amanda Hesser.

“I hope that Me’a Kai will inspire people to visit the Pacific as a destination and that they will seek out the foods that they have come to know through this book . . . I want Pacific food to be on the tourist map in the same way French food and Thai food are, and through forging these farm-to-table relationships, that more people will benefit from tourism in the area,” said Tracy.

The three collaborators will continue their relationship as they research a new book on the cuisine of Samoa.

“I am looking forward to working on some new projects in the Pacific with Robert and Shiri and continuing eating my way around the islands,” she said.

Me’a Kai has not yet been released in North America but can be ordered online at www.fishpond.co.nz.