Cassandra AustinBack drop of the Hospitality Cooking SchoolGiving children books with the local presidentCasandra Austin, Cook IslandsRangi Johnson, Cook Islands
Women in WACS Profile: Rangi Johnson, Cook Islands

This was my second visit to the Cook Islands, and let me say there was a great showing of female chefs helping and assisting the country President Sam Timoko with their second Cook Islands Salon. I learned more about the fantastic island produce available and enjoyed learning about the process of local cold-pressed coconut oil, tamanu oil and some fantastic products being made locally by RITO and others. Regional produce is a passion of mine, and it’s something that’s good for community health, as well as promoting local industry. One particular favourite of mine was the first class yellow fin tuna produced in the region.

I also enjoyed doing a cooking demonstration with local produce visiting the markets and showing that it was cheaper, healthier and very quick to make a meal with fresh ingredients than to buy a takeaway meal. Nutrition is a big issue in the Pacific. Obesity, diabetes and heart disease are growing on a global scale, and it’s largely to do with poor food choices. We need women like this to assist in reintroducing native food practices to restore the health of these communities.

When you read Rangi Johnson’s profile below you will see her passion and dedication to following cultural tradition by hunting and gathering local produce. I think we can all learn a lot from her and the idea of going back to basics, respecting our environment, and cultural traditions.

Cassandra Austin



Name: Rangi Johnson (nee Mitaera)

Age: 45

Home Town/Country: Manihiki, Cook Islands.

  1. What kind of formal education do you have (include apprenticeships)?

College level in New Zealand, and Wellington Polytechnic.

  1. What made you decide to enter the culinary profession?

I have always been interested in food, cooking and developing recipes.

  1. Culinary childhood memories (e.g. Who did the cooking at home? Did you watch or participate? Favorite      dishes that you still occasionally prepare?)

Food is a crucial part of Polynesian culture, lifestyle and environment.

  1. At what age did you first enter the food service industry? What was your first job?

Professionally, I started late in life due to other interests which including travelling abroad and working in another profession.  I was a secretary for many years before I broke the ice.

  1. Did you or do you have a mentor? (Who is that person? How has s/he helped you?)

My mother was a phenomenal cook and provider for our family. Her upbringing which included being brought up by extended family members and other migrant friends in our community meant that she was influenced by more than her immediate family.  The whole idea of cooking not only included cooking over the stove, but the gathering, seasonal and customary aspects of knowledge and protocol which go hand in hand.

  1. What is the male/female ratio in your current job?

I am self employed now and run an accommodation facility on a remote coral atoll.  Visitors are not so frequent, but my husband and I do everything together from fishing, feeding our pigs, to cooking our organic home cooked meals.

  1. Describe your current work conditions (including average hours per day spent on the job; do you work      weekends/holidays? do you have changing shifts?)

Apart from running our accommodation, we prepare our own pigs for ham, bacon and sausages, prepare tuna and flying fish for Jerky and I also provide a small catering facility for community workshops or private functions.

  1. Are you single, married or in a partnership?

I am married.

  1. Do you have children? What age are they?

I am a mother of four children – two boys and two girls.  One son lives in New Zealand with my sister, and two children attend school in Rarotonga.  Our youngest daughter aged 7 lives with us in Manihiki.  My children are, 14, 12, 10 & 7 years of age.

  1. What is your advice to young women entering your specific field?

Do it if you are absolutely passionate about cooking and food.  It is not an easy career to be involved in as it is physically demanding, it wrestles your inspirational creativity and moves you to another dimension.  But it’s an amazing and rewarding journey!

  1. What are your interests outside the culinary field?

I’m interested in business development, jewellery making, story writing, gardening (not that I’m good at it!), fishing with my family, climate change adaptation projects, women’s development in the pacific, and pearl farming.

  1. Do you manage to integrate those interests in your life?

Yes I do with the life that I lead now as a pearl farmer.  I am currently working on a small project to market pearl meat from my island as an export product for restaurants and overseas markets.  Issues of packaging, labeling and promotion are currently being discussed.

 13. What are personal and professional interests that you would like to pursue within the next 5      years?

Small climate change adaptation projects in my region to help our people become more resilient and non-dependent on imported foods. I’d like to help this region develop an appreciation for what is available locally.

 14.  Would you be willing to be a mentor to other women in WACS? (If yes, indicate by what means: via email/SKYPE/a      stage at your business if the woman seeking help provides for her own      travel expenses, board)

Yes, Id like to promote the culinary profession to more young women. They may contact me on the following email and Skype accounts:


Skype: rangijohnson