Auckland is about to get its first glimpse of TALA – a new offering from chef Henry Onesemo that showcases traditional Samoan flavours through an innovative, modern dining experience.
Henry Onesemo grew up in Samoa and his passion for food started young. He recalls helping out in the kitchen as a child, and early Sunday morning trips to the fish market with his Dad to make the umu before church.
He trained as a chef in Samoa and after time in Hawaii and Florida he returned home. It was on a visit to New Zealand that he ate at Auckland restaurant Meredith’s. After returning to Samoa, he wrote to chef Michael Meredith hoping for an opportunity in the kitchen.
Michael took Henry on in 2014 and under his mentorship Henry grew his career in Auckland. Henry later spent time in Thailand at Gaa in Bangkok, where traditional Indian food was presented in a Michelin-starred setting.
The COVID pandemic prompted his return to New Zealand and he worked as Head Chef at East St. Hall before launching the TALA concept with wife Debby in 2022. The couple are now looking for a suitable space to launch TALA restaurant.
Two pop-up dinners at Bar Magda on June 13 and 20 will give diners the chance to experience TALA through a three-course menu from Henry with dishes inspired by his Samoan heritage and childhood, but reimagined and refined to tell a story through modern Samoan cuisine.
The pop-ups are a “taster” as Henry and partner Debby look for a space in which to launch TALA as a stand- alone restaurant later in 2023. More pop-up dining events are planned in the coming months.
The Samoan word “tala” means “story” or “tale”. For Henry Onesemo, TALA is where he tells his own tales of Samoa through familiar ingredients presented with a fresh twist.
“Dishes like ‘raw ramen’ were inspired by my childhood, where eating raw ramen noodles was a beloved treat,” says Henry. “Drawing on that food memory of the crunchy, salty noodles and sweet, chewy dehydrated vegetables has been the inspiration for a fun, modern twist on a childhood favourite.
“My goal in showcasing Samoan food is to retain the food memory but refine the dishes and make Samoan food ‘fashionable’,” he says. “I want to remove the stigma that Samoan food belongs in a takeaway container!”
TALA at Bar Magda
Dates: Tuesday 13 June and Tuesday 20 June Time: Seatings from 5.30pm
Price: $90 per person for snacks and 3-course menu. Drinks curated by Bar Magda and sold separately. Bookings: Online reservations at barmagda.co.nz