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Directed by Lisa Burd, Monterey follows Kiwis Paul and Mira as they open their dream café in Grey Lynn. The couple want to create a café different to the array of minimalist eateries populating Auckland, instead providing something cosy and familiar. The first step is finding a chef, and this comes in the form of Samoan Jacob, or J as they refer to him. J makes this doco, hands down. He is funny, charming and dedicated to his job, grateful to be given the opportunity to work as a head chef despite having no formal training whatsoever. As Paul and Mira both point out, J is what Monterey is all about – he is the heart and soul of the homely cafe.
Added to the mix is J’s brother, Tausaga, or Ti, fresh out of prison for armed robbery. Not long after his arrival, J’s cousin Aosoli joins the team. The three Samoan’s work smoothly together, always remaining calm and keeping the kitchen fun and lighthearted with the laid-back, cheeky humour common of the Pacific Island community. They are “the three core” of the business, as Paul calls them.
Monterey is best in its examination of these three men’s lives and relationship with each other. The doc becomes about much more than food – rather, it focusses on the people brought together by food. J, Ti and Soli are proud of their Samoan culture and heritage, and appreciate their positions at Monterey and the ability to provide for their families. J talks about the poor upbringing he had and how his children are able to enjoy simple things he did not, such as having shoes and lunch to take to school each day. The men are content and happy with their lives, striking a chord in the viewer as one thinks of the many dissatisfied New Zealanders who have come from far more privileged backgrounds.
The harmony in the Monterey kitchen is suddenly disrupted with the arrival of British chef Dan. Realising that money is tight, Paul decides to try something new and add a dinner menu to the cafe, making it slightly more up-market. Now with Dan as head chef, J, Ti and Soli are forced to reconsider their positions at Monterey. The new kitchen dynamic is interesting to watch – Dan is a nice guy, and a skilled chef who is essentially just doing his job – but we are attached to the Samoan family by this point and it is hard to see them grow disheartened.
The lowering in moral leads Paul and Mira to reconsider their decision and redefine the heart of the business. Is it about making money, is it about the vibe, is it about family? The documentary’s resolution is poignant and leaves one considering the role of cafes in New Zealand, the position of cafe staff and our country’s Samoan community. In all, a well-formed documentary that provides an interesting insight into New Zealand’s unique culture and makes for an enjoyable watch.