Spending most of his childhood on Easter Island, Felipe Ponce grew up in a foodie's heaven - surrounded by some of the world's best kumara, seafood and fruit.
Ponce's love for food and cooking was further developed through cooking with his grandmother, who had a talent for cooking seafood and Spanish dishes. He went on to train in Chile, where he graduated at the top of his class, and Spain and Argentina, before arriving in the Cook Islands, where he worked as the executive chef for Pacific Resort Rarotonga.
Currently, Ponce is the Head Chef at Treetops Lodge & Estate. He expertly blends Latin American and Pacific Rim influences with the Treetops "Estate to Plate" dining philosophy, which prioritises cooking with organic produce and indigenous seasoning. Unique to its menu is the use of game meats like wild duck, pheasant and sheep.
Much of the meat comes directly from the estate. For example, its deer meat comes from Treetops' carefully managed wild deer herds that span a variety of species such as Rusa, Sika, Samba and Fallow. At the estate, guests can even catch their own fish and give it to the chefs to smoke and cook.
Ponce's personal cooking philosophy is all about keeping it simple.
"I offer the chance to let our great ingredients speak for themselves. I use as many local products as possible and a good dose of our own freshly grown herbs."
Ponce is passionate about providing guests something different and unique. He transforms his food and beverages by adding special touches. Some innovations Ponce has recently produced include making cultured butter that features Manuka Honey fresh from the Treetops estate, infusing vodka and gin with kawakawa and adding harakeke oil to his kamo kamo and wild cress soup.
For Ponce, his greatest achievement is receiving continued support and outstanding feedback from his customers.
"Many guests tell me that my food was better than some of the world's best restaurants they've been to. Hearing that really fills me with pride."
In the future, Ponce hopes to keep studying different hospitality courses and brushing up his knowledge on New Zealand and international wine.