Australian billionaire property developer Lang Walker was holidaying on one of the most beautiful of the Whitsunday Islands, among the white sands, turquoise waters and coconut palms. It was blissful – until he sat down for dinner.
"They served venison," he splutters. "Venison! What on earth is venison doing on an island like that? It has nothing to do with the surroundings."
It's for that reason, when Walker bought his own island – as billionaires do – this time a Fijian island, a 45-minute seaplane ride from the mainland, and set up his own perfect idea of a resort, one of his top priorities was that the food served reflected the environment.
He wanted light, healthy, sunlit island fare, preferably grown or produced on the island itself or, if that wasn't possible, sourced locally. And his wish became a command. Now, along with the selection of stunning beachfront villas or grand houses looking out over the ocean on his Kokomo Private Island – with the water sports, the fishing, the sumptuous spa, the helicopter and the seaplanes – he also has his pick of Australia's top chefs employed to dish up exactly the cuisine that suits the setting.
Fresh fish? That's selected from the catch that comes off the fishing boat each day. Fruit and vegetables? That's either picked that morning from the resort gardens or brought over by boat from neighbouring islands. Herbs? Ditto. Meat? That comes from premium suppliers from either of Fiji's near neighbours, New Zealand or Australia.
And venison? No, that's nowhere to be seen. Ever.
"Building this resort went five times over budget and four years over time," says Walker, over a long, leisurely nine-course degustation produced by his new chef, Cory Campbell, formerly of Copenhagen's world-beating Noma, Melbourne's Vue de Monde and, most recently, Matt Moran's Bea in Sydney's Barangaroo.
"My vision is for it to be the best barefoot luxury resort in Fiji, the best in the Pacific and, in two years, one of the top 10 resorts in the world. We've had some very rich and high-profile people here but they still enjoy the privacy of the resort and the wellness offering, and we're geared up for families, too, with an amazing kids' club area and nannies that parents have trouble getting their children back from.
"We're also on one of the best reefs in the world, in one of the most beautiful islands on earth and now, as the last element, we're driving dining standards higher and higher.
"I've been coming to Fiji for 47 years and the food has always been absolute crap. But here, now, that's different. We're going to keep stepping up the quality and standard of food that Fiji has never had before, and we want to make this a world-class dining destination."
The degustation sets out his aspirations perfectly, starting with a delicate garden broth poured over a freshly-picked salad; salted fish and coconut; yellow fin tuna with carrot and ginger, passionfruit flower and sea grapes; a dish of flame-tail snapper with spiced apple and radish, egg cream and pickled banana blossom; and finishing with a banana parfait.
Yet, turning a remote speck in the South Pacific Ocean into a top foodie attraction is still an ambitious plan and chef Campbell blanches visibly when I repeat it to him the next day. He's only been on the island a week when I visit in April, but his boss' enthusiasm is infectious.
Campbell smiles as he stands on the deck of the resort's elegant main dining area, the Beach Shack – a misnomer if ever there was one – with his eyes trained on the small fishing boat that's just docked, with a bounty that will determine tonight's menu.
"I would love it to be a dining destination, but there are challenges," he says. "Being on an island you face some of the same difficulties that Australians in isolated areas have with the supply of certain foods.
"Here, we have amazing seafood and we have beautiful produce that we grow in our gardens. But, for instance, Fiji has no dairy industry so we have to work out ways of getting around that, and looking at coconut cream as a first alternative.
"The aim is to make the food elegant but still approachable and local. Lang's drive and passion to make the food here as amazing as the island is a wonderful thing."
Qantas now flies four times a week between Sydney and Nadi, on Tuesdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. It also codeshares with One World Connect partner Fiji Airways from Sydney, with daily services from Melbourne and Brisbane. See qantas.com
Kokomo Private Island is in the Kadavu Group of islands and features 21 beachfront villas and five luxury residences. Guests are transferred from Nadi International Airport via seaplane. See kokomoislandfiji.com
Sue Williams was a guest of Qantas and Kokomo Private Island.