A celebrated Californian chef and international restaurateur have teamed up with local foodies to launch a new dining concept in Byron Bay that curates a colourful collection of fresh ingredients to create a dish that’s tipped to become the next iconic cuisine.
Offering a fresh take on an Hawaiian staple, Finn Poké will become Northern New South Wales’ first restaurant dedicated to the ‘poké bowl’ when it opens on Fletcher Street next week (June 17), further cementing the region’s reputation as a progressive dining destination.
Since conceived by Californian trendsetters, the poké bowl has developed a loyal following of fans that has seen the raw food phenomenon ride a wave of success across the United States before landing on Australian shores.
Pronounced poh-kay, the Hawaiian word translates to ‘diced’ – referring to the cubed raw fish that was once only enjoyed by fishermen, who seasoned the off-cuts of their catch with salt and seaweed.
The modern adaptation is a hybrid of this iconic snack and Japanese sushi, combining raw fish and vegetables with ingredients and flavours such as rice, soy and sesame.
While Northern Rivers’ culture kings may have seen a stray poké bowl at their local haunt, Finn Poké’s menu, created by Los Angeles food royalty and French Laundry alumni Charles Olalia, will be the first that is purely devoted to the dish.
Olalia took the fine dining route before opening his own, highly-acclaimed ‘hole in the wall’, Rice Bar, in downtown Los Angeles. He trained under Thomas Keller – the only American-born chef to have two, Michelin-three-starred restaurants, before becoming the youngest executive chef at LA’s Michelin-starred establishment, Patina.
Finn Poké is Olalia’s collaboration with Jem Jacinto, who hails from a family of hospitality hotshots with a portfolio that spans from America to Asia, including the famous ‘Fig and Olive’ group in the US.
“Jem’s idea for Finn Poké was clear – he wanted to bring the cool, clean flavours of California to the fresh, organic produce of Byron Bay,” said Olalia.
“While the basic menu was designed in LA, I waited until I visited the Byron region and sampled the local produce to finalise our offering.
“I believe that every country, and even every town, has something unique to offer. You can’t ‘copy and paste’ one menu to another city and hope the relevance and quality of the offering will remain the same.
“I love exploring the fresh, organic flavours of Byron Bay, learning about the fruits and vegetables that are abundant in the region, and applying my knowledge of flavour profiles to enhance these ingredients.”
Olalia is training local chefs to create the perfect poké before returning to LA, when the day-to-day running of the restaurant will be overseen by Jacinto’s sister, co-owner Joelle Boehnert, and her partner Josh Torney.
After the explosion of poké bowls in California and across the States, I knew I wanted to bring the concept to Australia. When we visited Byron Bay early this year, we realised the chilled vibe and relaxed lifestyle perfectly suited our vision.
“Byron Bay’s ethos of ‘fresh food, sourced locally’ is the backbone of Finn Poké, which aims to satisfy both the health and environmentally conscious crowds.
“Finn Poké’s focus on affordability using quality ingredients means we strike a balance between fast, casual and fine dining; giving guests the choice of dining in our contemporary restaurant in the heart of Byron, or enjoying their bowls with their toes in the sand.
“After many years in the international hospitality business, I’m really looking forward to spending more time in Australia, working with family and creating a brand that resonates with the people of Byron Bay.”