It is super important for every person, regardless of culture, to maintain and honour their culinary traditions. There is a continuity of consciousness in the way we prepare food and this speaks to us both physically and emotionally.
We are most likely to be in our best health if we eat as our ancestors did. And by that I do not mean the relatively recent dietary developments brought about by the industrialisation of farming and food production. I mean the diets of our ancestors when they ate as they had eaten for many generations.
How can people begin to reconnect or connect with indigenous ingredients and eating? Go for a walk and take home anything you find that you can eat. And when you get home, cook it up and eat it! It’s important to identify things correctly; if you’re not sure check with someone who is.
The great thing about this approach is we start to value our local environment as a source of our food and then we start wanting to protect it from harm. That’s when we are truly reconnecting with indigenous eating. Our landscape is something we want to care for and protect because it sustains us.
Ideally we would all be eating kai from our own maara kai (home garden) or our immediate environment. Te Mahi Māra Hua Parakore, the book I was involved in, is a handbook for whānau gardening. My personal method for taking what my whānau can grow and gather and turning it into a meal is essentially to hack the Edmonds cookbook. We simply follow the Edmonds recipe but substitute or add ingredients. Scones get spelt flour and karengo. Cordial gets honey and kawakawa. Mayo gets made with watercress. And so on.
With projects like Endemic for F.A.W.C! 16, we are really pushing ourselves to gain new knowledge about cooking with our native ingredients. Diversifying the ways we use native plants, rethinking those ingredients, means we are developing a whole new cuisine that is uniquely us. We can borrow from European traditions but inform what we’re doing with ‘here’.
The food we eat everyday is my main concern. For me this is the kai that is significant. This is the kai we are nourishing our children with; this is the kai that shapes our bodies and our minds. Te Mahi Maara and Hapi are both about this everyday kai.
The ‘high art’ cuisine is really just an opportunity to develop new ideas. It is an event and the focus is on the food and the drink and the experience, so we get to think outside of the square and be super creative. I guess you bring something into the world as a fancy canapé and then bring it down to earth in a soup or a pie or a sausage that we can all eat every day.
Through my Kai Māori mahi with Te Matau a Maui Voyaging Trust a staple is karengo (seaweed) gathered by whānau in Waimarama and Porongahau. You can’t buy it in the shops that I know of! I cook it in a slow cooker with or without pork fat and butter. It is a hugely nutritious and delicious provincial kai.
I have grown to love kamokamo, like a zucchini but sweet and delicate. You cut it into bite-size chunks, seeds and all, gently steam and serve it with butter. And kawakawa! Such a potent rongoa (medicine) and so easy to use: kawakawa cordial, kawakawa pesto, kawakawa shortbread, kawakawa dolmades …
Hanui and Naumai at Aunty’s Garden in Waipatu grow kānga mā. It’s white Māori maize corn. Grown for centuries and prepared in methods that directly link Waipatu to the ancient tradition of ocean navigation and the indigenous people and foods of the Americas. Naumai taught me to prepare kānga pungarehu by boiling the kernels in kānuka ash. I later learnt that this treatment transforms the nutritional profile of the corn into a superfood. I really can’t wait to see more kids eating this traditional kai for their breakfast again.
And of course there’s our kaimoana – paua, kina, koura and ika. I love frying flounder in butter! My particular passion is for kai awa. Tuna (eel) caught in a quiet part of the river and smoked or – the best I ever had – wrapped in cabbage leaves and cooked in the hāngi.
And watercress is definitely something I cannot live without. If you have a patch by a freshwater spring that is unpolluted by animals or giardia then protect it and share the bounty. Watercress is such a special flavour and has a pretty smart nutritional profile, being super high in iron.
Māori food is the future of food in New Zealand. Our emergent top chefs are really starting to reach back into our ecological and culinary origins to fi nd a contemporary cuisine that is uniquely Aotearoa New Zealand. It’s a pretty exciting time in our culinary history.
What it needs to be coupled with, however, is a collective culinary commitment to kaitiakitanga. As cooks utilising our indigenous heritage we need to check in with local kaumātua and hapū resource managers to make sure our harvesting is sustainable and appropriate.
It is no good if we assume we can just take! The world doesn’t work like that! It is important to give more than we take. I think that might be a universal law that keeps everything ticking.
Recent Dishes on Gretta’s Menu
• Rimu and kahikatea pepper seasoned beef
• Hohepa bocconccini marinated in wild green oil and wrapped in hangehange
• Kawakawa dolmades with coconut cream raita
• Karengo dumplings in a titi/ muttonbird broth with pickled samphire
• Ti kouka blossom champagne cocktail
• Roasted mamaku with native honey dipping sauce
• Mussels smoked with dried pohutukawa leaves