As I write, I'm reflecting on the relationship and connection Maori have with food.

I'm fondly reminiscing on memories spent in the maara kai (food garden) with my late grandfather, Bill Stirling.

In the garden was where he was a different man - he was talkative, a teacher, he shared stories of his upbringing with his nan, she taught him the techniques of planting and harvesting kai, especially kumara at the East Coast Raukokore. I'm reminded spring is around the corner, so time for planting is near.

I miss him terribly. As Father's Day approaches it's a reminder for our whanau that our Pa has been gone for three years.

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This week we lost an exemplar of a man, a Rangatira, Uncle Dave Stone, who resided in Pakipaki for many years but was from Muriwai.

Henry and I had the pleasure of working with their whanau in the wharekai (kitchen) during his tangihanga at Mihiroa Marae.

What a well-oiled machine it was - there were many whanau who helped, some who knew their role and others who just wanted to help. In honour of a wonderful man who had given years of service to Maori development and to many communities, everyone worked hard to ensure that as roopu (groups) came to pay their respects, they were appropriately nourished.

As Uncle Dave would say, "Make sure there is always hot kai for the manuhiri (visitors)."
Pa and Uncle Dave are what I would refer to as "old school". They were from an era when everyone worked so hard, they were fluent Maori speakers, confident in this day and age of conversing with Maori and Pakeha.

Both men worked tirelessly for their marae - those who talk about them know they set standards for manaakitanga.

I know I've gone off track - I was talking about the connection and relationship with kai, but that's what happens, you think of kai and it brings back precious memories, so you see it's not about the sweetness of the kumara, but the planting, harvesting, preparation, cooking and eating of the kumara that is where the sweetness is. -Monique

*Monique and Henry Heke were contestants on reality TV show My Kitchen Rules and had their own food show on Maori Television, Tradition on a Plate. Their column runs fortnightly.