Ganesh Raj, star of Eat Well For Less NZ and self-affirmed "food education specialist", is bringing his fuss-free approach to food to the picturesque Coromandel town of Thames.
The Thames Food and Buskers Festival will be held over two days next month and is a celebration of local food growers and producers.
The festival, on March 5 and 6, will be a largely free event with gourmet food stalls and live music. The only ticketed offerings over the two days are the very reasonably priced cooking classes offered by Raj.
The star chef was thrilled when festival organisers based in Thames, a small town at the southwestern end of the Coromandel Peninsula, reached out to him.
Impressed by the local produce on offer in the region Raj signed up to teach two sessions at the festival. Focused on the concept of his Youtube series The Humble Yum Yum, Raj hopes to convince visitors to the festival that you can feed a family of four for $20, using just one pan.
"A lot of people don't know how to cook simply," says Raj, who blames the modern approach to cooking, which over complicates things, on the constant barrage of shiny new kitchen gadgets we are persuaded to want, and need, in order to be a confident cook.
"Small towns in New Zealand don't get the love," he says, "so I decided to take this opportunity to give Thames a big shout out."
Raj enthusiastically praises Thames as a town and everything it has to offer, including being the home of the flounder, a fish he feels is under-appreciated from a culinary standpoint. "I am a big fan of the fish that don't get the love. I have stingray on the menu at The Tasting Shed!"
The festival aims to bring the small but dynamic Thames community together. "You don't get that as much in bigger cities, people don't come together as much," says Raj, who is thrilled with the open-armed welcome he has received from Thames locals.
Raj is excited to have the opportunity to share his "favourite thing" at the event. His big passion is teaching simplicity in food and in cooking. He aims to show that humble ingredients and just one pan are all you need to create a family dinner. "Four-fifths of the planet use one pan... one-pan cooking has been around far longer than anything else."
Fresh produce grown in and around Thames will be celebrated throughout the festival, with Raj himself looking forward to cooking with locally grown ingredients in his cooking classes.
One thing you won't find at Raj's cooking sessions is an array of fancy kitchen gadgets. Cooking well "is in the skill, not in the equipment".
Raj hopes his classes will set people free. "The moment you have an education [in cooking], you are confident and you are free."
Free from what, you ask? From the desire for the latest gadgets, worrying about having the best kitchen and the idea that a wonderful meal needs to come from expensive ingredients.
Not only does Raj hope his cooking classes give home cooks a confidence boost, he also hopes an event like this might help to bridge the gap between small towns and the bigger cities, like Auckland. "Come and celebrate small towns!"
What: Thames Food and Buskers Festival
When: Friday March 5 and Saturday March 6
Where: Thames, Coromandel Peninsula
How much: The festival is free to attend. Tickets are required for Ganesh Raj's masterclasses. More information and ticket prices can be found at Thamesinfo.co.nz