By Whatitiri Te Wake of Te Ao Maori News
Ani Leef has created a name for herself in the catering industry of the Far North - from corporate events to tangihanga in a lifelong dream come true for the mother of two.
Leef always knew she could cook but didn't realise she could make a living out of it. Her love of cooking started from a young age, when she was being raised in the rural far north settlement of Te Kao, 23km south of Te Rerenga Wairua.
"That was one way for us to get out of doing gardening, because we had market gardens back in the day. The only way we could get out of the market garden was to cook tea," she said
Three years ago she founded Ani's Catering as a small business - and it survived Covid-19 restrictions.
Now she's finding now she can't keep up with the demand.
"It's good, but I also have other ventures on the side. I really love catering - that's my passion," she said.
Modern twists on traditional kai
The company was started following the tragic death of her late husband Wayne, who had given her the encouragement to get it going.
Now business is booming.
"We were self-employed at the time, we had two kids, and I pretty much got thrown in the deep end, becoming a solo parent. I didn't want to be a statistic and get a benefit. I wanted to try and do it on my own. The only way I knew to carry on getting an income was through cooking," she said
She prides herself on modern twists on traditional foods. She's also observing a change in the kai that whanau want at their hui at marae. They are moving away from traditional hangi style hakari, to more Asian and European-influenced food options. She fuses traditional methods and flavours with more modern and international flavours.
"I like doing different thing and encourage whanau to try different things. The main thing is, if people enjoy the kai, I carry on cooking"