With indigenous ingredients increasingly appearing on New Zealand menus, we spoke to chefs about what Māori cuisine means to them in 2021, and the native ingredients they love to use.
Karena and Kasey Bird
Everyone knows the fabulous Bird sisters from Maketū who burst into our lives on MasterChef 2014. These days they spend their time designing menus and creating bespoke multi-sensory pop ups - matching food to narratives. They are currently working on their third cookbook which is completely in te reo Māori.
"Māori kai in 2021 is about the people who cook it, the whakapapa of the dishes, the provenance and sustainability of the ingredients used, innovation and creativity using our cultural ingredients, flavours and cooking techniques."
Favourite ingredient: Kūmara
"This has been a staple of the Māori diet since before we arrived in Aotearoa from Hawaiiki. We love the variety of dishes it can be made into - from sweet to savoury."
After 30 years running a number of successful restaurants in London, Peter Gordon has returned home and opened a new food embassy, Homeland, with his partner, Alastair Carruthers. Homeland, which incorporates a cooking school, restaurant and retail, showcases the best sustainable tradeable kai from Aotearoa and the Pacific, and supports the producers who create it.
"Māori cuisine is on the brink of change - becoming a cuisine we champion in Aotearoa NZ. We'll rely on people like Joe McLeod to show us what the possibilities are and what is out there we can actually eat."
Favourite ingredient: Karengo seaweed
"I love to toast this with olive oil for a savoury seasoning and texture. Not surprisingly it goes well with steamed or grilled fish, and also fresh tomato."
Joe McLeod is considered one of the most knowledgeable people in New Zealand on Māori ingredients - and how to forage them. As a chef, he has cooked in more than 30 countries, hosted TV series and is currently ensconced in PhD study with the goal of documenting traditional Māori cuisine for iwi so they can pass it on to future generations.
"Māori cuisine is one of the healthiest cultural diets around - all the preparation, cooking and presentation in its original practical form is totally organic, refreshing, and stunning with no mainstream ingredients needed."
Favourite ingredient: Tī kōuka (cabbage tree)
"The most diverse and well utilised plant in the Māori gantry, pantry and nursery. It provided food all year round, building material, clothing and medicine for children with colic, nursing mothers, blood tonic and ointment for cuts and bruises."
Executive Chef for Novotel Auckland Airport, Nancye Pirini-Tuisaula won Hotel Chef of the Year at the HM awards in Sydney 2017 and teaches up-and-coming chefs of Aotearoa through the National Apprentice scheme.
"As a child born and raised in Tāmaki Makaurau, and also raised in the East Cape, Te Kaha, kai has always been at the forefront of bringing whānau and friends together - where we share tears of joy, laughter and sometimes sadness."
Favourite ingredient: Kaimoana - in particular ika (fish)
"Using fish was such a sacred kai for Māori, I have been taught to give thanks to Tangaroa (God of the sea) for all that he offers to us to sustain us."
Rewi Spraggon is New Zealand's hāngī master, regularly appearing on TV and radio as the authority on the subject. He runs a hāngī catering business and supplies four of Auckland's top restaurants, including Ben Bayly's Ahi and Peter Gordon's Homeland, and he's recently launched Kāuta (kauta.co.nz), a database of Maori kai businesses across Aotearoa. Rewi is on a mission to keep the ancient traditions of hāngī cooking alive and bring this style of cooking back to mainstream Aotearoa.
"It's the oldest style of cooking in Aotearoa. It was celebrated at the time of Kupe - now we must celebrate it too." https://kauta.co.nz/
Favourite ingredient: Karaka berries
"My mum was taught by her dad and she taught me the process of preparing this amazing fruit. It is very toxic and can kill you if it is not done properly but if done right it is delicious - makes a great pesto."
Anne was raised on the East Coast and became the whānau cook at 9 years old. She created three series of the TV programme, Kai Ora, which focused on combining simple healthy kai with NZ music. She continues to welcome guests to her home for the ultimate cultural dining experience.
"Manaakitanga is as important as the kai that is created and served. I was front-of-house and consultant for many years at SPQR and loved it. Meeting, greeting and welcoming people is as much a part of Māori cuisine as creating the actual dish."
Favourite ingredient: Boil up
"I love a nice slow-cooked boil up - essentially pork bones and pūhā. It has such emotional nostalgic childhood memories. Not all "pots" are equal though; some people like adding doughboys. I prefer carrots, kūmara and pumpkin instead - real kai. The pūhā is added last."
Having recently parted from his beloved Boulcott St Bistro whānau of 12 years, Rex is now focusing on consulting, with an emphasis more towards Māori cuisine.
"I'm really excited about Māori kai in 2021 and how it's coming to the fore. Exciting times!"
Favourite ingredient: Horopito
"I love its peppery flavour and it adds such a great spicy punch to hāngī and kaimoana. Plus, it's a beautiful bush."
National President for the NZ Chefs Association, Grant has worked in numerous well-known New Zealand restaurants as well as with the New Zealand Defence Force, Accor Hotels and Tertiary Training establishments. He has also judged at culinary events around the world and has worked for the Sultan of Brunei, prime ministers and other VIPs.
"My earliest memories of kai Māori was from my nana, Raana Huia, her rewana, fry bread and boil-up were sensational. Her bug still lives on and is now 100 years old! I still use it at many Maori events."
Favourite ingredient: Kawakawa
"Kawakawa is so readily available to me in Manawatu, and we regularly use it in the low and slow barbecue movement we have created at the Apiti Tavern and Eatery. It's so aromatic and really lifts lamb, beef and chicken."
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