30 Sep 2017

Al Brown revisits Kiwi food classics

From Saturday Morning, 10:40 am on 30 September 2017
Al Brown by Josh Griggs

Al Brown by Josh Griggs Photo: supplied

Shepherd-turned-chef Al Brown shot to prominence on the local culinary scene in the mid-1990s with his Logan Brown restaurant in Wellington.

After 12 years he moved to Auckland, opening several restaurants including Depot and Best Ugly Bagels.

He's also written books including, Go Fish and Stoked, fronted several television cooking programmes, and completed a stint on the local Masterchef franchise.

Brown's new book Eat Up New Zealand updates Kiwi classics like such as roast lamb, pies, flounder, corned beef, pikelets, cheese scones, and feijoa and tamarillo desserts.

He tells Kim Hill New Zealanders should be wonderfully proud of our traditional food culture.

Brown even came up with a shepherd’s pie recipe using duck for the new book.

“I always have people coming up to me, especially from the rural sector, saying we need more duck recipes!”

Brown grew up on a farm in Wairarapa and says writing this book made him realise his food memories and first connections to food were much less prosaic than he first thought.

“I used to really love books by other chefs and they had wonderful food memories and I was slightly depressed. I’m from New Zealand and we only have shepherd’s pie and lamingtons and nothing exotic like bouillabaisse or paella. But sitting down and writing this and thinking about where we’ve come from I guess it reinforced for me no matter where you live those food memories are incredibly powerful.

“It’s like my mother’s peach chutney. It was the only chutney that she made but we’d have it on cheese and crackers when people came round for a cup of tea or a beer. I think we should be wonderfully proud of the small food culture we have in this country.”

Connection to food was instilled early on, Brown says, from growing your own veggies to slaughtering sheep and fossicking on Wairarapa beaches.

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Photo: Supplied

“We had what we called 'the orchard' on the farm, which was a couple of apple trees, but there was a gooseberry bush there which is still a pretty exotic fruit in this day and age and of course we grew all our vegetables.

“In the holidays we would travel to Castlepoint we’d spend our whole two weeks there in the caravan at the campground, it was all around low tide we would dig for pipis or father would swim out and try and get some crays, we would fossick around in the rock pools for paua.”

"Thinking back, what I took for granted we were so connected to where the food came from and still are."    

Brown’s early cooking adventures were inspired by a love of sweets and the Edmonds Cookery Book.

“I realised early on I had a sweet tooth so it was more a DIY thing with no dairy down the road and no five cents to walk down and get a mixture. I used to do quite a bit of baking and the Edmonds cookbook was the book of choice, of course.”

It wasn't long before cooking got under Brown’s skin.

“I loved the challenge of cooking and some of the early lessons that I learned like mum’s pavlova year to year. It was either a cracker or it needed a lot of cream and fruit! It was a lesson that with recipes and dealing with food things don’t always turn out how they’re meant to.”

Eat Up New Zealand is published by Allen & Unwin.