The important role of food in the city
Food memories play a large part in how we think of ourselves, according to a group of food experts who gather at the Auckland Museum to discuss how Auckland’s food scene is changing.
Singapore-born but Auckland-based Connie Clarkson, who has been cooking and writing about food for decades, recalls being a student at Columba College at the age of sixteen fresh out of Singapore. Being the only non-white people in that entire school, Connie, along with her housemistress, searched fruitlessly for coconut milk to use in the curry she was desperate to cook.
However, says Clarkson, “There was not any coconut milk in the late seventies, and so we’d go to Wah Lee, get dessicated coconut, and boil it up with milk. Oh my God, it was terrible. But that’s the lengths that we went to, to even try to approximate the taste of coconut milk for curry.”
She cites this anecdote as an example of the sheer need and willpower of the people who want to eat the food of their homeland despite being relocated to an alien environment and food culture.
Professor Paul Spoonley, from Massey University, agrees. “As we diversified our migrant flows,” he says, “we diversified our food. But not all.” He finds it surprising that although economic migrants came in large numbers from the Pacific in the 60s and 70s, they have had very little impact upon the range and kind of food which is available for those wanting to eat out. And thinks that it’s still difficult to find a restaurant that serves Pacific food in Auckland, which has the largest concentration of Pasifika people in the world.
Maori chef Te Kohe Tuhaka agrees that the situation is similar with Maori food. He notes the specifically Maori ingredients like muttonbird and kina which can be found on the marae. But he doesn’t feel that the style of cooking has evolved beyond what any cook would do to prepare any normal roast, or bone broth, or boil-up.
Chef Benjamin Bayly from The Grove and Baduzzi restaurants looks forward to the day when the work done in Denmark by chef René Redzepi at his Noma restaurant is replicated here. A great admirer of the way that Redzepi is searching back to his Viking roots to find inspiration for a new style of food, he wonders when we as New Zealanders are going to do that, especially for Maori cuisine.
All panellists agree that New Zealand food is changing. More diverse ingredients are available now, travellers return from overseas with more sophisticated and adventurous palates, and authenticity in cuisine is valued. Prof. Spoonley considers that there is divide between the taste of his parents’ generation and his.
“If I’d said I was going to eat raw fish surrounded by vinegared rice and seaweed,” he comments, there would have been so many things wrong in that statement to his father, who was an immigrant from Liverpool. “And yet it’s now become something that many people in this room would eat on a regular basis.”
About the participants
Noelle McCarthy - Moderator
Noelle McCarthy is a writer and broadcaster based in Auckland. She's a well-known voice on Radio New Zealand National, as the host of 'Summer Noelle' in the holidays, and a regular fill-in on various shows. She's written for a variety of publications in New Zealand and Ireland, including a regular books column for Metro magazine.
Distinguished Professor Paul Spoonley is the Pro Vice-Chancellor of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at Massey University, and the author or editor of 27 books.He is a Principal Investigator on a Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment-funded project which looks at the impacts of super-diversity on Auckland as a gateway city. Paul is also passionate about the social, and sociological, aspects of food in intercultural sites of engagement.
Born and raised on a dairy farm in Waikato, Ben is currently executive chef at the awarding-winning Baduzzi and The Grove restaurants. He previously held senior chef roles at Michelin-starred restaurants in London and France. For two years running, Ben has been named Chef of the Year at the Cuisine NZ Good Food Awards in 2014 and 2015. Ben is currently filming season two of the popular television show My Kitchen Rules.
Te Kohe Tuhaka
Te Kohe Tuhaka is one of New Zealand's leading Māori actors. His fluency in te reo and firm grasp of his cultural roots has seen him star in the te reo epic The Deadlands and much-loved Māori TV series Find Me a Māori Bride. For the past two seasons, Te Kohe has also presented Māori Television's Marae Kai Masters.
Singapore-born and Auckland-based Connie Clarkson has been cooking and writing all her life. Author of Asian Flavours, Connie has an intricate knowledge of Asian cuisine, including where to find the best foodie haunts in Auckland. Highly respected in hospitality circles, Connie owned and operated Auckland’s The French Café during the mid-1990s, and from 2002-12 she chaired The Lewisham Awards.
A regular contributor and food judge for Metro magazine, she is currently Manager of Commercial Place Operations at Auckland Council’s Pānuku Development Auckland.