I’m an outsider, an Aussie chef transplanted into a foreign land where things might be similar but they are far from the same. I’m having to step back into my apprentice shoes and re-learn food from scratch; which is an exciting place to be in! I’m having to re-learn the varieties of produce, re-learn seasonal availability and re-learn the industry and industry heroes.
To be completely honest, I don’t really care about food much these days, or maybe I just don’t care for the p(r)etty or the praise. I had a good run and I did well and now I feel like there is so much more out there to discover beyond the ‘back of house’. As a career chef, this was a hard thing to come to terms with, but I have and it’s freed me enormously.
I do care about people however and I do very much care about human expression and having a crack at something your soul yearns for. I love how food plays in the arena of social glue and I love playing in that arena too. Food skills enables me to do that. When I meet a man or woman who is stepping out on their own to create a product that was once only an imagination for them, I am inspired. And I want to cook. Food skills enable me to show these products to the people of the region from which it sprung and this is ALWAYS what I have done, whether in rural Queensland, Brisbane, Perth or even my time in the Haute Savoie, France.
So for me food isn’t about being fancy or clever or having something to prove. It’s about an expression of regionality. It’s evidence of the people who live here. It’s literally a part of us and I believe a rich food culture is a richer culture full stop.
So I’ve been wondering…What does food* mean here in Taranaki? What is “Taranaki Food”? What have we already got and what could we have more of? And crucially for me…Can I be inspired to really cook again?
Before I go further I should probably qualify what I mean by food…I (mostly) mean artisan (read “romantic”) food. Food that is a deliberate expression of human joy and made or harvested with an eye for the community and environment in which it is produced. I say this, yet I am not so blind as to not acknowledge that there is a vast body of large-scale food producers in this fertile region. There are many very good people, skilled workers and proud farmers, doing right by their families and communities and I will definitely explore this side too. But for the most part, I’m talking about the kind of food you find at farmer’s markets and independent food outlets. Also that kind of food that has just ‘always been here.’ Food that is an expression of Taranaki. The kind of food chef’s get their knickers in a knot over.
So “What is Taranaki Food?”
On the surface, from my outsider’s perspective, there doesn’t seem to be a lot compared to other regions in New Zealand. But that’s just a perception. There is a LOT going on here. Much (perhaps most)of it is outside the commercial ecosystem but there is also a lot within it. What we don’t have is much cohesion or easy public access to it. Hopefully through my food skills and curious nature I can do my small part in changing this.
So I don’t really know what Taranaki Food is yet. But I am going to find out!
I’m going to try to scratch below the ‘non-event’ perception and uncover the produce and introduce you to the people behind the scenes in a “Taranaki Food Heroes” rampage of discovery. Keep an eye out here for written words and pictures which tell a story of Taranaki Food and also on the Cook Learn Love facebook page for impromptu five minute interviews. I will spring the following five questions on unsuspecting citizens;
1)What is Taranaki Food?
2)What would you love Taranaki Food to be? (What would you love to see more of?)
3)Where was the best meal out you had in the region? Let’s give some shout outs.
4)Can you tag another Taranaki Food Hero for me? I want to know who these people are.
5) Can you provide us with a hand drawing of the creative process behind your food? (A kooky little exercise which I think will be fun).
So there you have it, I wonder what will be unearthed?
What I can tell you is that Jo and David from Juno Gin are my Ground Zero Taranaki Food Heroes and you will find out more about them tomorrow……..