New Zealand’s little-known native cuisine

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McLeod also recently gave his first class at Countrya cooking school and restaurant owned by one of New Zealand’s most internationally acclaimed chefs, Peter Gordon, where he delighted attendees with dishes such as fish wrapped in rangiora leaves and steamed in bracken (seafood has always been a big part of traditional Maori diet food).

Karena and Kasey Bird, two well-known culinary personalities, who are also very interested in showcasing native food, believe what McLeod does is crucial to the preservation of their culture. “His knowledge of the Māori kai is second to none. His doctorate will be so invaluable to future generations and also brings us back to the importance of our whakapapa (ancestry) and the history of this land,” Kasey said.

McLeod certainly hopes so. “Colonialism brought a brutal detachment from our culture and heritage, and generations of Maori were cut off from their reality,” he said. “The Crown has tried to ‘civilize’ the Maori and in doing so has severed us from our cultural habitat and heritage, but we can bring it back.”

“Maori cuisine is so unique and completely organic. My dream is [for] Maori people be proud of who they are and what they cook once again – and to share that with all of New Zealand, and with anyone who visits our beautiful country.”

Maybe one day people will visit New Zealand and can easily come up with dishes creatively using ingredients like kina, paua (abalone) eel and mutton bird just as easily as fish and chips, pizza and noodles. If McLeod and the other Maori chefs working on this revival of indigenous cooking have anything to do with it, it is entirely possible.

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