New Zealand’s overlooked indigenous cuisine

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McLeod also recently taught his first class hometowna cooking school and restaurant owned by one of New Zealand’s most internationally acclaimed chefs, Peter Gordon, where he wowed attendees with dishes such as fish wrapped in rangiora leaves and stewed in bracken (seafood has always been a big part of the traditional Māori diet) .

Karena and Kasey Bird, two well-known culinary personalities, who also have a keen interest in showcasing indigenous foods, believe what McLeod is doing is critical to preserving their culture. “His knowledge of Māori Kai is second to none. His PhD will be so invaluable to future generations and also connects us to the importance of our Whakapapa (Descent) and history on this land,” Kasey said.

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

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

Maybe one day people will visit New Zealand and be able to find dishes creatively using ingredients like kina, paua (Abalone) eel and mutton bird as well as fish and chips, pizza and pasta. If McLeod and the other Māori chefs working toward this renaissance in indigenous cuisine have something to do with it, it’s entirely possible.

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