You might be familiar with The Great New Zealand Songbook, a collection of some of NZs most memorable tunes. Well this is the culinary version, brought to you by Murray Thom and his team. They have travelled the length of New Zealand to visit some of our most loved, respected and iconic foodies to collect recipes which Thoms says show “just how privileged we are to live in such a beautiful country.” And this it does, with beautiful photography throughout.
This is a lovely cookbook, not just a collection of recipes but rather a snapshot of eating in New Zealand in all its different forms. Even when you first pick it up, it feels like the kind of book that belongs in a kitchen (rather than the coffee table). The cover, like the NZ songbook, has been designed by Dick Frizzell, with a backdrop reminiscent of the tea towels that are used nationwide. Inside, this theme continues with photos of the cooks at home cooking or hanging with their families. Even the paper feels thick and a wee bit old fashioned – the type that will stand up to the odd splash of cake mixture.
Ultimately any cookbook should stand on its merits for the recipes and this book doesn’t disappoint. What I really enjoyed were the recipes that are so distinctly kiwi: Peter Gordon, famous worldwide for his fusion style of cooking offers spaghetti and cheese toasts and his father’s souffle omelette while no self-respecting NZ cookbook would be missing a recipe for whitebait fritters. There are nods to our food traditions: variants on the roast dinner, the baking for ‘filling those tins’ and recipes for the BBQ. But there are also references to how our culinary heritage has developed: overseas influences (Nicki Wickes for instance gives us Fragrant Ginger & Chicken Balinese Curry); Megan May’s raw food treats and of course the more ‘fine dining’ take on classics. The book is a mixture of difference styles of food yet somehow it works.
There are 80 chefs, cooks and bakers featured in the cookbook and they each get several pages featuring their recipes. It is perhaps fitting that the first cook to feature is Tui Flower, who for many years as the food editor for NZ Women’s Weekly had such an influence on our food culture. Similarly Dame Alison Holst features as does Julie Biuso, Jo Seagar and Peta Mathias. There are chefs as well: Josh Emett, Ben Bayly, Sid Sahrawat and Tony Astle. And then there are those local heroes: providers such as Willie Calder, an oysterman, who provides a recipe for Oysters Kilpatrick. Anyone who has eaten the fish and chips from the Mangonui Fish Shop will be pleased. Matching each contribution is a brief write up from the contributor that gives some insight into their life and relationship with food. It helps pull together what might otherwise seem a very eclectic mix of recipes. Whatever the occasion food is about family, friendship, love and community – this is the message that resonated strongly with me.
There are those cookbooks that are delicious to look at but require an industrial kitchen to cope with the recipes. This isn’t one of them. This is a recipe book that will make you want to get stuck in and cook. And, more importantly, eat.