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  • Writer's pictureNZ Booklovers

Interview: Christall Lowe talks about Kai

Christall Lowe is a multi-award winning and seasoned creative, whose most recent accomplishments include publishing her stunning photojournalistic and highly acclaimed best-selling book, Kai. Christall talks to NZ Booklovers.

Congratulations on being shortlisted in the NZ Booklovers Awards 2023! Can you tell us a little about your shortlisted lifestyle book, Kai: Food stories and recipes from my family table?

Kai is essentially a book that epitomises and celebrates our life of kai. I see it as more than just a cookbook, and more of a homage to a life deeply rooted in kai, with flavours from my childhood woven together with cherished food memories, and presented as a veritable feast for the eyes and soul.

What inspired you to create this book?

I wanted to share our life of kai with the world. I believe there is something so special in the simple rituals of preparing and sharing food, and I was inspired to capture my Grandparents doing just that. I wanted to capture photographically their ways, their mauri (life essence), and their manaakitanga (hospitality), as well as gather their recipes into a printed book which I expected to become a taonga (treasure). I was fortunate to be able to capture my Nana in her kitchen, doing things like burning the sugar for her steamed pudding, and kneading dough before she passed away.

What type of recipes should home cooks expect?

Over 100 simple, delicious and mouthwatering recipes from good old fashioned traditional meals, to riffs on flavour memories and modern twists on classical dishes. So an oven-cooked hāngī, a backyard boil up, rēwena bread, and Nana's steamed pudding in a cloth, to black doris plum sorbet, honey roasted yams with feta whip, and venison and pāua meatballs. All with a focus on local, seasonal or easily accessible ingredients, and simple enough methods that even the kids can (and do) cook!

What are your three favourite recipes in the book, and why?

This is a hard question - I love so much! But since I have to choose, I would say the Horopito Roast Lamb with mint and orange sauce - because it is SO simple, and reminds me of weekends at my Grandparents', and the sauce is made using a great hack – marmalade! Then the Pāua and venison meatballs with rosemary syrup. It's an absolute taste sensation, and a great way to make precious pāua go that wee bit further. I dreamed up the rosemary syrup after trying something similar with juniper berries at a restaurant, and I thought that rosemary was far more accessible. The flavours together are AMAZEBALLS. Then of course because I have a very sweet tooth I have to include a dessert, but I really can't choose. Nana Alice Rice Pudding? It's so nostalgic and warming. Nana's steamed pudding? Well it is my ultimate favourite, especially with custard and cream. But I think when making the book, my favourite dessert that I just couldn't get enough of was the Passionfruit Sorbet. My mouth is watering just thinking about it! I created the sorbet recipe as a riff on passionfruit raro and ice blocks my Mum used to make when I was a kid. And the pure, intense flavour of passionfruit absolutely transports me. And I can't stop pulling it out of the freezer for "just one more spoonful".

What was your routine or process when creating Kai?

To be honest, I'm not really a "routine" kind of person. As a creative I need to create when the inspiration hits, and a lot of the time recipe development is very much an inspired process. So unlike some people who might have certain days and times for recipe testing, writing, creating and photographing, I just have a general structure and recipe list sorted and pick and choose recipes to work on when it's seasonally appropriate or when I'm really inspired to "create with pumpkin!" for example. When it comes to writing the text, sometimes I will sit at my computer and the words will just flow, other times I'll come up with words while we are in the car, and if my husband is driving then I'm on my phone - writing my book in my notes! In saying that, I am an avid planner, and I will plan out the structure and contents of the entire book, with a list of recipes that keeps evolving as I work through it all. I will often make recipes four or five times before nailing it to a "cookbook standard", because my style has always been more of a throw this and that in, and measure quantity with your eyes and hands. And then there's the photography – often done in my dining room, or on location if we are cooking beside the river for example. I love this part of it the most, bringing it to life through the lens.

If a soundtrack was made to accompany this book, name a song or two you would include.

Probably more like the soundtrack of my childhood - 80s of course. With a moody, slow jam vibe, a bit of classical piano and a touch of soul. Not sure there is one song which encapsulates all of that! So how about a mash up of "Set adrift on memory bliss" by PM Dawn (a remake of the 80s "True" by Spandau Ballet), and Cornfield Chase by Hans Zimmer (Interstellar theme song). If someone could mash those two together that would be epic.

What did you enjoy the most about creating Kai?

Seeing it come to life. Seeing the vision in my head become a reality in print, five years later. And it being more than what I ever imagined in my head.

What is the favourite book you have read so far this year and why?

Kāwai by Monty Soutar. It was enlightening, eye opening, and riveting. But much more, I feel it connected me more to my roots, and gave me an even deeper understanding of the whakapapa of our kai. I might read it again.

What’s next on the agenda for you?

Always lots of projects! I have a few on the go – one being my next book (quietly beavering away at that), another being a massive three year book project together with someone else (more will be revealed in time), and the other involves me and a film crew....I can't say too much about that right now, but let your imagination go wild. As well as workshops, demonstrations and "pop up" dinners happening around the motu – it's going to be another full on year. In all of this, trying to make time for a breather, and spending quality time with my whānau – usually enjoying good kai.

Bateman Books


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