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  • Writer's pictureNZ Booklovers

Kai by Christall Lowe

The publicity accompanying this stunning – yes, stunning – book says “So much more than a cookbook, this photo-journalistic art piece celebrates kai, whakapapa, mauri (life force) and whānau”.

I simply could not come up with a better endorsement than that eloquent summary of this gob-smackingly gorgeous book.

It will be no surprise to regular readers of these reviews that I love a good cookbook. And if Kai was just a cookbook, it would excel. But it is so much more than that. It’s a visual feast; a story that is both personal and national. And somehow it seems to be so much greater than these parts which combine to make a whole that manages to encapsulate us as a people; a summary of our identity, through that most bonding of rituals: the preparation and sharing of food.

Rēwena bread, for instance. But not just rēwena bread, but also rēwena crumpets. Oh my goodness! Who doesn’t love a good crumpet, then? And, sticking with the bread (parāroa) theme for a minute; this chapter also includes such national gems as fry bread, donuts and coconut buns. Bring it on! I can still recall the delicious introduction to fry bread I had when I first came to New Zealand to live in 1985. I’ve tried – and failed – to make it the same as I enjoyed it made by others. Perhaps now I can try again, with expert input.

And, while I know that these foods are treats, what is wrong with having a little of what you like sometimes? It’s these foods which we remember sharing with family that link us fondly to the past. I can still recall my aunt’s cake tins, brimful. Her Louise slice was legendary. It’s a fond food memory of a God-mother I might otherwise remember exclusively for her mania for cleanliness.

That’s where this book differs delightfully from most others of its ilk. Christall Lowe is a great raconteur, filling the book brimful with stories of whanau which entertain and educate as well, as any great lifestyle book should do. I’m always up for learning more te reo.

But for me, it’s Christall’s own story which sets the scene for the spectacular that follows. I won’t spoil it for you, but essentially after establishing an innovative harakeke (flax) business Christall morphed into selling kitchenware, before becoming by extension, a photographer stylist, A multiple award-winning food photographer and stylist with international accolades to her credit.

It shows in the cover, and the first impression continues unabated throughout the book. It’s clear from the outset that a great designer, photographer and stylist have helped drive this project. And it’s stunning to realise that the author and (very talented) recipe developer has taken on the majority of key roles which make this book so excellent.

What a wahine Christall Lowe is. I hope she sticks with creating cookbooks for a while, though. The recipes are fantastic, and with talent like this right across the board, the world is her pipi.

Reviewer: Peta Stavelli

Bateman Books


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