Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Food Event of the Year

I have two feel-good things to share with you tonight. One will make you feel good in a worthy, making-the-world better sort of way. The other will make you feel good in a hedonistic, get-in-my-belly sort of way.

So to the second, first: on 23 August some of the best chefs in New Zealand will be working together to create an incredible menu for you to eat. Depot’s Al Brown, Masu’s Nic Watt, Bracu’s Mikey Newland, Lava at Westin’s Nick Honeyman, Langham’s Volker Marcerek, and Milse’s Brian Campbell (that's his creation above) will do a course each, with wines matched by Belinda Jackson.

It’ll be the food event of the year in Auckland, and I happen to know about it because I’ll be hosting the thing. You can find out more and how to book tickets right here.

But it’s not just food for the fun of it. Ticket proceeds go to Garden To Table, an incredible charity which connects New Zealand children back with the food chain. Look, this is a bunch of kids at Sandringham’s Edendale school examining their ‘bug hotel’.

Next they’re off to the school farm – avocados, citrus, bananas to go with the various other fruit, vegetables and herbs grown in every spare patch of dirt on the school grounds.

Inside the school kitchen, the rest of the class are working out what to do with this rooty beast they’ve grown in a planter box near the netball courts.

I didn’t recognize it either, it’s called salsify, and luckily their Garden To Table teacher Sarah knows a few tricks with it.

Notice the menu calls for a local relish? Here’s a bunch of jars the children filled with excess vegetables they preserved in the summer.

The kids have to get a knife license before they can do anything with a blade, but by this stage of the year they’re pretty handy.

So the salsify is grated, mixed with herbs and polenta and crumbed with rolled oats (teacher’s looking out for the gluten free kids) then fried and served up just in time for the gardening half of the class to return inside for a feed.

This is not a posh Ponsonby school (no disrespect to posh Ponsonby schools), and in fact the GTT programme has been hugely successful in the lower decile schools – teaching children (and, in effect, families) how to grow and cook in season, how to love produce odds and ends, and how to make the most of the beautiful soil all around us.

Twenty one New Zealand schools are signed up to the Garden To Table programme, and students (in particular disruptive students) list GTT as one of the things they most enjoy about school life. But here’s the thing: they can’t sign up any more schools until they raise some more money.

This is my favourite sort of charitable cause – one where you can support it by being completely selfish. Come along, eat some incredible food and help founder Catherine Bell and her Garden To Table trust continue doing the brilliant work they’re doing. See you there, huh?