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The chef bringing the world's cuisine to Kāeo

Anna Valentine runs a cooking school from her century-old kauri villa in Kāeo, encouraging locals to broaden their tastes.

Anna Valentine’s cooking school is bringing the world’s cuisine to Kāeo.

When Anna Valentine was a little girl, her eyes would widen in awe at the weird and wonderful pieces of kitchen equipment her father – an “old-school foodie” – brought home from overseas business trips.

Pasta machines, fondue sets, woks and a Mongolian hot pot all piqued her interest in cooking early on. “He was into Chinese cooking and he’d do stir-fries for us and cook all these different types of dishes,” she says. “It felt like what we were eating was different to other people.”

Now the food blogger and chef is bringing the world’s cuisine – along with healthy eating habits – to the Far North, holding cooking workshops in the kitchen of her century-old kauri villa in Kāeo.

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Twice a month, the Veggie Tree Cook School offers a selection of vegetarian dishes to be sampled and mastered, including Asian, Mexican, Middle Eastern and Mediterranean food, along with basic bread- and cheese-making sessions. Valentine also teaches the art of preserving and fermentation, turning autumn bounties into homemade jams, pickles and chutneys, and sharing the health benefits of kimchi, kombucha and sauerkraut (theveggietree.com).

Many of her students come from backgrounds where meat and three veg is still the norm. “I’m bringing the world’s cuisine to Kāeo,” she says. “Apart from Indian and Chinese, we don’t have a lot of cultural cuisines going on around here.”

Originally from Wellington, Valentine worked as a chef in Australia, then started her own business delivering sweet baking to a cafe in London, while also working as a nanny. She moved to Kerikeri 12 years ago, before settling in Kāeo. The creator of New Zealand’s first commercially available kūmara chips, she began holding her diverse foodie workshops four years ago so she could work from home while raising her two daughters.

“I wanted to share what I was feeding them,” she says. “We’re a vegetarian family and I know I make nutritious food my kids grow and thrive on. I eat for my health and I wanted to share that with people and show they can do that too.”

Valentine also holds classes for junior cooks, from five-year-olds to teenagers. Parents bring their children from the neighbouring towns of Paihia, Coopers Beach, Mangōnui, Kerikeri and Kaikohe, and watch while they make healthy smoothies and basic recipes such as flatbreads and scrambled eggs.

Kids learn to love their greens, and often conjure up new names for her recipes, such as “Alien Blood Soup” (made from silverbeet, broccoli and zucchini). “Whatever is in the garden, we’ll use,” says Valentine, who helped establish a “garden to table”-type programme at Kāeo Primary School last year.

Inspired by the abundance of fresh produce available in the Far North, Valentine writes seasonal cookbooks (her debut, The Veggie Tree Autumn & Winter Cookbook, came out in 2017). Her own rambling garden is full of vegetables, fruit and herbs, including garlic, leafy greens, limes, bananas, quinces, grapes and edible flowers. Even onion weeds are put to good use.

“This is a hunting, fishing and farming community, and what I’m doing is pretty much the opposite of that,” she says. “It might seem complex and different, but when you’ve done it once, you can do it again.”                                

Kūmara, Cashew & Cauliflower Curry with Kashmiri Rice.

Recipe: Kūmara, Cashew & Cauliflower Curry with Kashmiri Rice

Vegan/gluten-free (serves 6)

Nutty, creamy and full of texture, this curry is perfect for the cooling autumn evenings, says Valentine. “Toasting and grinding your own spices gives a far superior flavour. Whole spices also keep better in the pantry. The Kashmiri rice is not only delicious but more nutritious with the addition of coconut and raisins to the fibre-rich brown rice.”

  • 200g raw cashew nuts
  • 300ml water
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • ½ tsp fenugreek seeds
  • 1 tsp cardamom seeds
  • 1 Tbsp fennel seeds
  • 1 Tbsp coriander seeds
  • 1 cinnamon quill
  • 1 tsp yellow mustard seeds
  • 2 Tbsp coconut oil or ghee
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 fresh chilli, sliced (optional)
  • 1 red kūmara, scrubbed and diced
  • 1 x 400g can chopped tomatoes
  • 1 x 400ml can coconut cream
  • 1 Tbsp ground turmeric
  • 8 curry leaves
  • 1 Tbsp coconut or rice vinegar
  • 1 tsp sweet soy sauce
  • ¼ cauliflower, cut into small florets
  • 4 Tbsp ground almonds
  • 1 tsp cracked pepper
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 cup brown basmati rice
  • 2 Tbsp raisins
  • 1 pinch saffron (optional)
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 650ml water
  • 4 Tbsp threaded or desiccated coconut
  1. Soak cashews in water for a minimum of three hours.
  2. Toast cumin, fenugreek, cardamom, coriander and cinnamon in a dry, heavy-based pan, shaking the pan often, until just starting to vapour [smell fragrant]. Cool slightly and grind in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle.
  3. Toast mustard seeds in a large, dry pot until just starting to pop.
  4. Add coconut oil (or ghee) and melt, then add onion and chilli. Fry for 30 seconds, then add ground spices and kūmara. Fry for another 30 seconds.
  5. Add soaked cashew nuts and the soaking water.
  1. Add chopped tomatoes and coconut cream, then fill both cans with 400ml water and add this to the pan.
  2. Add turmeric, curry leaves, vinegar and soy sauce. Bring to the boil then turn down to a gentle simmer for 45 minutes, stirring a couple of times.
  3. Rinse rice under cold water and combine in pot with raisins, saffron (if using), salt and water. Cover with lid and bring to boil, then turn down to a simmer immediately and stir with a fork. Replace the lid and simmer until you can’t see the water anymore. Stir again gently and add coconut. Replace lid and remove from heat to steam for 10 minutes; then give a final, gentle stir with a fork.
  4. To finish, add cauliflower, almonds, pepper and salt to the curry pot and stir through. 
  5. Serve curry and rice with poppadoms and your favourite chutney or pickle.

This article was first published in the July 2019 issue of North & South.

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