Through a series of pop-up dinners, chef Monique Fiso is showcasing her inspired take on modern Maori food made with traditional ingredients.
Having had only a handful of lessons about indigenous culture at school, I had a “light bulb” moment recently while at a Food Design Conference, hosted by Otago Polytechnic’s Food Design Institute. Although I have been writing about food for more than 30 years, to my shame I have never truly appreciated or understood the significance of manaakitanga (Maori hospitality) and the significant contribution that Maori have made to this country’s food and culture – until now.
During a workshop on this theme, while sitting in brilliant winter sunshine by a steaming outdoor hangi pit at Manaaki, the hospitality school, we discussed Maori traditions, stories, hospitality and all the gifts and generosity that come with serving food. After the usual delay, we lifted the hangi. It reminded me of the time in the early 90s when we dug up our own backyard to create an authentic feast for a famous American food writer. We were nervous that day, too, as there’s always the fear that the food will not be thoroughly steamed.
We needn’t have worried. This hangi’s treasures were all beautifully cooked: succulent pork, fragrant kumara, juicy chickens and the stunning titi or mutton bird that had been wrapped in salty kelp fresh from the Otago coastline. That night we feasted well at one of two significant Maori-inspired meals I enjoyed that week.
Young chef Monique Fiso also offered an insight into the riches of Maori food culture with a “pop-up” dinner at a local restaurant during the conference. She had joined forces on this occasion with another young chef, Kane Bambery, to present a meal to celebrate the Southern Ocean, under the banner of her project Hiakai (hungry). Fiso is determined to cook and showcase her adaptation of modern Maori food and is working on a series of pop-up dinners and events throughout the country. At that dinner we enjoyed traditional delicacies with a modern twist: kina on toast, fried fish collars with native horopito, green-lipped mussels with leafy kawakawa, and a savoury paua porridge. For dessert, a steamed pudding with golden syrup and corn. It was an exciting take on the unsophisticated but tasty fare that’s traditionally served from Maori kitchens.
Fiso grew up in a Wellington family of mixed heritage. She has Samoan and Maori bloodlines, but her family didn’t go near the marae during her childhood and for years she had almost a sense of embarrassment about her family history. Now she is an accomplished chef and determined to proudly showcase her culture through food.
After finishing secondary education, and with a year of culinary school behind her, she knocked on the door at the highly regarded Martin Bosley’s, looking to get restaurant experience. She was allowed in, was totally inspired and managed to get the required 50 hours of work experience all in one week.
This was her epiphany. She says, “There was New Zealand on a plate. Bosley was artistic and made very unusual creations with fish, and his food was entirely different from anything I had encountered. I had always wanted to work in a sophisticated restaurant and I am still influenced by what Bosley taught me.”
Fiso worked at the restaurant for two years, then headed to New York at the suggestion of fish purveyor Rachel Taulelei, a popular Wellington food influencer who was familiar with opportunities in the Big Apple, having served as NZ trade commissioner in the US.
Fiso spent the next seven years in restaurants in that food-obsessed city, the final three with talented Kiwi chef Matt Lambert, who has won international fame with his Michelin-starred restaurant the Musket Room, before returning home last year.
A couple of weeks ago, she presented her first Auckland Hiakai dinner. It was a sell-out. This time her theme was mara hoteke (winter gardens) and close to 90% of the produce she used came from the Mangere Old School Reserve Teaching Gardens, a fertile South Auckland plot that was formerly a market garden.
Volunteers Yvonne Thomas and Graeme Hansen run horticultural courses ranging from three days to eight weeks for all sectors of the community and find much support locally and from the Auckland Council.
Fiso gathered kumara, watercress, native herbs and leaves, lemons, native spinach for an innovative ice cream, rhubarb and tender young rosemary shoots, around which she created her menu.
This pop-up was orchestrated in two sittings. Michael Meredith had offered his eponymous restaurant, Meredith’s, as a venue for the night, but the Hiakai team had to prepare for the dinner elsewhere. AUT generously came to the rescue, and over the weekend all the preparation was done in the hospitality school’s kitchens.
With produce from the gardens combined with Fiso’s innovation and her team’s hard work, diners were treated to a superb meal of modern Maori food. It was made using traditional ingredients, but her techniques set it apart.
Hapuku was seasoned with horopito (Pseudowintera colorata), fresh seaweed and lemon zest and carefully presented in a manner that would make any Michelin-starred restaurant proud. Her hangi course was a modern take on chicken and cabbage, but those earthy, smoky flavours that mark all hangi fare were still evident.
Her daring play on ice cream – made using native spinach and rhubarb – delighted the diners. “I thought I would be laughed out of the restaurant,” she later admitted.
But it was her boil-up that stole the show. The usual cooking method is to make a flavoursome stock using a lot of pork bones, then toss in kumara, doughboys and finally puha or watercress.
To modernise the boil-up, Fiso prepared every ingredient separately, bringing them together when plating each serving. The result was tasty and sophisticated, but it still maintained the integrity of tradition. This chef is forging a path and showing the food community just how good our New Zealand-grown ingredients can be.
Fiso is sharing her boil-up recipe with Listener readers. It has been slightly adapted from the original and should be made over two days for best results. The kumara can be steamed separately with a little salt for an even tastier result.
3-4 chicken frames
2kg pork bones
2 onions, chopped
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
1 stick celery, chopped (no leaves)
2 cloves garlic, smashed
2 litres strong chicken stock
1 small bunch thyme
1 tsp black peppercorns
1 bay leaf
1 large bunch watercress
roasted pork shoulder (see recipe below)
doughboys (see recipe below)
3 kumara, peeled and cut into 2cm dice
watercress for garnish
Make the broth a day ahead. Preheat the oven to 180°C. Place the chicken and pork bones on a resting rack in a roasting pan and roast in the oven for 20 minutes, then strain off the excess fat beneath the rack. Roast for another 20-25 minutes or until golden.
In a large stockpot, sauté the onion, carrot, celery and garlic. When the vegetables are soft and lightly caramelised, add the bones and chicken stock and enough water just to cover the bones.
Add the thyme, peppercorns and bay leaf to the saucepan. Bring to a gentle simmer and cook for 31/2 hours, periodically skimming off any surface scum.
Add the watercress to the stockpot and cook for 30 minutes to allow the flavour to infuse. Using a chinois or sieve, strain the broth into a large saucepan. Discard the bones, veges and spices and refrigerate the broth overnight. Before using, remove and discard any surface fat.
Add the pork shoulder meat (see recipe below) and its braising liquid to the broth. Place the broth over the heat, bring back to a gentle simmer and cook for an hour to slightly reduce.
Season the broth with salt and pepper. Add the kumara 20 minutes before serving. Ten minutes before serving, add the doughboys (see recipe below).
Ladle about 300ml of broth into each serving bowl with plenty of pork, kumara and doughboys. Garnish with watercress.
Wine match: a hearty chardonnay or red wine
1kg boned pork shoulder, trimmed and cut into 10cm chunks
3 tbsp grapeseed oil
salt and ground black pepper
250ml chicken stock
Preheat the oven to 150°C. Heat a large cast-iron frying pan until hot. Lightly oil the pork shoulder pieces, then season with salt and black pepper. Sear the meat in the pan until golden, then transfer it to a roasting pan.
Deglaze the cast-iron pan with the chicken stock, then pour the stock into the roasting pan. Cover with aluminium foil and place in the oven for about 21/2 hours or until the meat is falling apart.
Remove from the oven, then rest it for 30 minutes. Pull the meat apart into long strands. Strain the cooking liquid through a chinois or sieve, then cover the pulled meat with the cooking liquid until ready to add to the boil-up broth.
1 cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
pinch of ground black pepper
1 small bunch parsley, finely chopped
¼ cup pork stock, cold
3 tbsp milk
cold water if necessary
250ml chicken stock
Sieve the dry ingredients, then stir through the parsley until it’s evenly dispersed.
Combine the pork stock and milk. Slowly add the liquid to the dry ingredients to make a dough, taking care not to overwork it. The dough should be slightly damp and sticky but able to hold its shape (similar to scone dough). If it’s too dry, add a little water.
Combine the chicken stock and water in a saucepan, then bring to a boil.
Half fill another bowl with cold water and a handful of ice cubes. Using a dough scraper/bench cutter, cut the dough into 1.5cm x 1.5cm pieces.
Once all the dough has been cut, use a perforated spoon to stir the boiling liquid into a vortex. Drop 5-8 pieces of dough in at a time and cook for 3-4 minutes. Once the doughboys are cooked, use the perforated spoon to lift them out. Place in the ice bath. Continue until all the doughboys are cooked, then strain and place on a tray lined with parchment paper and lightly oiled with cooking spray. Refrigerate until needed.
For Hiakai events, see www.hiakai.co.nz
Follow the Listener on Twitter or Facebook.