Jade Temepara’s Kakanō Cafe is a modern initiative that is novel because it celebrates a return to the methods of the past. She is teaching skills that have been forgotten and re-planting seeds that have been lost. The cafe includes a seed to plate garden with heritage produce and an on site cookery school with workshops, classes, and speaker events. In my former job with Life in Vacant Spaces I was involved during the cafe’s set-up and I saw the excitement build around the space. The homeless men that hung out at Pete’s Landing across the street helped her build the garden beds. “They think it’s their pad,” she says. The librarians at the National Archive next door gave her their files and research of heritage produce and Maori food preparation. Everyone got involved – backpackers, neighbourhood residents, Jade’s family members. Here she tells me about her family, her ideas about New Zealand cuisine, and the future of Kakanō.
Taste Transfixed: I love the story you tell about how your Grandpa gave you the Maori potato seeds when you were young and charged you with the legacy of carrying it on. What other food memories do you have from childhood?
Jade Temepara: [Laughs] Charged me is right. Everything about how we grew up was related to food. One of my grandfathers was an oyster catcher so we always had that foul smell of oysters waffling through the house. He also caught a lot of his own meat, so every time we were at his house there was wild boar or venison hanging in his garage. We used to
go fishing all the time. So a lot of our childhood memories are about amazing food that is such a delicacy, but it was just an every day thing for us. We didn’t realise how well we were eating. For some people it’s just Weetbix and bread, whereas for us it was all from the land and the sea. My Grandfather had such a large garden, and I always looked forward to the time when there were fresh peas. He didn’t have a huge variety of food growing, maybe just ten things, but he always had those ten things every year.
“A lot of my childhood memories are about amazing food… We didn’t realise how well we were eating, for us it was all from the land and the sea.”
He’s really old school. Women should be at home cooking the tea and men would go out and do the work for the day and then come home to meat and three veg. He’s 80 this year, that was his generation, that’s all they know, so granddad comes to my house and eats lots of new food. He ate an avocado at my house about ten years ago, he’d never even heard of them before. I offered one to him and he said ‘well what’s that?’ And I said ‘granddad, it’s food, what are you talking about?’ It’s really funny because you learn so much from them, and then you go way over what they know because it’s that generation where they’re not interested in learning anything else. Everything’s worked for them so far, and that’s ok. But actually it’s not, the environment’s not the same any longer. We have to learn about soil husbandry and how to take care of things, things that they didn’t have to worry about, our soils and our seeds. They are the last generation that just ate organic things for most of their lives, they were really blessed. Now we have to make a conscious decision every day to do that. That’s something that they just took for granted, they didn’t have to think about it. Things taste really different now.
“It’s funny because you learn so much from the [older generations] and then you go way over what they know. They were the last generation that ate organic things for most of their lives, now we have to make a conscious decision every day to do that.”
TT: I recently heard a discussion about New Zealand’s national food. Some suggested that it was a recipe, some said that it had more to do with ingredients available on the land. Do you have any thoughts about New Zealand cuisine?
JT: I think it needs to be looked at in a totally different way, as in what is your DNA telling you that you should be eating. There are particular lines of our ethnicity that only respond to certain foods. So if you are of a Maori ethnicity and you’re eating food that has never been a part of your heritage, that’s going to effect you totally differently than someone that has had that diet for the last 300 years. So it’s not just about food, it’s about how our body responds to it.
It always comes back to the seed and how that effects our DNA, so if we’re just growing food, but it’s got nothing that our DNA needs, then it’s going to do nothing for our body. It might be organic, and that’s lovely, but all that means is that its got no crappy fertilisers, but it could still be empty seed with no nutrition to it. All the things that we need to function, we just can’t do on this modern diet.
”It’s not just about food, it’s about how our body responds to it. If we’re growing food that’s got nothing that our DNA needs, then it’s going to do nothing for our body.”
TT: Where is it all going?
JT: I don’t know. I don’t have any other ideas at the moment, which is a first for me! I see this space as being a catalyst for change – how to do food and business and social enterprise and community. This place is bringing all of it together, we have the space to be able to grow and change, not physical size growth, but just building the networks and having other people utilise what we’re doing as well. You need a place to bring all the elements together. You need that room to grow, and this place has given us that. The first time I ever worked in a cafe was here so I’m learning every day. This place is about people first, hospitality second.
“The first time I ever worked in a cafe was here so I’m learning every day. This place is about people first, hospitality second.”