Books: Eat Up New Zealand by Al Brown

My first experience of Al Brown’s food was several years ago, when his raw seafood restaurant Depot opened on Auckland’s Federal Street. He seemed quite different from the super duper cheffy types I was used to – a real Kiwi bloke. But the food – oh the food. I still get to Depot whenever I can, and although I absolutely love the raw clams, tuatua and oyster that are always on offer, I’ve managed to work my way through quite a lot of the menu – and I’m still going back!

The main factor that I think sets Al apart is his completely down to earth manner, and the recipes and information in his latest book, Eat Up New Zealand, is another example of just what a true Kiwi bloke he is – with recipes to match.

In the introduction, Al addresses a topic that I hear often around the food tracks – what is New Zealand cuisine? Do we even have one? A few years ago, Al was quoted as calling New Zealand ‘a culinary wasteland’ – something he’s regularly been asked about since! While he doesn’t entirely do an about-face, he does say that we were a little unadventurous in our cooking; however, given much of the food was based on British staples like steak & kidney pie and hotpots, I don’t think New Zealand was particularly unique in its lack of culinary imagination.

While everyone has their own opinions on what makes up New Zealand cuisine, Al has been able to work with cooks and chefs from across the world, so subsequently he believes that our cuisine is made up of a huge melting pot of cultures and cuisines – and he proves as much in this book.

While Eat Up New Zealand is undeniably Kiwi – I was incredibly happy with my version of his whitebait on toast with homemade tartare sauce and fried egg (left), and the paua pies look amazing – it’s also multi-cultural in a way that only food can be.

The recipes aren’t difficult, but they are a reminder that we have people in New Zealand from all corners of the globe – and the two food cultures blend perfectly in his hands. Tempura cauliflower with smoked kahawai cream brings in the flavours of Japan, grilled blue mackerel with sticky rice and kimchi from Korea; spiced pumpkin with dal, yoghurt and curry leaves is packed full of Indian flavours like cumin, fenugreek, turmeric and curry; craydogs with wasabi and ginger lime that just waves at America from afar; and of course there are plenty of British-inspired dishes, with a giant Kiwi twist! The smoked fish and curried cauliflower Yorkshire Puds are definitely a step away from the gravy-soaked Yorkies of my youth that always came with roast beef and horseradish, but the flavours work beautifully together.

The book is chaptered according to ingredients – Seafood, Bird, Animal, Pudding, Baked etc. I particularly love that there is a whole section dedicated to Whipped Cream – how awesome is that!

For me, Eat Up isn’t just a cookbook; it’s a giant pot of flavours that come from everywhere, but still feel like they come from right here at home. Al’s voice is very clear throughout the book; he’s fascinated with food from other countries, but somehow makes everything in here thoroughly Kiwi. There are a lot of recipes in the book, and already the Post-it notes are everywhere – a definite sign in my kitchen that it’s going to be a well-used bible!

Eat Up New Zealand by Al Brown, Allen & Unwin, RRP $65.00