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When Erueti Tutaki completed his Bachelor of Maori Visual Arts degree at Massey University in 2004 he didn’t expect to be cooking lunches for 2800 pupils of low-decile schools as part of the largely volunteer-run Feed the Need programme.
Eru (Tainui, Ngāti Rereahu, Maniapoto), who calls himself the Native Chef, specialises in cooking creative Māori dishes using native herbs and plants - combining his love of nature with the knowledge he learned from his grandparents growing up in the King Country. Tourists from all over the world come to learn from Eru, participating in bushwalks to learn about the traditional culinary uses of native plants. He is fast becoming one of New Zealand’s most in demand chefs but it is what he does in his spare time that makes him a real superstar.
For the past five years, every weekday for 15 weeks of winter Eru works with the Feed the Need ‘Winter Boost’ programme. The programme, which is supported by the Massey University School of Food and Nutrition, provides hot, nutritious lunches to children in decile one and two schools during the colder months. Eru’s responsibilities involve ensuring the kitchen is prepped every day for the team to pump out 1500 servings that are delivered directly to schools.
Feed the Need also work alongside local youth programmes to get older kids into the kitchen learning skills. Eru says, “my passion lies in getting more youth off the street and into the kitchen, giving kids the opportunity to get involved and make a difference in their communities”.
Growing up in a Māori community near Benneydale in the King Country, he understands the plight of vulnerable children. “My whole family saved up to get me out of the countryside and into study to pursue my art. Without that backing from those around me I don’t know where I’d be today.”
Eru had always been passionate about Māori art but it wasn’t until his time at Massey's Manawatū campus, where he was encouraged to think deeper about the value of Māori culture and creativity. “We have always been a creative bunch with our techniques, our resourcefulness and how we use the kai around us. For me it was just about experimenting with different mediums and once I changed from wood to chocolate in my final year I discovered a Māori chef inside me waiting to get out”.
Eru’s ties with Massey didn’t end when he graduated, as Massey University nutrition specialist Professor Bernhard Breier and the Massey dietetics team have been working closely with Feed the Need since 2013, providing comprehensive nutritional analysis of the meals. Up to four dietetics master's students work in the kitchen one day a week as part of their studies, measuring outcomes and providing feedback on recipes to ensure the lunches are superior in nutrition and taste. The research from Massey University will help the programme expand to feed 5000 Kiwi kids in 2016. Professor Breier describes the partnership as "a wonderful opportunity" for students, researchers and volunteers to learn and generate new knowledge while making a valuable community contribution.
Although Eru has no shortage of things to keep him busy these days, including a family and freelance chef company, he is also heavily involved in charity initiatives across the ditch. He recently teamed up with other international chefs to fundraise for the homeless in Melbourne, and he is advising on an Australian production kitchen project. “I’ll be teaching them everything I know, and basically getting them up to speed in terms of what we do here in New Zealand. Our goal is to set up a production kitchen that can feed 95,000 homeless in central Melbourne.”
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Last updated on Tuesday 16 August 2016