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In these times, there is a lot of attention on what we eat, how we eat and why we eat. There’s one food television show after another and everywhere there are food courses you can take and thousands of cookbooks you can buy. Food is definitely in.
In only 2 weeks, New Zealand will get even more food fever. Wellington will open the doors to another inspiring Food Show. As previous Food Shows, this year’s show will take your palette on a journey through national and international experiences and let you swallow it down with some wine, chocolate, tea, coffee and other exquisite liquors.
The show will also present MasterChef New Zealand’s own star judges, Ross Burden and Ray McVinnie along with other chefs, who will cook in front of an audience and aim to awe us all.
I got an opportunity to talk to Ross Burden in the wake of MasterChef New Zealand and before the big food orgy at the Westpac Stadium in Wellington.
Ross Burden is a New Zealand chef who got his start through MasterChef UK in the 90′s. Since then he has been cooking for the rich and famous, opened popular restaurants, been in numerous Food Shows on TV, and been teaching and demonstrating at cookery schools and food festivals around the world.
Ross is very passionate about organic food, environmental awareness and seasonal cooking. I asked him if he grows anything at home and he said that since he has been living in apartments for the last 20 years, he hasn’t been able to grow all that much. However, when he lived in the UK, he cultivated his own herbs.
Ross continued by telling me that when he was in Italy and walked in to supermarkets, that musty, earthy smell from tomato leaves filled the air. This always reminded him of his father who grew tomatoes back home in Hawke’s Bay. “Growing up in New Zealand in the 70′s, everyone grew their own food”, said Ross.
One third of the food in the western world is wasted, every day. Ross never wastes any food and is very mindful of how he uses water. Except for perhaps the peel off potatoes and carrots, he reuses everything. If he has any left overs he uses it for soup, perhaps a wok or anything else suitable. Ross keeps to organic and local food. When visiting his parents in Hawke’s Bay, they always get the food from a market, only 6 blocks away, all products locally grown. Ross believes that New Zealand is quite unique in that the supermarkets keep to a lot of national grown food and import a comparatively low percentage of products.
Another of Ross’ passions is travelling. Travelling and food go hand in hand. When I asked Ross what tip he could give to anyone who wants to be a chef, he said only one word. Travel. I thought it was for the experience and the inspiration, but Ross told me that it was because of authenticity.
“If you watch a woman in Thailand making a Phad Thai, then you will know how to make it yourself”.
Reading cookbooks or getting a recipe off the Internet is not as authentic as being in the moment, watching someone making their national dish or whip together a cake. Food is visual. Which might be why Ross aspire to make a cookbook in the future which, inspired by Elizabeth David’s more chatty and inspirational cook books from the 1950′s-60′s, would be more visual and a conversation between the reader and Ross himself.
When Elizabeth David introduced the British culture with recipes from Italy, France and the Mediterranean, one of the key ingredients, olive oil, was something you bought at the pharmacy for treating earache. Ross Burden enlightened me that one of his favourite ingredients is olive oil. But he doesn’t only use it for cooking. Instead, he uses it to moisturize his hands and face and also when shaving. “The only thing I don’t use it for is my hair”, he said.
Then he shared a little story with me. The world’s longest living person was Jean Louise Calment, who died at the age of 122 years. She said her secret for living so long and looking so fresh was that every day after lunch she had a cigarette and whiskey. A story says that when a reporter asked her what she did to look so young, Jean Louise said that she uses lots of olive oil, both in her food, on her skin and in her hair. “I only have one wrinkle”, she enlightened the reporter, “and I am sitting on it”.
Perhaps we should all go to the Food Show in Wellington and invest in some olive oil. I am sure there will be more than one brand to choose from and we could possibly see which one keeps us young the longest.
If you want to see Ross Burden whisk together culinary recipes with some local ingredients (and perhaps some olive oil) then you should definitely come to Wellington’s Food Show on 14th -16th of May.
I’ll see you there!