If the very thought of Puha & Pakeha takes you back to Rod Derrett's novelty song from the 1960s, you're not alone.
Nowadays, the fusion of two cultures has a very different context for Auckland husband and wife Jarrad and Belinda Mckay, the dynamic duo behind a local food truck of the same name. The coming together of two distinctly different but very Kiwi cultures, became an opportunity for the couple to feed New Zealanders nostalgic food that's uniquely ours - traditional Maori fare with a contemporary-cool twist:
Q. Could you tell me a bit about how food first came into your life?
"I (Belinda) have always had strong connections to the hospitality industry and food. My mother was a home economics teacher and from a young age, I had various roles in hospitality and events."
"I (Jarrad) am Tainui and Kahangunu and grew up in south Auckland, where Maori food was always an important part of life. Every year our primary school would put down huge a hangi, it was a significant community event that drew us all together."
Q. What inspired you both to start a food truck?
"When Belinda and I first entertained the idea of a street food business I wanted to do hangi or Maori kai. New Zealanders embrace many international cuisines but our own Māori kai is often overlooked. We saw an opportunity to engage people with the kai of Aotearoa, we also knew that the standard of street food in NZ was so high that we would have to bring our 'A' game. That's why we've modernised old school kai to create something new and exciting."
Q. Aside from the obvious, what sets you apart?
"The kaupapa (story of our brand) of Puha & Pākehā is taking Māori and native New Zealand kai and adding modern flavours and cooking methods. The ampersand is a prominent part of the brand, it is Puha & Pākehā with the emphasis on the 'and'. The brand is about inclusiveness, bringing two cultures together, adding one thing to another to create something new.
Lots of markets and events request us because they want to provide a New Zealand offering in the mix of international cuisines represented by other food trucks. We have also catered a number of weddings and corporate events because people either have nostalgic memories and want to feel connected with the kai of Aotearoa, or they have overseas guests and they want to showcase New Zealand cuisine."
Q. Is it ever challenging working together, being husband and wife?
"It has its challenges when you live and work together but overall, we both have complementary strengths and work really well as a team. We also share a common vision and passion for food and seeing Kiwis connect with the kai of Aoteraroa. But it is also important to take time out and have quality time that doesn’t involve brainstorming and talking about the business."
Q. Why do you think there are so few eateries in New Zealand offering contemporary Maori fare?
"Kiwis are very outward looking when it comes to food and culture. American culture has a heavy influence on what we eat. We have McDonalds, Burger King, KFC, Starbucks to name a few. Kiwis are interested in French, Italian, Asian and Indian. As a result, native New Zealand cuisine doesn't get much attention as there are so many other competing international cuisines. Since starting Puha & Pākehā we have noticed the public have connected with us and our brand immediately because we are uniquely Kiwi and they have nostalgic memories. We get so much encouragement from people who love that we have breathed new life into traditional Maori kai."
Q: What are your favourite dishes, if you had to name but a few?
"We know we're onto a good thing with our dishes when we want to eat them over and over again ourselves! A favourite of ours is the Kumara and Coconut Bites with Sweet Horopito sauce. This dish really promotes how delicious hangi kumara is. As a result, the dish gets great feedback and it’s the customer feedback we receive that really drives and inspires us to do more.
A Reuben sandwich is a classic deli food dish, so it was exciting to develop an Aotearoa version. With lightly toasted Rewena bread, hangi cooked pastrami, native herb rub and the Reuben staples of cheese and cabbage.
A winter favourite is our Smoked Kahawai and Kumara Chowder. It’s great to promote a sustainable fish that is often under-rated, the combination of smoked kahawai and sweet kumara is quite unique."
Puha & Pakeha started in the summer of 2014 when Belinda and Jarrad saw an opportunity to reconnect people with the kai of Aotearoa. Traditional Maori kai was largely overlooked by the public but with the injection of new cooking styles and modern flavours, people would have a reason to give it a try.
"We get so much encouragement from people who love that we have breathed new life into traditional Maori kai."