TVNZ’s Indira Stewart is a busy mum as well as being a journalist and the latest host to join the One Breakfast show. A talented presenter, she first came to the attention of the New Zealand public aged 21, when she competed on the third season of New Zealand Idol, finishing as runner-up. Being married to a chef means that she doesn’t often find herself in the kitchen, and when she does, her kids are less than convinced that she can find her way around. We chatted about her food memories, likes and dislikes, and what she’d like to whip up if given the chance.
Tell me, with a husband-chef in the kitchen at home – do you like to cook?
Indira: Prior to meeting my husband, I was a solo mum for a while, and so I was always the one cooking, and I did enjoy
it – I loved baking and cooking. But, definitely, once my husband came along
it was more efficient for him to do it. It would take me an hour longer than him to do anything, and the mess I make when I cook…! Cooking is his love language, so he seems to love cooking at home the most probably, even more than at work.
If your husband isn’t there, do you get an opportunity to get in the kitchen sometimes? What are some of the things you like to cook if you do?
Indira: I rarely do, he’s quite a domestic person, and even if he isn’t going to be home for dinner he will still prepare the meal. Every now and then, however, I will try to cook for the kids, just to remind
them that I can. I like to make a chicken roast – as a family we love roasts – like a leg of lamb…. the kids eat like horses, so we'll often cook a huge pot of pasta, and we always like to have leftovers for them to heat up after school. The kids love classic Kiwi dishes such as pasta, shepherd’s pie and lasagnes.
With your Tongan background, is that reflected in your cooking at all, or in any dishes that you like to eat? Do you have any childhood memories around food?
Indira: I find that I’ll mostly eat Tongan food when I go to my parent's house. There’s one thing, it’s called ’otai, it’s a watermelon drink where you scrape the flesh from different fruits, mostly watermelon, and mix them with coconut milk, a little bit of sugar – and that’s one of my favourite things to drink, the same for our children. I also love raw fish, and there’s a dish called lu with taro leaves, it has meat and coconut cream and onions inside, which I love and miss, and of course there’s pig on a spit, which is classic Tongan.
One of my favourite childhood memories is of having my uncles, dad and brothers turning a pig on a spit in our backyard. It was always an overnight thing, so I’d fall asleep to the smell of the smoke and wake up to the smell of roast pork and crackling. It’s something that I always think about whenever I smell pork – waking up, looking outside my window and seeing my uncle, dad and brothers, having been up all night, just talking.
It’s an event that connects a lot of people, there's talking and singing. It’s how my husband sees my relationship with food, there’s a lot of nostalgia.
Is there anything that you don’t like to eat?
Indira: Beetroot… I've never been a beetroot fan, but it’s probably because I’ve never had a dish that’s won me over. I recently became an oyster convert, for years it wasn’t my thing – then one day I had them with an amazing vinaigrette…
Are there any flavours that you particularly like?
Indira: I do like garlic and a little bit of spice and chilli. I use chicken stock quite a lot whenever I’m making anything, it’s probably because I like those roast chicken-type flavours.
Do you have an ultimate treat food?
Indira: Fried chicken – I’ve tried it from all over Auckland… I call it "research"!
You’re clearly musical, what do you listen to you when cooking or entertaining?
Indira: I like listening to gospel music. My parents would always say if you’re cooking while you’re sad the food will taste salty or sour; if you’re happy
it’s going to taste sweet, or hearty and delicious.
So as a family we either sang or listened to gospel music (my parents are both church ministers) while we were cooking in the belief it makes the food taste better!
Is there any particular dish you’ve always wished you could cook, that you could bust out to Hayden and say "Yeah baby! I can cook this!"?
Indira: Yes, but I’m not sure if it’s actually to surprise Hayden or delight myself – ratatouille. From the moment I saw the movie of the same name, even though it’s an animation, I thought "I want to see what that tastes like in real life!"