Inspiration mixed with tradition – it’s all in a day’s work.
Stumbling through stunning surrounds of New Zealand’s native bush, you listen for the sounds of nature. You hear the beautiful birds scuffle and sing in between the greenery. You watch and learn as a short but powerfully soft spoken Maori man speaks about the real treasures of the native bush. He looks down at his feet as he talks to you – not because he is not confident, but because he is trying to find the perfect ingredient for his next recipe.
His name is Charles Royal and he is New Zealand’s answer to the reintroduction of a tradition that many had never heard of – cooking with indigenous herbs, spices and flavours. It is cooking from the land with natural ingredients, many unprocessed and ready to eat. Charles is no ordinary Kiwi bloke. He has studied his art for years through mainstream organizations, including the New Zealand Army where he first learned his trade. From there, his resume builds solidly with experiences both overseas and in his own country.
He has owned restaurants, taught at tertiary education providers, designed menus for the national airline of New Zealand, and now is following his passion to bring indigenous cooking back into the mainstream of New Zealand’s multi-cultural society – and best of all it is working beautifully.
For Charles, the ideas stem back from cooking with his beloved Nanny Cinny, his maternal grandmother who taught Charles a little of what he knows. With nine children to care for, cooking had to be efficient, wholesome and great tasting to ensure all the children and adults were fed and nourished properly. With many good traditions, there are always plenty of emotions and memories to be had – one of the best for Charles is enjoying a freshly roasted Kina pot, straight off the campfire.
Kina is a more unusual form of seafood found near many beaches around the country. The round spiky ball holds a delicacy within its shell that many Maori enjoy each year. As well as Kina, Charles loves to work with all forms of seafood, poultry and meat and can even whip up a Hangi pie. Hangi is one of the most popular and well-known forms of traditional Maori cooking, where food is steamed within a pit in the ground, that has been lined with red-hot rocks.
Charles’ creations go far past the traditional Hangi – with many of his ingredients are now found on many a la carte and fine dining restaurant menus throughout the country. What started as a way for Charles to bring the Maori influence back into the way he prepared kai (food) for his whanau (family), particularly to help inspire and teach his children of their own whanau traditions, Charles’ found there was a need out in the community and the wider country, for others to learn about this forgotten piece of history.
His business Kinaki NZ® was formed and now the small but powerful Maori chef is taking his knowledge to the world. And sometimes it is as simple as taking visitors to New Zealand and/or Rotorua on a short bush visitor in a chosen location such as Mokoia Island or the out back of Taumaranui in the King Country. Here is where he walks along and selects soft new green fern fronds (pikopiko), picks them straight from the ground and offers them to you to eat. The taste is refreshing, something between a pea and bush asparagus. Next up he shows you the horopito - here is one you can probably get away without sampling it – it’s the Maori bush pepper. It’s hot and as the name suggests, very peppery. One of the best has to be Kawakawa. Not only is the soft, heart-shaped leaf a great food additive (it is known in the culinary circles as Maori bush basil) but the healing properties of the plant are to be admired.
The knowledge that is imparted from Charles on each tour is amazing – with each one always a little different. Best of all, Charles is simply fun to be around. His whanau are inspirational – they all help out with the business, including wife Tania who has many culinary skills herself. Their children Cinny (14) and Pipi T (12) are often overheard teaching Charles more of his native language, Te Reo Maori.
Charles understands the importance of the spoken and written language and admits he is still learning more about it each day. Tania and Charles chose to send their children to a Kuapapa Maori school, which is a full immersion school to encourage the children to have their native tongue as their first language. His entrepreneurial spirit comes simply from wanting the traditions of Maori food, cuisine and culture to be first and foremost for his family and the country.
He is available for tours, exclusive marae (village) stays, menu consultation, camping trips, home-cooked meals, cooking demonstrations – the list simply goes on and on.
His dreams are simple: he would like to own a sulf-sufficient home business in the middle of the bush, with access to clear running water, a good climate and to have an authentic natural Maori herb garden at his back door, growing everything from pikopiko, horopito and kawakawa to the more ornate Maori potato (a cute purple gem) and many other traditional ingredients.
Here he could live with his family while offering tours and overnight stays so the education of others continues. And with his level of achievement in such a relative short time, his dream will more than likely be cast in to fruition in the near future. He is a wealth of knowledge and even better – he is a family man who is simply doing his job making sure the traditions of past continue into the future for his children – and it’s all in a days work for Charles.