Kaibosh’s Wellington on a Plate event All Taste, No Waste returns in 2019. This year led by Kelda Hains of Rita.
Kelda will create a unique and unexpected menu, while sharing clever ideas to reduce food waste at home. She will be overseeing a team of next generation Wellington chefs from WelTec. The event is proudly supported by Countdown, with all proceeds going to help Kaibosh rescue and redistribute quality surplus food for Wellingtonians in need.
I’m Christel from Kaibosh and I sat down with Kelda Hains to chat about her work at Rita, and why she decided to take on the challenge of All Taste, No Waste.
Could you share a little about your background and current work at Rita?
I’ve been cooking in Wellington for the last 30 years. I owned Nikau before Rita, which was a breakfast and lunch place. The food that I do at Rita is almost an extension of the food I used to do at Nikau. The way I cook has really expanded over the last few years, which is really fun for someone who’s been cooking for such a long time, to get another creative burst.
I have always liked to focus on seasonal ingredients. I want to cook the things that are in season, in New Zealand in that moment. I try not to rely on imported food or hothouse food. For instance, I don’t use tomatoes in winter. I only use outdoor grown tomatoes in summer. We preserve a lot of tomatoes for use in winter but once our preserved stash has been exhausted then I won’t buy any canned tomatoes or preserved tomatoes from any source.
I try to notice the particular characteristics of each food that’s in season and aim to express that. I also really like to use the domestic kitchen as a framework for developing our dishes. Quite often our dishes are based around traditional food which we modernize to a certain extent. I like the idea of domestic flare inspiring our work.
What drives you to create food in that way?
Traditional food is important. I focus on a really delicious plate of food, so the customers enjoy what they’re eating. I want to place the customer at the center, they’re the reason for cooking something. I’m not cooking because I want to make art, or want it photographed. I just want to make people happy and make domestic food important.
What can diners expect at Rita?
We make a different three course meal every night. I have a vague idea about the ingredients I’m going to use, but we usually finalise the dishes on the day. Everyone in the dining room has a shared experience of the meal and we can concentrate more on the experience for the guest. I try and create a menu that’s well balanced and really good for the day and something that uses up everything that we have. That’s another thing that’s really important about moving to a set menu model, we can be much more effective in reducing waste.
Rita opened in 2017. In a way we’re still figuring out who we are. It never stops growing. A restaurant is a living, growing thing.
Why did you decide to say “yes” to being the All Taste, No Waste 2019 head chef?
I remember going to a local food forum at the Sustainability Trust a few years ago and Matt (Kaibosh General Manager) was a speaker. I still remember how compelling and interesting his speech was.
I was up for the challenge. I think it’s an interesting issue to explore and once I met the Kaibosh team I was like, “Wow, what a great organization to support!”.
What’s your vision for the event?
I’m focusing on slightly more traditional ways of using things up, or extending things to make it more delicious. Before we had the convenience of the modern food system that gives us everything that we want all of the time, in conveniently packaged units, I think that’s the way things were.
There’s lots of traditional food that has solved that problem of, “What to do with the leftovers?”. I’m also throwing in a few classics from Rita that we’ve developed over the last two years.
I also wanted to focus on the story of the growers. I’ve been very inspired by a guy called Dan Barber. He talks about how unrealistic it is for us to want cherry tomatoes. If growers are doing a really good job of looking after the soil then to get those cherry tomatoes they’ve got to plant something in other times of the season to support the soil. Cherry tomatoes are very demanding plants and need quite a lot of time and nutrients, so growers often plant other things to support the soil.
Dan talks about how it’s important for restaurants to buy those other crops and find a use for them so we can give the farmers a decent livelihood. I wanted to bring that into the conversation and it ties into my concerns with seasonal food. I think it’s one of the missing ingredients in terms of supporting our food system; listening to growers and working out how we can support each other.
For instance, I’m going to use some broad bean leaves that one grower uses as a nitrogen fixing crop before he puts in his greedy cauliflowers for the next season. Cauliflowers require a lot of nutrients and are in the ground for quite a long time. You might get one crop of cauliflowers per year out of one bit of land if you’re an organic grower.
I think this conversation about food waste and food justice can get quite big and there’s lots of way in. Food production is one of the angles that I think about.
I’m also thinking about concepts around sharing. That’s a very powerful feeling I got from Kaibosh. Being able to share food and feed people who need it is a pretty amazing thing, so I wanted to introduce some of those concepts into the meal. We’ll see if I can pull it off! It’s good for me to be reminded that there’s people in New Zealand that don’t have enough to eat, because I live in a world very removed from that.
What do you hope people take away from this year’s event?
In our own kitchens we have routines, we have some set recipes and we often don’t think very hard about what we do. Quite often we’re hungry and we just want to get dinner done. It’s good to take a step back and take a look at what you’re doing in your own kitchen. I definitely have as part of this process. Thinking, “What can I do with this?”. A lot of energy goes into the process of getting food into your kitchen, so it’s about treating it as well as you can.
I’m also really mindful of the fact that practicing a low waste kitchen actually takes a lot of time. People spend less time in the kitchen than they used to, there’s a lot of pressure on all of us to do a lot of other things in our lives.
There’s data that says that time in the kitchen has decreased dramatically over the last 50 years. It would be nice for people to get in contact with the pleasure of feeding yourself and of spending time in the kitchen, making things from scratch. I think it’s quite empowering. Making time for making good food is important. Another way to encourage connection to your food is to seek out the people who make it, which I think is meaningful.
Often changes are small and incremental. If you think about reducing plastic usage for example, it’s one tiny step at a time. It would be nice for people to be inspired and change for that reason.
Thank you to everyone who has purchased tickets to All Taste, No Waste. We can’t wait to see you this week!