Kitchen Tips

Kasey and Karena Bird on how to celebrate traditional Māori flavours in your own cooking

Karena and Kasey Bird have notched up a MasterChef win, a hit TV series and best-selling book, but their greatest joy is showcasing Māori culture through food. Here, they share their favourite ways to embrace Māori flavours at home.

Karena and Kasey Bird have a legacy of incorporating traditional Māori flavours into their cooking; a talent which helped them win MasterChef in 2014. They effortlessly intertwine their culture into their food, as well as in the way they operate their small but burgeoning empire – it's simply a by-product of their complete inability to be anything but themselves.
Celebrating their culture – through both food and storytelling – is what led to the birth of their aptly-named Creation Dinner, a series of pop-up restaurants that spanned the nation in 2018. Exceptionally intimate affairs with no more than 30 people per sitting, guests would first gather at a meet-up location before being taken to the mystery location, often a marae.
Once settled, diners were then treated to a seven-course meal - think pork and watercress consommé, butter-poached crayfish and crayfish dumplings, miso-bruléed kūmara with pūhā, and vanilla and passionfruit pannacotta with manuka honey - that was designed to mirror the story of sky father Ranginui and earth mother Papatūānuku, the creation story of Aotearoa.
It's a unique concept and a real first for New Zealand, with the idea coming during the sisters' travels for their hit TV show, Karena and Kasey's Kitchen Diplomacy, when they realised plating up food, however delicious or impressive it is, wasn't enough any more. "Everything is about storytelling; that's where food is going," Karena says.
Discover Karena and Kasey's top three ways to celebrate traditional Māori tastes and techniques in your own cooking below.
Kasey and Karena greet Prince Harry at Te Papaiouru Marae, Rotorua, 2018.

1. Kawakawa

Kawakawa grows everywhere in New Zealand, so it's not hard to come across it wherever you go. As for how to incorporate it into your cooking, the sisters say it's great for infusing a drink or a cordial, or adding flavour to a sauce. "If you're making a gravy or a jus, you can put kawakawa leaves into it and you'll notice a herbal pepperiness." Our Kiwi lamb burgers with beetroot and mint relish are a fantastic way to experiment with this flavoursome herb.

2. Horopito

Horopito, or bush pepper, is also easy to forage. Don't disregard its English name though, as the leaves of the horopito tree have a hot peppery taste that can linger in your mouth with a slight burning sensation - making it an easy way to add a kick of heat to your dishes. Try this elegant asparagus, kumara and smoked kahawai salad with a generous drizzle of our lemony horopito dressing to get a delicious taste of New Zealand's native pepper tree.

3. Smoke

To create your own hāngī-inspired flavours Karena and Kasey suggest smoking your food, a technique you can use for anything from meat to seafood to vegetables. "If you wanted to add a bit of flavour, pop some potatoes into a smoker, then mash them," the sisters say. "It gives a really nice smoky flavour, and you can do it on your stovetop." Give our tea-smoked trout salad a go, or this barbecued port-smoked beef to try your hand at that wonderful hāngī savour.