Welcome to the latest in a series of pieces we’re running as part of ReadNZ, which is a campaign to get more of us reading books written by New Zealanders.
Think of any type of storytelling, and there’ll be a New Zealander who is good at it.
We produce a huge range of fantastic books here in Aotearoa, and we want to help readers find something new to them!
Lucy Corry has worked as a journalist for nearly 20 years and started her food blog The Kitchenmaid about eight years ago, which she says helped her move more into food writing.
For the last three years Lucy has written a weekly recipe column that appears on stuff.co.nz and in The Press, the Waikato Times and the Dominion Post.
"The column focuses on what's in season - it was inspired by me coming home one day and having no where to put a huge bunch of celery. I thought, 'wouldn't it be great to have a recipe column each week that told you what to do with things that were in season?' - and suddenly realised that perhaps other people might like to read that too. I also regularly write recipes for Frankie magazine, usually to a very creative theme like 'pop culture' or 'nostalgic tuckshop treats'. That's loads of fun," she says.
In your opinion, is there anything that sets New Zealand food writing apart?
I recently read a blog post by someone who plaintively asked 'where are all the good New Zealand food writers?' He took a very dim view of local efforts, complaining that just because you can write about food, doesn't mean you should (or that your opinion is valid). He's right, though I don't think that's particular to New Zealand - bad writing is bad writing.
The thing that makes 'good' food writing different is the same as what makes all good writing stand out - that it teaches you something, shines a light into corners that you might otherwise miss and makes you think.
In terms of New Zealand food writing, its point of difference is that it's about our food - what it is, how and where it grows, who cooks it and how and why we eat it. It's largely written for a local audience (let's not pretend that the rest of the world is desperately interested in what we're doing!) and so it speaks to us in a way that we understand and relate to.
There are cookbooks that tend to be purely a collection of recipes, and then other books that are more meditations on food. What makes a good food writer do you think?
I enjoy all sorts of cookbooks for a variety of reasons - I have lots of old community cookbooks that say a great deal about the circumstances in which their authors lived, even though they are strictly collections of recipes with very little room for anything resembling meditations on food.
These recipes assume lots of knowledge on behalf of the user, so the instructions are often very brief and to the point. The recipes themselves reveal the trends of the time - they are largely written by and for women, and depending on where in the country they come from they assume the cook will have access to a vegetable garden or fruit trees, or freshly caught fish or game. These cooks were 'ingredients-driven' and 'seasonally focused' long before those concepts became embedded in marketing plans.
Of course, these books contain lots of things that are now quite revolting to the modern palate, like Swan Casserole or curious dishes involving tinned (or home-bottled) spaghetti, but they are still part of New Zealand's culinary heritage. I read these cookbooks to relax just as much as I read other books about food that are more conceptual.
If you believe everything you see on reality TV, cooking is a pursuit for extroverts who like lots of shouting and drama. By contrast, I think good food writing - and cooking, in fact - rely on observation and curiosity. A lot of cooking is about watching and trying and figuring things out - and good food writing is about recording that and re-telling it. Food is a vehicle for story-telling and it offers an endless amount of scope. Even a recipe is a kind of story, with key characters, locations, drama and - hopefully - a kind of delicious resolution.
Can you tell us about some local food writers you admire, and why?
This is really hard, because I admire everyone who makes a go of writing about food in New Zealand. It's a very small market and there are a lot of forces at play. But, when I think about it, the people whose writing I enjoy the most are the ones who apply those same measures of curiosity and observation to their work.
Kim Knight writes brilliantly about everything, so it's not surprising that she writes the best restaurant reviews in New Zealand (for Canvas magazine in the Weekend Herald).
Anna Tait-Jamieson has incredible knowledge about New Zealand food producers, and she combines that with incisive understanding of what's involved and an elegant writing style.
Niki Bezzant does a great job of unpicking a lot of the 'fake news' about food with a scientific rigour that's missing from so many stories. I always enjoy her debunking of outrageous headlines about diets and super-foods.
I'm really excited by new things happening like The Spinoff introducing a food section, especially given that it's edited by the very clever Alice Neville. I also take my hat off to Aaron McLean and all the people who are involved in Stone Soup, a magazine that's allowing lots of new voices to be heard.
In terms of recipes, I treasure my books by Lois Daish. Her recipes are not flashy and her writing style is very gentle and thoughtful, which makes them very soothing and comforting to read (and make). There's a similar feeling to Kelda Haines' writing (which makes the Nikau Cookbook a true collector's item, just like Lois' books are).
I'm not sure if she properly qualifies, but one of my favourite cookbooks is You're All Invited by Margot Henderson, a New Zealander who has lived in London for many years. I saw her shopping in Moore Wilson's a year or so ago and I was so star-struck that I went up to her and told her that it was one of my favourite books and that I was planning a pilgrimage to her London restaurant.
Then I realised she was standing next to her husband, Fergus Henderson, who was the driving force behind the concept of nose-to-tail eating in the UK and who is something of a mega-star (and the author of several brilliant and very funny cookbooks). Having used up all my superlatives on Margot I just gulped and said something inane to him like, 'oh and you are amazing too', before realising what I'd done and slinking out of the shop as fast as I could. They probably thought I was mad, but were very gracious about it.
What are you working on at the moment?
This year I've also had the privilege of working on the Burger Wellington cookbook, which is out on August 1. It's a collection of the best recipes from the annual burger contest in Visa Wellington on A Plate, but it's also a kind of love letter to (and from) the Wellington hospitality industry because each recipe tells a story about the people who devised it (and the people who ate it!) There were times when I thought I would never be able to eat, think or read about burgers ever again, but the end result has been well worth it.
I guess you could say I have a lot on my plate at times, but I feel very lucky.