I like to think of Tui Flower as a special secret I am revealing to you all. People over a certain age will recognize the name but I was in a room of 20 and 30 somethings recently and when I said I would be interviewing Tui Flower there was silence and blank looks. So here she is – the doyenne of New Zealand food writers. Her first book was the self titled Tui Flower Cookbook followed up by the classic New Zealand Women’s Weekly Cookbook. If you don’t know it, your mothers will.
Tui Flower (what a gorgeous name, so redolent of her generation) is a pioneer. She bravely went to Paris in the 1950s to study cooking and had many similar experiences to Julia Childs in that demanding environment where women were barely tolerated. Back in New Zealand she worked hard to adapt what she had learnt to an environment where neither many of the ingredients or the equipment we now take for granted were available (think life without eggplants, broccoli, garlic and olive oil!). She encouraged and mentored later generations of food writers here and widened many a culinary horizon.
It was great to talk to someone who is 84 and retains a passionate and expert interest in cookbooks and she still loves to delve into them. But she is also hip with Michael Pollan and agrees with a lot of what he says. She has no time for gladiatorial cooking on TV or celebrity chefs unless they are like Rick Stein and really know their stuff. If she had to eat out she would still choose French cuisine which she has always loved.
She talks with respect of the generations of women cooks who have gone before, creating magic with coal ranges and the minimum of equipment.
Her kitchen has the look of a working kitchen where everything is as she would like it. She is happy to simplify and whisk by hand but she has a food processor and a food mixer as essential appliances. She still uses recipes especially for baking and admits to the odd disaster still, although she described how she turned one such disaster into “having a play with some other ingredients” and coming up with some perfectly respectable baking. Hear Tui’s words of wisdom for the baking challenged:
Tui reads widely, especially history. On the go at the moment is Charlotte Grimshaw’s latest The Night Book. Spending time with Tui was a fantastic privilege and a glimpse into a life lived well and to the full.