Michael Van de Elzen’s Blog: Rural roots
Chef Michael Van de Elzen is turning his summer harvest into something special.
Words: Michael Van de Elzen
Welcome to my first instalment of great, paddock-to-plate recipes. I’m very excited to be working with NZ Lifestyle Block. It’s a magazine I always look forward to receiving from my rural postie.
I was brought up on a poultry farm in west Auckland, and farming has always been a big part of my life. Poultry farming was a lot of hard work for my parents, but mum always found a way to put three meals on the table each day, preserve fruit, make delicious apple cakes. She made sure my school lunchbox was packed full of curried egg sandwiches.
Us kids worked hard too, especially at the weekends. There were eggs to collect, chicken manure to bag, and endless cleaning jobs to tick off. There was time to play too.
I loved hanging out with dad on his huge – or so it seemed at the time – David Brown tractor.
This kind of life was something I always wanted for my kids. In 2016, my wife Bee and I bought a block near Muriwai, west of Auckland. We’d been looking for a number of years, but in the end, I think the farm found us. It had an old house on it, which we didn’t even look through when we first visited; all we cared about was the land. We ended up making an offer that night. The next day, it was ours.
The land needed work. We set about carving out and reshaping it, then planting thousands of natives. Bee spent a lot of time in gullies, races, and what would become our orchard, while I had the easy job and went off to work.
There was a lot of trial and error. Our area can be very windy at times. We’re over a kilometre from the sea, but often get salty sea spray coming over the hills in storms, which our citrus trees don’t like.
Luckily, we had an immense amount of help along the way. We’re very fortunate to have fantastic neighbours with great knowledge of what works in our micro-climate, be it animals or plants.
It didn’t take long to get back into the swing of farming. During our first Easter break on the farm, we made hay. Over a very dry long weekend, we ended up with about 280 bales. A good friend and his wife were staying with us and found themselves unexpectedly roped into loading hay into the back shed.
It was a huge job. We even had our neighbours arrive with gloves on, ready to help. That was it; I was back in the country.
THE JOURNEY TO THE SCHOOL
It’s fantastic to finally open the Good From Scratch Cookery School to the public! It’s been a dream of mine and my wife Belinda for many years, and something we’ve actively been working on ever since we bought the farm out in Muriwai.
There have been a few challenges along the way – anything you can imagine – it’s happened! From diggers driving through the internet cable just when the inbox reaches peak capacity, to a lightning strike hitting the school and blowing all the fuses!
You wouldn’t recognize the space now from when we started. Not only is there a whopping big school where a grass field used to be, we’ve landscaped out a carpark, planted over 180 fruit trees in the orchard and totally transformed the vegetable garden to include a beautiful big tunnel house, full of plants ready to be propagated.
And that’s just the physical site! We’ve also been working hard to develop incredibly special and unique experiences that showcase all the school has to offer. There is something so special about picking your own produce, taking it into the kitchen and creating something delicious.
We can’t wait to see you there! Visit goodfromscratch.co.nz for more information and to book in your farm-to-fork experience.
I’m looking forward to bringing you many more recipes in 2020. Please feel free to share any feedback or request recipes via my website. Michael Van de Elzen is an internationally renowned chef, TV host, and cookbook author.
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MIKE VAN DE ELZEN RECIPES TO TRY