New Zealand’s overlooked indigenous cuisine

McLeod also recently taught his first class at Homeland, a cooking school and restaurant owned by one of New Zealand’s most internationally recognised chefs, Peter Gordon, where he delighted participants with dishes such as fish wrapped in rangiora leaves and steamed in bracken fern (seafood has always been a huge part of the traditional Māori diet).

Karena and Kasey Bird, two well-known culinary personalities, also with a huge interest in showcasing indigenous food, believe what McLeod is doing is crucial for their culture’s preservation. “His knowledge around Māori kai is second to none. His PhD is going to be so invaluable for future generations and also links us back to the importance of our whakapapa (ancestry) and history on this land,” said Kasey.

McLeod certainly hopes so. “Colonialism brought a detachment from our culture and heritage that was brutal, and generations of Māori were severed from their reality,” he said. “The Crown tried to ‘civilise’ Māori, and in doing this, separated us from our cultural habitat and heritage, but we can bring it back.”

“Maori cuisine is so totally unique, and completely organic. My dream is [for] Māori to be proud of who they are, and what they cook once more – and share that with all of New Zealand, as well as anyone who visits our beautiful country.”

Maybe one day people will visit New Zealand and be able to easily find dishes creatively using ingredients like kina, paua (abalone) eel and muttonbird just as easily as fish and chips, pizza and noodles. If McLeod and the other Māori chefs working towards this renaissance of indigenous cuisine have anything to do with it, that’s entirely possible.

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