11 Jun 2024

Auckland City Mission cook-off: 'Not everyone has the ability to cook a simple meal'

8:08 am on 11 June 2024
Chef Michael van de Elzen.

Chef Michael van de Elzen. Photo: RNZ / Amy Williams

Auckland City Mission held its annual fundraising cook-off last night, inviting 150 guests experiencing homelessness or food insecurity to a three-course meal cooked by celebrity chefs and business leaders.

St Matthews in the City cook off.

St Matthews in the City cook off. Photo: RNZ / Amy Williams

For one night, St Matthews in the City was transformed into a five-star restaurant - the dining tables were set and three pop-up kitchens assembled for the chef teams - separated into entree, mains and dessert.

Chef Michael van de Elzen had five business leaders under his wing, making an entree: beetroot hummus with flatbread and smoked feta whip.

"I see how much [the cost of] food has gone up for myself because I'm constantly over the numbers I'm constantly seeing the rise of food, so if I'm seeing that everyone else is absolutely seeing that and not everyone has kitchens, not everyone has the ability to cook a simple meal."

He is one of the three head chefs - working alongside Gareth Stewart and Petra Galler to steer 15 business leaders as they chop, roll and plate dinner for guests and each raise $10,000 for the City Mission.

It's the sixth year the event has run, raising $250,000 for the mission's work at a time when food security is in jeopardy - the City Mission is warning it will have to significantly reduce the amount of food it is distributing if the government does not set aside funding for food banks.

This is guest Adam's second year attending the dinner. He was deported from Australia a few years ago and lives at a City Mission apartment in its Homeground facility.

"It's awesome. We can't afford to go out to a five star restaurant, it's nice to be served."

Adam works part-time and said the cost of food is a struggle.

'I've noticed a difference from when I first arrived back in New Zealand we'd get food parcels and they were huge, you'd get a giant big bag you'd get fruit eggs meat sometimes vegetables and now the parcels have shrunk because there's so many people in need and it's got to be spread around."

City Missioner Helen Robinson

City Missioner Helen Robinson. Photo: RNZ / Amy Williams

City Missioner Helen Robinson said the cook-off provided crucial funds for the mission's work.

"Every dollar at the Mission is a deal breaker. Organisations like ours throughout the country are genuinely worried about the level of unmet need."

She said there was no funding earmarked for food security such as food banks in the budget announced two weeks ago.

"We're waiting to hear from the government what money there will be available. A conservative estimate is that we need $30 million annually just to meet the basic need of people who are at that worst end of food insecurity."

The mission provides up to 1000 food parcels every week and serves 230 meals a day at its community dining room.

In the first three months of this year there was a 19 percent increase in the number of meals served, compared with last year.

Robinson said it was the most sustained, extraordinary need she had seen in her nearly 11 years at the mission, with one in five Auckland families struggling to put food on the table.

"We're really worried about what will happen without the kind of support from government we will significantly have to reduce the amount of food we are distributing in the new financial year, so July."

Simplicity co founder Amir Bashir (left), with Woolworths NZ managing director Spencer Sonn.

Simplicity co founder Amir Bashir (left), with Woolworths NZ managing director Spencer Sonn. Photo: RNZ / Amy Williams

Back in the kitchen, Woolworths managing director Spencer Sonn was in the dessert team, making an apple almond streusel.

"Folks depend on us to provide affordable food and groceries. There's nothing quite like being there at the forefront and seeing what you do on a daily basis and the meaning that it has for customers particularly those on a very tight budget. I guess it's just connecting with that in a very real and pragmatic way which this is a wonderful opportunity to do."

Chef Gareth Stewart (left), with New World Long Bay owner Marcus Te Brake (right, closest).

Chef Gareth Stewart (left), with New World Long Bay owner Marcus Te Brake (right, closest). Photo: RNZ / Amy Williams

Marcus Te Brake, who owns New World Long Bay, was in the mains team, making meatballs.

"It's really cool to be part of doing something positive for people who are struggling. We took a tour through the Homeground facility a couple of weeks ago and that was quite an experience for me in terms of seeing the actual level of need."

The street choir performs 'Money's Too Tight to Mention' while teams in the kitchen plated up.

"It's the aroha of the people being here, the wairua of the people from all different walks of life," said founding member Ribeka.

Street choir

Street choir. Photo: RNZ / Amy Williams

Raymond has been in the street choir for four years, he's a former refugee from Algeria.

"The cost of food is horrible to be honest. It's just over the top. It's very difficult it's just too much the government they are not doing enough."

The funds raised from the cook off will support the City Mission to meet increased demand for essential food and access to social services for those in greatest need.

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