Al Brown

Forage and eat!

I loved school. I wasn’t a great scholar but I loved the camaraderie and the sports. My favourite time was morning tea and lunch. Looking back now I see how…

I loved school. I wasn’t a great scholar but I loved the camaraderie and the sports. My favourite time was morning tea and lunch. Looking back now I see how much it shaped me. I know lots of people now but the people I still consider my good friends, the friends I still count on, were the ones I went to school with. Those bonds last a lifetime.
I still remember some of the teachers. The first ones you have are a big deal, because it’s the first time you “leave home”. You come back each night of course, but it is still the first time you meet other adults in authority besides your parents. The teachers look after you, care for you. I still have a relationship with some of those teachers now.
I grew up on a farm in the Wairarapa and it was a forty minute ride into Masterton on a funny old bus with no air conditioning. It was hot as hell in the summer and had no heaters so we froze in winter.
I went there until I was eight when I got shipped off to boarding school. The food was so bad I guess I got into cooking because I knew there must be something better out there!

Embrace all cultures

I was hopeless at maths. I still think to this day that some people have brains that can do it and some that can’t. Spreadsheets still make me fall asleep. I was a C+ or a C-, and a B was huge cause for celebration! I was in the middle of the road, not sticking out too much, as long as I wasn’t at the bottom it was OK” I think I liked to be in the middle.
My best friend at school was Riki Haeata. I used to go and stay at the marae with him. The multicultural mix you get at primary school is really important. I’m a huge believer that everyone should be taught Maori. It’s the one regret I have that I didn’t learn it at school. I still feel inadequate today and it’s still on my list of things to do.
School is an opportunity to embrace all cultures, the colour, the food. I certainly want my children to be immersed in South Pacific, Māori and Indian cultures. That’s the richness we’ve got here even though we’re a small country.
I’ve got two kids. The most important education” I hope” is what they get at home. I went off to a private boarding school from the age of eight, so I wanted them to go to the local school. I love community and I love neighbourhood.

Walk to school

At Houghton Valley they can walk to school. That’s very important to me. People are paranoid about children being abducted and so on, but being able to walk or scooter or bus together to school is really important to give kids a sense of belonging to their place, that they know the dairy owner on the way.
I travel the country and meet lots of different people and forage and eat. We’re one of the few countries in the world where you can do that. I want children to be connected to food.
I’m really supportive of initiatives around food and gardens and planting in schools, such as Catherine Bell’s Garden to Table project. There’s no excuse for children growing up here not to know where food comes from and how the seasons work.
I know from my own kids, if they are involved in planting and harvesting food they eat better. If we go down and gather pipi form the beach and cook them, then the kids eat them.
Connecting to the land and to food is a huge part of our culture and it’s getting more and more important to having a healthy society. Sitting around a table, food is a vehicle for talking, a vehicle for listening, a vehicle for discussion, a vehicle for laughter… it’s about getting us away from screens and walking on a beach, lighting a bonfire, collecting watercress.

Don’t get too PC

I love the sense of anticipation and discovery, whether I’m chasing a wild pig or collecting wild mushrooms, I love the discovery, the story behind food.
We need to make sure we don’t get too PC. If children are climbing a tree, they’re getting a better view of the world. If they’re getting cold in a rock pool, it’s a way of understanding the coastline. It’s important that they look after the country, do stuff about pollution, waste and packaging, practical things.
I’m practical. I want my kids to come out of school with manners and common sense. I’m not so worried about the academic side. Oh, and a sense of work ethic too” we always picked up dead lambs, worked in the holidays in shearing gangs, did things to earn a dollar.
I love to watch when a school has a sense of its own identity, its own vibe. I don’t know whether that comes from the top or not. But I know that when I pick up my daughter from band practice after school and see a bunch of kids and teachers playing together, it warms my heart.
I’m the boss of my restaurant but the staff see me as a friend. It’s the same with teachers” they need to do the discipline thing but what I love is when kids see them as alongside them, as friends” they have a genuine relationship with them.