Baker's love of kai, whānau and te reo Māori features in new cookbook

By Mana Wikaire-Lewis

A bilingual cookbook is hitting shop shelves this month, filled with recipes for the whole whānau.

Naomi Toilalo says her book Whānau Kai – "feel-good baking to share aroha and feed hungry tummies," is a window into the whakapapa that inspired her passion for baking.

It covers over 70 recipes featuring bold flavours, and all are designed to be made without fancy equipment or hard-to-find ingredients.

The many wāhine in her whānau as she grew up in the South Island were the bakers in her life who inspired Toilalo to follow suit – the inspiration that started “since I was a little joker,” she says.

Creative kai - without the fancy stuff - for the whole whānau.

“There is a lot of pressure to get [the recipes] right, so I kind of put that on myself. But, growing up, it was much more creative and my mum, in particular, had a real flair for baking. Hers was more about what you can do with food rather than getting it all perfect.”

It’s a book that started from last year’s intense Covid-19 lockdown. But with all the time at home available, Toilalo got straight into working on it. Part of the lockdown included the creation of an Instagram channel, fusing te reo Māori and baking together for viewers to learn the language and feast their eyes upon the delicious kai.

The decision to make her book bilingual, Toilalo says, came after seeing the embracing of te reo Māori around Aotearoa.

“I just love the way that I can pull people in with food and then that beautiful neutraliser kai because everyone loves a good feed.

“Food takes the pressure off because I think, for a lot of people, learning the reo can feel a bit heavy at times so I hope it softens the blow or helps encourage people in a really gentle way.”