The Māori founder of a culinary arts learning centre in Goa, India, says he’s bewildered and in awe at the similarities he sees between the people of India and Māori.
A chef, educator, environmentalist and seasoned brand ambassador for New Zealand’s hospitality industry in India, James Pulham, has also been on many cooking shows on Indian television.
He’s even gathered pikopiko and watercress at the base of the Himalayas.
His passion for cooking came while living with his whāngai family Uncle Henry and Aunty Violet out in Pakotai, Mangakāhia.
“Our supermarkets were the bushes, the rivers and the sea. So what we gathered we cooked and [Aunty Violet] could make amazing dishes just out of a few ingredients. That inspired me and probably made deep-seated my love of cooking and kai.”
When it comes to diving into the world of India, the food connoisseur of Ngāpuhi and Ngāti Whātua’s journey began with a chance encounter with someone knocking at his door, a cup of tea, a kōrero and a plane ticket to the great nation some years later, he says.
Before he went to India, he had been teaching several Indian students in New Zealand how to make their own cuisine. “When I went [to India] I just thought to be myself, what will happen will happen – and it did.”
While travelling the lands, tasting the kai and immersing himself in the culture, he couldn’t help but notice the similarities between Māori and Indian people, such as “their love of song, dance, portraying their history”.
“They have a saying ‘aditithi dea pawa’ which is ‘a guest akin to God’. Their hospitality is second to none but it also reminds me of the way I grew up in communal setting eating with my hands… it’s a wonderful feeling.”
He’s heading back to India in August to film a new YouTube series, the place he calls his second home, to take a deeper look into the kai made across the country’s 28 states and fuse New Zealand cuisine with Indian cuisine.