Prisoners serve up gourmet grub

Prisoners serve up gourmet grub

Prison food and fine dining don't normally go together, but at Rimutaka Prison north of Wellington, they're doing things differently.

For three nights this week at the prison, inmates will prepare, cook and serve gourmet meals to paying members of the public.

It's for an event called Rimutaka Prison Gate to Plate - part of the culinary festival Wellington On A Plate.

Corrections say 5000 people registered for the event this year but there were just 240 tickets, which sold out within two-and-a-half minutes. 

Renowned Wellington chef Martin Bosley has been mentoring inmates for the four years the program has been running.

Prisoners serve up gourmet grub

"Four years on they're doing caviars and foams - and that's come from them, not from me," he says.

"That's been their desire to learn and go, 'We want to do that' and 'let's take it to that next level.'"

Bosley has been helped this year by two guest chefs - Chetan Pangam and Amy Gillies.

The prisoners can't be identified - but one man, who's in his fourth year of the program, says it's an incredible experience.

"Being able to surround yourself with positive role models like Martin, Chetan and Amy, is just priceless in an environment like this."

He says the opportunity has offered him hope of forging a positive future.

"It just keeps me in touch with the outside [world], it just lets me know that you're doing the right things, you're moving in the right direction and one day, you're going to get your chance again."

This year's menu is five courses, including a main of masala lamb cheeks, tadka potato, savoury pistachio granola and smoked eggplant.

The menu itself was even printed at the Rimutaka Prison print shop.

Prisoners serve up gourmet grub

Bosley admits he used to have, in his words, "right-wing" views on prison, believing inmates deserved to be locked up for long periods of time.

However he says working closely with prisoners has changed his mind.

"It's changed my entire view on humanity."

Rimutaka Prison Gate To Plate hasn't just been a hit with the public - it's also caught on in the prison system.

Around 150 inmates from different prisons around New Zealand have made contact with Corrections asking for transfers to Rimutaka to take part in the program.