TV chef Ganesh Raj showing whānau the way to healthy kai

As skyrocketing supermarket prices continue to hit whānau in the wallet, a community cooking course in south Auckland is teaching families that fast, healthy food can be made at home and be affordable. 

It's the brainchild of TV chef Ganesh Raj, who teamed up with Papatūānuku Kōkiri Marae to get whānau into the wharekai to help break the habit of eating expensive and unhealthy takeaways.

"The fast food joints love [that habit] because it basically backs the idea that people are going to come back because they're addicted to this food," Raj said.

For mother of six Kopu Teraitua, it's an all-too-familiar situation. She orders takeaways at least twice a week.

"Most of the time it's too lazy or just too tired, too knackered and then to cook, clean and everything else at home. It's just, 'Nah, just going to go out and get takeaway'."

The cooking class also aims to change people's mindset around kai and is backed by social change agency The Cause Collective.

The Cause Collective's Were Maiava wants food to be seen as a medicine or rongoa. 

"If we look at food from a perspective, where it's something that heals us from within, man you can't go wrong." 

Raj's food philosophy is about making global food that doesn't cost the earth.  

His recipes are designed to cost $20 to feed a whānau of four.

"People have always been surprised. It says to me that they're indoctrinated to think that food is expensive, cooking is expensive, everything's expensive. So when something is cheaper they're like 'What? You can do that?'."

Ganesh Raj.
Ganesh Raj. Photo credit: The Hui

Teraitua and her daughter learned to make fish cakes at Raj's night classes. The fish used in the recipe came from discarded fish frames and heads. They would have gone to waste but were collected instead by the Kai Ika fish rescue programme.

Papatūānuku Kōkiri Marae's Lionel Hoete said demand for salvaged food has grown even more recently as supermarket costs have skyrocketed.

"On Wednesdays and Fridays, we serve to the community what probably would have ended up in landfill. It is now being given to our family who really respect it, who really love it." 

It's all part of the marae's vision to see its whānau flourish. Its extensive community vegetable and herb gardens are also being harvested and used in the night class recipes.

Raj said he and Hoete share the idea of feeding people by using the garden as much as possible.

"It's like the dream scenario. It'll feed people that need it." 

After two test night classes, the feel-good factor is high. Whānau are proud of what they've created.

Hoete said seeing whānau cooking, eating well, and enjoying a good diet is what the marae was intended for.

"Bringing them in and giving them new ideas ... I think it's really exciting. We'll see our families looking after themselves better because it's the ambulance at the top of the hill, you know?"

Made with support from New Zealand On Air and Te Māngai Pāho.