Not all gold is sold in jewellery stores. Especially not this kind. It’s brewed in a pot and captures the heart of most at first bite.
We’re talking about rukau. The Cook Islands delicacy of taro leaves cooked in a rich coconut cream.
Ina Simpson calls it her ‘green gold’. She’s the owner of Rukau Hut and you’ll find her selling delicious bundles of rukau at food markets around Auckland under her slogan ‘Taste of Home’.
“Being a Cook Islander and growing up here in New Zealand, you kind of miss the foods from back home so that’s why I thought of making rukau”, she says.
For Ina, it’s about putting rukau on the map.
“Pacific people know it as palusami or lu sipi. But I want people to know about the Cook Islands version too. It’s such a versatile product and you can use in so many dishes.”
Her most popular dishes on the menu are the rukau steak roll and rukau and pork ciabatta. But she affirms ‘if you’re a vegetarian rukau is just as delicious on its own’.
Living in South Auckland, Ina initially started out at the Papatoetoe night market. She says the dream is to have a food truck and then eventually have rukau lining the shelves of New Zealand supermarkets.
“That light bulb came into my head about 2017 and I knew straight away that it was something big. I just needed some help along the way and people to guide me because I didn’t know anything about this stuff”, she says.
In March 2018, Ina received a phone call from a friend who insisted she joined ‘The Kitchen Project’. Based in Henderson, the six-month programme helped emerging food entrepreneurs from all different areas of Auckland to grow their foodie business.
“My friend told me about the opportunity four days before the applications closed so, I spoke to my family and asked them ‘what do you guys think?’ They said, ‘yeah, go for it.’ I submitted my application and then got accepted.”
The next stage saw Ina appear in front of four judges who sampled her food.
“That was scary because I’m not really a public person. One on one I’m ok, but this was serious, they were going to taste my food.”
Ina was accepted into the programme with four other entrepreneurs and was partnered with a mentor.
The Kitchen Project bring in guest speakers weekly to come in and talk to the cohort about everything to do with food startups and business.
“Some speakers had food businesses of their own or we had people from banks and insurance companies come in to talk to us about how to manage our money.”
Selling her infamous rukau at markets in South Auckland, Ina knows all too well how unique the foodscape is in this part of the city.
“You can imagine all the different cultures and their food. I think that with having ‘The Kitchen Project’ out there it will encourage people to go and run a business for themselves. You learn how to do it the right way, having the right tools and have a mentor. That’s what the project is for, it’s helped us, and it helped me for sure,” says Ina.
“I don’t think I would have gone down the road to be verified if it wasn’t for these guys, so I’m really proud of myself for taking that step and for the opportunity they’ve given me.”
During her final month of the project, Ina decided to launch her own catering business and added three more delectable dishes to her menu: rukau pie, rukau sausage rolls and rukau soup. She also passed her food control plan.
A food control plan (FCP) identifies risks and sets out what steps a business needs to make to ensure they are consistently making their food safe.
Ina is “wrapped” about getting the top grade for a food control plan.
“It assures customers that they are eating from a safe place. I want to encourage it a lot especially with vendors selling in the markets.”
“I’m not a spring chicken you know but who would’ve thought after 40 years I would have started my own business. And it’s taken off. I’m gonna go for it.”
The Kitchen Project is now in South Auckland and looking for people just like Ina to take the next step with their food business.