Rough road from prison gate to plate

One of New Zealand’s finest chefs, Martin Bosley, dis­cov­ers there are life’s lessons to be learnt while spend­ing some time with hard­ened pris­on­ers, writes Chris­tine Retschlag

Sunday Mail - Travel/Escape - - JAIL TIME -

ONAwindy Wellington day the irony of a small red yacht by the name of Not Guilty is not lost on the city’s celebrity chef Martin Bosley, whose epony­mously named restau­rant over­looks Port Nicholson Har­bour in which the boat is moored.

Bosley has just spent four hours in Rimu­taka Prison at nearby Up­per Hutt, a place he has vis­ited reg­u­larly since last Novem­ber. Here the chef, who has owned restau­rants in Port Dou­glas and has ap­peared on Aus­tralia’s MasterChef, has been teach­ing six pris­on­ers (all serv­ing life sen­tences) how to cook in prepa­ra­tion for Visa Wellington on a Plate’s fes­ti­val land­mark event — Prison Gate to Plate.

It’s clear that Bosley, who serves “wild-caught” sus­tain­able catches in his Royal Port Nicholson Yacht Club restau­rant likes a chal­lenge, but the thought of work­ing in a prison with blokes who had “done bad things” was a stretch even for this cre­ative cook.

“My ini­tial re­ac­tion was that I didn’t see it work­ing. It turns out I had some pretty red- necked opin­ions of those who com­mit­ted crimes and I thought a life sen­tence should be for life, and that pris­on­ers should be break­ing rocks in the hot sun and that three meals a day was too many,” he says.

“But I found my­self be­com­ing more and more in­trigued about the role food was play­ing in their lives and I thought ‘let’s do it’.

“Within the prison kitchen en­vi­ron­ment I was com­fort­able as all kitchens work the same. You pick up on that sixth sense of the bal­let of the kitchen.”

Still, about the only thing Bosley’s up­mar­ket restau­rant had in com­mon with the prison kitchen was the colour scheme — both are shades of grey — which is some­what fit­ting, be­cause that’s where this chef found him­self shift­ing, to the mid­dle ground.

In terms of a desti­na­tion, there’s noth­ing pretty about Rimu­taka Prison it­self apart from the alpine sur­rounds in which it is nes­tled. Once “in­side the wire” it’s patently clear this is a work­ing jail that houses some 900 in­mates, some con­victed of the most cruel and cun­ning crimes.

On a daily ba­sis, 36 men work in the prison kitchen to feed this pop­u­la­tion on a bud­get of $4.50 a head, a day. Usual fare in­cludes sausages and gravy and it is this same re­stricted menu that is served through­out ev­ery New Zealand prison.

Six in­mates were se­lected by the prison’s chief cater­ing of­fi­cer to be trained chefs un­der Bosley’s tute­lage for the Prison Gate to Plate event, a two-night $70 a head func­tion for the pub­lic and a third night for prison stake­hold­ers.

Tick­ets for the pub­lic event sold out within 14 min­utes.

“When we started last Novem­ber there was def­i­nitely an edge of ‘I don’t know any of th­ese foods or what th­ese words mean’ from the pris­on­ers. They had good skills in prac­ti­cal cook­ing — they are used to mak­ing coleslaw for 900 men and sausages and gravy and that menu rarely changes,” Bosley says.

“When I first went into the prison, I felt I needed to be as­sured, self-con­fi­dent and tough but I’m not tough at all. I re­mem­ber say­ing ‘we are go­ing to have fun and learn but at the

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