When Murray Thom, creator of The Great New Zealand Cookbook, called Tui Flower to ask if she’d be interested in contributing to it, he got a response that was classically Tui. “Well, of course we need another bloody cookbook!” the former New Zealand Woman’s Weekly food editor exclaimed.
Although sceptical at first, Tui allowed Murray to come along to the Mt Eden, Auckland, property, where members of her family have lived for more than 100 years, to photograph her in her kitchen. But on the proviso that he did it soon and quickly. “I might not be around this time next year,” she warned him.
Almost a year to that day, Murray is back in Tui’s kitchen. He’s joined by the Weekly and fellow food writer and cook Allyson Gofton, who also appears in the book that is a who’s who of local culinary stars.
Despite having just returned from a year living in France, Allyson knows her way around Tui’s kitchen. The two have been friends since Tui, Food Editor of the Weekly for close to 20 years, hired a young Allyson to work in her test kitchen.
Allyson, who grew up in Tasmania, had moved to the United Kingdom on her OE, but harbouring dreams of being a food writer, had corresponded with Tui in the hopes of landing a job.
“I dreamt of being Margaret Fulton, who was the Tui Flower of Australia,” says Allyson.
“I wrote to magazine editors, asking if they needed anyone. Tui’s initial response was that she didn’t have anything available, but she’d keep my name on file. I hoped she would.” And when a position in the Weekly’s test kitchen on Auckland’s Dominion Rd opened up mid-1983, Tui offered Allyson a job.
“It was a fluke I hired someone sight-unseen,” recalls Tui. “But it was the fact she had the gumption to ask – and it was a good letter about what she could do and had done, and I saw in her a great deal of potential. It’s a risk whoever you employ – but she was good.”
Her suspicions were quickly confirmed when Allyson turned up. “It was quite late in the day, after lunch, and this apparition – truly – walked through the door,” Tui says. “I was expecting her the next day but she was so excited about starting, she came straight from the airport, a day early. Which tells you, again, about the enthusiasm in her.
“I had to have certain skills in my staff,” says Tui, as Allyson interrupts, laughing. “Did you hear that? She said I have skills!”
Laughter comes easily for the pair, whose relationship has evolved from their days in the kitchen. “Accuracy was the all-important thing,” says Tui.
“I used to say to the new staff, ‘It’s not one mistake you make, it’s one million.’ Because that’s how many readers we had.”
Allyson and Tui continued to stay in touch, growing closer over cups of tea and baking at Tui’s house where, Allyson says, she now goes to do stitching and crafts with the 89-year-old.
And when Allyson decided to take a year off to live in rural southwest France, Tui was delighted for her friend. She immediately thought back to her own time in France. She’d won a scholarship to study cooking in Paris and was the sole female in a school of men.
“I had 10 months in Paris and would encourage anyone to go. I knew Allyson well enough to feel confident that she would take advantage of the opportunities.”
Allyson’s trip got off to a rocky start.“I had to get Tui around to a friend who had Skype within my first six weeks because I was so desperately homesick. Just to hear her voice – a voice of reason – was all I needed.”
And once Allyson found her feet, she had a year with her family she’ll never forget.
“My husband’s big wish was that our children, (Jean-Luc and Olive-Rose) would have two languages. Now they speak in French to each other, help each other with their homework and fight in French!”
“That’s what you want to hear,” says Tui, dissolving into laughter.
Allyson’s adventures in France are touched on in The Great New Zealand Cookbook.