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Michael Van de Elzen's mission to get Kiwi kids into the kitchen

The Kiwi chef has the perfect recipe for happy, healthy youngsters.

By Wendyl Nissen

When it comes to healthy eating, chef Michael Van de Elzen has always been out there front and centre with recipes to inspire us. But now he's gone one step further by aiming a little lower – at our children.

He's touring the country visiting 50 schools over the next six weeks to show families how to get their kids in the kitchen using recipes from his new book Good From Scratch: Kids Cookbook.

"One thing people need to realise about having kids in the kitchen is a) it's going to take a lot of time and b) there's going to be a lot of mess," says Mike, speaking from his experience with daughters Hazel (7) and Ivy (5).

"I see how excited the girls get when they're in the kitchen up on the chairs. They see how food is prepared and what they're eating."

Mike says that back when he was on TV with The Food Truck, he noticed that kids in particular loved the quirkiness of the show and would come up to him asking for recipes.

"So it seemed like a good idea to do a book for them," he says. "I'm also really concerned about child obesity in this country. Let's do something about that."

The cookbook is designed with colourful illustrations and easy-to-follow instructions for dishes including cucumber sushi rolls, and spiced sweetcorn and chickpea fritters.

"We wanted kids to open up the book and say, 'Wow.' There's stuff about growing herbs, vegetable tips and tricks, and safety advice, so if they don't want to cook there's always something else they can do which is still food related," says Mike. "I just want to get kids back into food, to eat better food and cook it themselves. Because if they cook it themselves, they know what's in it.

"I was brought up on a poultry farm and Mum would go into the shed at 10am and pull out a chicken she somehow knew wasn't laying out of the 110,000 other chickens. That would go into a pot and we'd eat chicken for dinner six nights a week," Mike says.

So does he still like chicken?

"I love chicken!" he enthuses. "But what Mum taught me was where your food comes from. Then at weekends she would cook Dutch food, which was a massive occasion in our house. We'd all crowd around and help her, and I loved that, even if it was just peeling apples."

Three years ago, Mike and his wife Belinda moved the family north of Auckland city to Muriwai, which has been a big change for the better, he says.

"We love being part of the community, and we're giving as much as we can to the local organisations and being involved. "The children love it. They go to the local school in Waimauku and get the bus at the top of the drive – although quite often you'll see me racing down the road in my old Hilux because we've missed the bus again, and I have to overtake it and get them on at the next stop!"

The girls are excited about the upcoming agriculture day at school.

"Last year, we gave them each a half-day-old chick to care for and like many kids they were into it for a week then lost interest. Now they're wanting to take them to ag day and they're asking me, 'Where are our chickens?' and I'm saying, 'Oh, they're still alive and fully grown, thanks to me!'"

Mike's girls Hazel and Ivy love getting into the kitchen with their dad, who wants other Kiwi kids to step up to the plate too!
Mike's girls Hazel and Ivy love getting into the kitchen with their dad, who wants other Kiwi kids to step up to the plate too!

Mike and Belinda have also been busy setting up their property to accommodate a farm-to-table cookery school. "The resource consent was tremendous and the building consent too, but we'll get there and it shall be open," he laughs.

He says the idea is that people come for a day and learn how to ferment kimchi or smoke and brine meat.

"They can go through the gardens which are immense. I just put up a tunnel house, which took years off my life. Then they can pick their own vegetables and go into the school and create innovative dishes," he explains.

"I'm a chef so I won't be teaching people how to make a salad – it will be interesting new ways of cooking they might not have tried before."

As Mike heads off on his road trip to spread the word about eating and cooking healthy food, he is also recovering from having nodules removed from his throat, which has made his voice very husky.

"I couldn't talk for a while and when I was walking the dog on the beach, people would come up for a chat. I had to download an app to tell them I couldn't talk. Then the dog would take off and I'd have no way to call him back, so I taught him to come when I clapped. Now every time I clap he thinks there's something going on!"

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