Hemi Rakei Reidy is a chef doing things differently. With fifteen years of experience in Melbourne’s fine dining scene and a life rooted in the principles of his Maori Ngāti Maru identity, his new ventures are uncovering the variety of ways we can get creative and experimental with sustainable approaches to food. I was lucky enough to hear more of his story to share with you, read on to get inspired and creative in your kitchen!
Reidy is originally from Aotearoa (New Zealand – the Ngāti Maru are specifically based in the Hauraki region) but has lived in Naarm (Melbourne) for the last 20 years. He was responsible for establishing the reputation of Ray in Brunswick, is currently Head Chef at CERES, an environmental education centre, community garden, urban farm and social enterprise, and also spends his spare time free diving, foraging, and learning more about his craft from friends and family.
He has brought this vast range of knowledge and experience to beloved Melbourne cafe True North to create True North Osteria, overhauling the existing day menu and reintroducing night trade, with a specific focus on sustainability. Trading Wednesday to Saturday nights until late, True North Osteria boasts authentic Italian food with a strong ecological focus.
A sustainable nature
The specific term ‘sustainable’ only played a part in Reidy’s life for the last few years. However, when delving deeper into the core systems, origins and skills of the sustainability movement, he realised how much these principles were already part of his food culture growing up and the restaurant scene where he trained.
Growing up in the ’80s, Reidy saw his Indigenous family struggle for land sovereignty. As a child, he was used to family members sitting together talking about occupation and fighting for every inch against the crown and colonial government. Simultaneously, a strong ecological focus was built into the way his family operated. His parents always had bags in the car, prepared for times when they drove past a creek full of puha (sow thistle) which always sat on the stove at home, simmering away in a big pot. Family trips to the beach would always bring a big sigh for the kids; the same bags would always appear and the children would be sent off to hunt for pipi and cockles before the splashing around could begin.
These informational experiences and traditional knowledge have shaped and influenced Reidy’s cooking style and focus on harmony with the environment. Pre-pandemic he was in the middle of a bike packing tour of the north island of Aotearoa, he longed to return to the oceans, forests and land he grew where he grew up, which created a deeper yearning for more connection and stewardship of the natural world around us.
When he made it back to Naarm, Reidy joined the team at CERES. Through working so closely with the farm and permaculture specialists in this kitchen he began to reconnect with all the things he grew up around. Using CERES as a personal and team educational facility, he decided to open his small venue at True North Osteria, focusing on a constantly changing blackboard menu. By using a variety of techniques including sourcing local farm produce, diving for sea urchin (an ocean pest but expensive commodity in the right hands) or foraging for weeds and plant byproducts that would normally go in the compost, they manage to keep prices accessible for locals.
I see the Osteria as a chance to tie together all the roots of my experiences in cooking, community and Kaitiakitanga (stewardship of the lands). And through this ask more questions about how we can be better, Whether it’s diving for kelp for our puttanesca, long walks with friends collecting for our drinks or chatting with our local farmers and makers.
Doing things differently
In particular, True North Osteria have a knack for turning traditional trash into culinary treasure. They believe that, from pit to peel, everything has its place. In practice, they source what would usually be considered kitchen waste, such as carrot greens, feijoa skins, and fennel tips, and turn them into an incredible variety of fermented drinks, kimchi and stocks. This leave-no-trace approach helps to reduce waste and the business’s carbon footprint, while also educating others and exploring sustainable food practices simultaneously. Steered by Reidy’s strong and breathing roots in Maori Ngāti Maru culture and his invaluable fine dining knowledge and expertise, True North Osteria has become a beautiful meeting place of power and patience, where everything from process to final plate mimics the beautiful harmony of natural systems.
Their revolving nightly menu, sourced daily from CERES and other local businesses, also means that dining at True North’s Osteria is a surprise and adventure every night. Whether it’s mouth-watering arancini, foraged greens, cauliflower bolognese, baked ziti, or loaded fries topped with kimchi, every dish is different and leaves guests wanting to come back to see what will happen next.
All of this proves sustainable food can be extremely fun.
As a chef, it can be difficult to seek more sustainable practices, but Reidy’s response has been to not put too much pressure on himself. Instead, he tries to find a new practice every week to implement and maintain. For example, his team have a soft plastics recycling system, which is great, but he believes true success will be completely removing all plastics from their system. They grow closer to achieving this every week, which is a much more realistic and achievable way to improve practice, while also making all their own cordials and ferments for in-house drinks to reduce packaging.
Ultimately, Reidy realised from working in amazing Naarm restaurants that he already had the tools, along with the knowledge of the educators he’s surrounded by, to experiment and create new sustainable dishes one wouldn’t think of in a traditional kitchen. Plus, he also confesses to having what can sometimes be a bad habit of always saying yes! For example, when a farm said they had 60kg of zucchini and all Reidy’s staff had gone on holiday, he still said yes and was forced to find efficient ways of processing and preserving the produce. He ended up creating zucchini kimchi, which lasted deep into the winter on a delicious toastie. Waste averted and new treats discovered, all thanks to the right attitude.
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Reidy also attributes this attitude of experimentation to talking with elders who have a depth of knowledge one could never find in a book or online. He explains that it’s about learning how to stray from a recipe and understanding pretty much everything is delicious if you can balance the salt, acid and fat in the right way. Whether that helps use up that sweet potato that’s at the back of your cupboard in a curry that would normally have lamb in it, or simmering fruit scraps with a little sweetener to make a cordial that will wow your friends and keep your fridge in order, it’s all about having enough knowledge and the curiosity to play.
Ultimately, Reidy’s attitude can inspire all of us, whether you’re a seasoned chef or an amateur enthusiast. While not everyone has the same experience as him, he is keen to see people get more inquisitive with their food. So, wherever you are in the world, learn about the history of your food and what your family’s culture was cooking 200 years ago. Learn what’s local and seasonal to you, learn the background of your area, and then get experimenting! Who knows what you could discover.