5 minutes with Martin Bosley: Dining with prisoners

By Mariam Digges

5 minutes with Martin Bosley: Dining with prisoners
Wellington chef Martin Bosley is hosting a prison dinner for 200, with the help of six inmates.

How would you describe your food philosophy?

My food philosophy ­– and it’s one I have held for a very, very long time – is really quite simple:  Eat what’s fresh, what’s local, and what’s in season. Further to that, as we are primarily a seafood restaurant, we have a strong emphasis on using only fish that has been line-caught using sustainable methods. You could say instead of ‘farm gate to plate’, its ‘fish hook to plate’.

Who are your culinary inspirations?

Obviously, my suppliers inspire me with the produce and ingredients they bring, but technically I am inspired by the honest, intellectual and environmental cuisine of Michel Bras and the confident, creative and daring genius of Pierre Gagnaire.

You are hosting an intriguing-sounding “prison dinner” at this year’s Wellington on a Plate festival. What can diners expect at the dinner

Since November 2012, I have been spending one day a week in the kitchen of Rimutaka Prison, tutoring six long-term prisoners.  I’ve taken them from preparing coleslaw for 900 men to filleting and pin-boning salmon, braising pork belly and oxtails, making duck liver parfait, and chocolate terrine and mousse.

In August we will be serving a four-course meal in the prison, for 70 people over three nights – so a little over 200 guests in total.  We’ve called the dinner ‘Prison Gate to Plate’ and the menu showcases ingredients grown or raised in Rimutaka and other prisons, as well as Wellington regional produce.

What inspired you to want to pursue this?

I was intrigued by what cultural, communal and societal role food may have played in the prisoners’ lives before going to jail, as well as the role it currently plays, and what role (if any) food could have for them in the future on release. I was desperately saddened by the stories of what little importance food had played prior to entering prison, but was left feeling even more despondent by the role it plays in their lives while inside the prison. It has been tremendously rewarding to see them realise the role food could possibly have in their post-release future.

A man who works, can buy food. A man who can cook can feed his family. Like it or not, these men will one day be released into our communities and as such, we have a role in giving them a chance at getting rehabilitated and reducing their chances of re-offending.

What has the experience been like training the inmates?

It has been the most challenging, confronting, emotional yet ultimately fulfilling experience I have ever had. I have questioned my own beliefs, both spiritual and moral, and on many levels found myself wanting. Instead of me teaching them, I have on occasion felt that they were teaching me.

We’re seeing lots of exciting culinary happenings coming out of Wellington at the moment – almost like a food and dining boom. Would you agree?

Wellington is an extraordinary restaurant city. Known as the Culinary Capital, we are famous for our tucked away bars, unique cafes, restaurants with chefs who are passionate about food, wine and hospitality, and the best coffee in the country. There is a wonderful collegial collaboration here between the hospitality industry, local suppliers, locals and visitors to the city

What else is coming up for you?

I’m entering the world of e-commerce. I’ve recently launched our online store where you can buy the sauces, dressings and seasonings we use at the restaurants. At ‘Bosley’s Pantry’, visitors can join my Delish Club and receive a free electronic cookbook, as well as special offers. We are adding new products to the site – coming up is my own range of pots and pans, utensils etc. So life never stops, really…

Wellington on a Plate kicks of with the MiNDFOOD hosted dinner at Prefab on August 9th. For more information visit: www.wellingtononaplate.com


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